Richard Crandell - "Diagonal" (Wayfaring Strangers: Guitar Soli)
Wayfaring Strangers: Guitar Soli showcases some of the lesser-known acolytes of the Takoma Records school of fingerstyle acoustic guitar performance, which John Fahey deemed the ”American Primitive” style. Released in small pressings of a few hundred or a thousand copies on the musicians’ own independent labels, the LPs from which many of the tracks are culled have until now been virtually unknown outside of a small circle of avid record collectors. Among the 14 players included on the disc are only a few whose names are likely to be of any significance to many of us.
Richard Crandell’s private-press acoustic guitar records have recently become available on CD, and ”Diagonal,” from his debut album In The Flower Of Our Youth, is one of this compilation’s highlights. These days a physical impairment prevents Crandell from playing the guitar, so he’s primarily known for the beautiful and hypnotic mbira compositions he’s recorded with Cyro Baptisa for Tzadik. As far as I know, William Eaton’s ”Untitled” is the only other track on the compilation that’s available anywhere else on CD, but only as a pricey Japanese import from Em Records. William Eaton’s transcendent Music By William Eaton is, for lack of a better description, otherworldly. Verging on New Age – but still completely tasteful – Eaton’s sprawling multi-tracked improvisations were recorded in the Arizona desert using the guitarist’s unusual homemade instruments, one of which boasted 26 strings.
The same basic threads run through the stories of many of the other artists on the disc. These are guys who slept, ate and breathed the acoustic guitar. They practically worshipped Fahey, Leo Kottke, Sandy Bull, Robbie Basho, Peter Lang and William Ackerman. They practiced endlessly and saved up their own money to record terrific albums that they were forced to press themselves after being rejected by Takoma and Winham Hill. They toured their regions on shoestring budgets and sold their albums through the mail or out of their guitar cases. Their names are unfamiliar: George Cromarty, Brad Chequer, Dan Lambert, Daniel Hecht. But based on the tracks from Guitar Soli, any one of these guys in their prime could undoubtedbly have schooled just about any of today’s most talked-about fingerstyle guitar players.
Chicago’s Numero Group is starting 2008 on confident footing with Guitar Soli, easily one of the label’s strongest releases to date. By bringing these obscure artists into the spotlight, the label has done a great service to the players themselves and to those of us who love this type of music, and there’s still a wealth of this stuff out there waiting to be uncovered. If The Numero Group intends to reissue any of the full-length albums by these artists, or to put together a second volume of this stuff, I’m very much looking forward to listening.