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Robbie Basho - Twilight Peaks

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Artist: Robbie Basho

Album: Twilight Peaks

Label: Smeraldina-Rima

Review date: Apr. 12, 2012

A quarter century has passed since Robbie Basho died, and while his music isn’t being co-opted by car commercials like John Fahey’s, his star has risen from the sad depths he was in at the time of his death. He’s been the subject of an unusually fine tribute record, excellent posthumous and reissued releases, and informed the spirit of the best contemporary steel-stringed guitarists (Jack Rose, Glenn Jones, Steffen Basho-Junghans).

But at the time of his death, Basho’s most recent release was on a label that specialized in relaxation tapes. Since Twilight Peaks was mainly distributed in new age bookshops, it was virtually unknown even to most of Basho’s diminished audience. Which is a damned shame, because while it wasn’t Basho’s most ambitious release, it was at once lovely and far more substantial than your usual crystal hut fare. The gorgeous sequence of harmonics that cap the title tune, for example, has far too much movement to enable or permit dreamy drifting. The melodic progress of “Afternoon And Evening” is likewise fetching, but too fraught with change and unpredictability to let you lapse into lazy reverie. And the most difficult side of Basho’s work — his melodramatic singing — is kept to a minimum. He breaks into song just once, on the brief “Kingdom Of Love.” Its renaissance groove and kings ’n queens lyrics are pretty rich, but the song is just a minute and a half long, so it’s over before it wears out its welcome.

Basho’s technique is intact, but it is also transformed from the torrid and rigorous flow of his Takoma records. The songs are still dynamic, but much less epic, as though he’s boiled them down to an essence. Producer Glenn Jones’s liner notes confirm that Basho worked on this music over roughly six months; two early live versions appended to the CD version confirm that the music underwent a winnowing process. This isn’t the simplification one might expect of a guy whose most logical audience was fervent Windham Hill fans, but the lucidity of a mature artist who had figured out what he needed to say and didn’t feel the need to say more. One wonders what Basho might have accomplished if he’d lived another decade to see his work taken seriously by a new audience; if Twilight Peaks is any indication, he was far from over the hill.

By Bill Meyer

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