Meg Baird - "Moving Up a Ways" (We are All One, in the Sun)
Of the trinity of steel-strung pioneers, Robbie Basho has never had the widespread public acclaim of John Fahey or Leo Kottke. His premature death in 1986 cut Basho’s career short long before Fahey’s mid-1990s resurrection, and despite subsequent waves of resurgence in interest in acoustic guitar, idiosyncratic strains of folk music, and the more renowned of Basho’s contemporaries (and artistic progeny), his discography remains largely out-of-print and without reissue. This tribute, curated by Maine guitarist and luthier Buck Curran, speaks to the multifarious nature of Basho’s music in the diversity of both the artists and music included. Bucking convention, Curran includes not only covers of Basho compositions, but also original work by acoustic guitarists and like-minded string exciters of the non-guitar variety. We are All One, in the Sun attempts to capture Basho’s spirit in looking both backward and ahead, a tribute that’s as much about what Basho did as what has, decades after his death, continued to inspire.
The decision to bookend We are All One, in the Sun with compositions from Steffan Basho-Junghans is a fitting one; the German guitarist is such an acolyte of Basho’s that he took his name (an homage to his hero’s adoption of the moniker of Japnese poet Matsuo Basho). Basho-Junghans’ two works here are inspired by Basho’s 1978 Visions of the Country, and sit comfortably with the Berliner’s best work, rolling like rivers and performed with such emotion that the end of “Rocky Mountain Variations” never fails to tug at these heartstrings (steel strings, natch). Equally beautiful is Meg Baird’s cover of “Moving Up a Ways.” The song’s a simple one, but Baird’s aim is true, making for the best of the album’s male-to-female Basho vocal conversions.
The gender switcheroo isn’t the only trick up Curran’s sleeve, with the inclusion of Helena Espvall and Rahim AlHaj, playing original compositions on cello and oud, respectively. Their addition to the disc speaks to Basho’s love for music from all corners of the earth, and no matter their initial conspicuousness, “Travessa Do Cabral” and “Baghdad AlThania” aren’t the incongruous additions they might appear. Cian Nugent, a Dubliner in his early twenties, represents the young bucks, offering an original composition that offsets melodic buoyancy with a darker sense of mystery. Nugent’s sole full-length, 2008’s Childhood, Christian Lies and Slaughter is a live recording of a promising young musician, and his inclusion here speaks again to Curran’s curatorial acumen and his desire to salute Basho in an original and meaningful manner.
So many years later, one can’t be sure, but I have a feeling that this is just the sort of remembrance Basho would prefer. To see the fruit of his efforts in the creativity and talent of players of different ages, genders and nationalities says more about the man and the musician than a simple covers disc would have. He may never get his due, but We are All One, in the Sun will hopefully win Robbie Basho some new fans as one of the better tribute discs to meet these ears in years.