Cian Nugent - "I Will Take the Top of a Tall Cedar and Break Off a Tender Sprout" (Childhood, Christian Lies & Slaughter)
This is juvenilia, in all senses of the word. Cian Nugent was 18 when he recorded it on November 9, 2007. It documents his fourth concert ever, a 29:29 set at a Dublin Abbey. And it captures the artist at a point where his influences are at least as evident as his personal voice. Even so, it’s a mighty ingratiating little record.
If the album’s title, which echoes the structure and cadence of Death Chants, Breakdowns, and Military Marches, doesn’t tip you off to the looming presence of John Fahey, the first track “I Will Take The Top of a Tall Cedar and Break Off a Tender Sprout” tells all. There’s another good-old-fashioned Fahey-style title, but more importantly, the tune develops just like one of Fahey’s. A blues lick ushers in a spooky, portentous melody with a vigorously syncopated rhythm; partway through, the music dissolves like a fade from a vintage Hollywood film, then resumes before settling back down with the blues lick. “The Emerald Tablet” opens with a flamenco flourish, not exactly Fahey’s favorite style, but it turns out to be a red herring; within seconds Nugent has the unswerving bass line going, and each change in tempo and tune unfolds in the style and spirit of the programmatic pieces that populated Fahey’s ’60s-era Takoma recordings. Another more contemporary influence comes to mind on the final track “Initiation.” The way its pensive intro quickens into a lyrical tremolo passage is just the sort of thing that James Blackshaw has mastered so completely that he’s spent his last couple albums trying to get away from it.
But don’t get the idea that Nugent is merely a copycat. The fact that he borrows compositional strategies as well as licks suggests that he is trying to become a composer, not just a player. And he does it all quite well. If you want to hear a nice acoustic guitar disc, this’ll do just fine. But the strivings of still-forming ambition make me curious to find out what Nugent might pull out of his sleeve once he figures out who he is.