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V/A - Imaginational Anthem, Vol. 3

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Artist: V/A

Album: Imaginational Anthem, Vol. 3

Label: Tompkins Square

Review date: Jun. 13, 2008

With this third installation, the Imaginational Anthem series continues to put forth a stream of solo steel-string guitar explorers whose roots are in tradition, yet whose sensibilities are decidedly personal. Indeed, the ten guitarists (and one banjo player) represented on this decades-spanning anthology are each engaged in some shade of eclectic musical wandering and/or sonic experimentation, while nonetheless echoing styles, techniques, and genres that range from American blues, ragtime, and country to Celtic and British modalism, Indian raga, Middle Eastern taksim, and beyond.

Every track here could stand proudly alone. That’s a rare enough quality to find in a collection, and one that makes it hard to pick highlights. Nevertheless, there are a few. Among the more traditional stylists, Richard Crandell catches the ear with his lovely Elizabethan-tinged “Zocalo”. At first approach the piece might seem to come right out of John Renbourn’s The Lady and the Unicorn phase. Deeper listening reveal, however, that Crandell has a sure and elegant touch for melody and counterpoint that is all his own.

With a more experimental approach, R. Keenan Lawler explores slides, percussive slaps and string noise, and the hollow resonances and textures of National steel guitar, bringing them to bear on the dreamy and crepuscular “High Tower Bells for Loren Connors.” Greg Davis’ stunning and inscrutable “Sleep Architecture” begins with arpeggiations of spacious consonances and gentle dissonances, eventually subsumed in an unspeakably beautiful oceanic chaos of delay, panning, and pitch and envelope manipulation—along with overdubbed washes of sound and texture.

If there is a single piece that might be termed truly anthemic here, it’s Steffen Basho-Junghans’ “Blue Mountain Raga II”. Epic and sweeping, it’s a celebration of extended 12-string technique; a 12-minute journey that touches on a dizzying variety of world music traditions arranged and woven into new possibilities. And after such an exhaustive essay, it’s rather refreshing to cool off in the modal, rippling gracefulness of Cian Nugent’s “When the Snow Melts and Floats Downstream.”

Such well-executed juxtapositions—shadings and shadowings between the compositions—enhance the entire experience of this record, adding extra allure to separate pieces that are already inspired and strong.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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