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Ben Reynolds - How Day Earnt Its Night

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Artist: Ben Reynolds

Album: How Day Earnt Its Night

Label: Tompkins Square

Review date: Jul. 1, 2009

It’s ironic that Trembling Bells, the folk-rock quartet for which Ben Reynolds occasionally plugs his guitars into an amp, has touted Joe Boyd’s praise of their first album. Because on his own, he extends lineages of English and American solo acoustic guitar folk guitar — think Bert Jansch, John Renbourn or John Fahey — that Boyd admitted (in his book White Bicycles) he could never quite embrace.

Reynolds is a restless sort of guy. He’s made records of electronic space music and used diverse European folk styles as launching points for free-fall improvisation with Motor Ghost. This record keeps the focus on solo acoustic guitar music, but even so it doesn’t stay in one place too long. Some of it pays overt homage. “Death Sings” is a jubilantly propulsive celebration of exactly the segment of John Fahey’s career that the reluctant Buddha of existential guitar tried desperately to deny. It’s bluesy and bucolic, with a bass line so toe-tapping that it just might cure paraplegia. The languid slide excursion “The Virgin Knows” scratches the Hindustani blues itch Jack Rose soothed so satisfyingly on Kensington Blues and Raag Manifestos. And “Skylark (Scorner of the Ground!),” this album’s first track, is as cordially Baroque as the music that Renbourn and Jansch used to bounce off of each other in living room studios before they hit it sorta big with Pentangle.

Other tunes evoke a feel rather than a personality. “All Gone Wrong Blues” is a fairly traditional genre exercise that reveals Reynolds to be a fairly persuasive harmonica player, while the sweetly yearning “Kirstie” sounds so much the way you’d like your country weekend getaway to feel that I can imagine Michigan or Vermont using it in a “come to our state” commercial.

But it’s the 13-minute title tune that gives How Day Earnt Its Night its center of gravity. It is introduced by a persistent two-note pattern as sturdy as an oak, around which Reynolds wraps ivy-like strands of melody. He drops the mantra halfway through in favor of a series of elaborations on a tune that hints at flamenco and raga, but never plays by their rules. With this piece of music, Reynolds makes the case that he’s more than a student. He’s a synthesist making music that comes from himself, not just his record collection.

By Bill Meyer

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