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Brethren of the Free Spirit - The Wolf Also Shall Dwell with the Lamb

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Artist: Brethren of the Free Spirit

Album: The Wolf Also Shall Dwell with the Lamb

Label: Important

Review date: Mar. 6, 2009

Although there’s a certain surface similarity to James Blackshaw and Jozef Van Wissem’s solo music – they both play acoustic stringed instruments in an essentially melodic fashion – they deal with very different aesthetic concerns. Blackshaw is a 12-string guitarist with prodigious technique who faces the challenge of differentiating himself from the crowd of post-John Fahey/Davy Graham pickers; his solution has been to compose minimalist-informed lyrical fantasias and, on his most recent album Litany of Echoes, translate that language to the piano. Van Wissem plays the antique lute, which he is determined to render relevant to the 21st century. He has used field recordings, palindrome structures so withholding they’re practically Tantric, Burroughsian cut-up strategies, and improvisational encounters with Gary Lucas and Tetuzi Akiyama to recontextualize his instrument.

On All Things Are From Him, Through Him, and In Him, their first record together, they seemed to be reaching into their combined bag of tricks and pulling out different ideas to see what worked. This time they seem to have settled upon a blended approach that quietly favors both players. The result is a calmer record, one that yields its satisfactions a bit at a time. Opener “The Sun Tears Itself From the Heavens and Comes Crashing Down Upon the Multitude” picks a technique common to both men, harmonics, and uses it as the theme for an entire piece. It’s at once rigorous in its determination to make music from limited means and quite lovely. The title track leavens insistent repetition and interlocking figures with slight melodic variations; it’s like a Venn diagram that excludes both Blackshaw’s lapses into mere prettiness and Van Wissem’s occasional dryness, but encompasses the concerns with structural integrity and overt lyricism that are common to both. The other two tracks seek to combine the ornate qualities often present in Blackshaw’s work with the obsessive tracing and reversal of steps found in Van Wissem’s, and does so in a way that complement both.

By Bill Meyer

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