Recording information: Boston, MA; Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Tompkins Square Records has staked a claim for itself as the real home of acoustic music with new records by Charlie Louvin, Peter Walker, Spencer Moore, Ran Blake, Charles Gayle, and Bern Nix, as well as 12-string guitar wunderkind James Blackshaw. They do phenomenal reissues and samplers, too, such as the Imaginational Anthem series, and brilliant titles by Robbie Basho, Max Ochs, Richard Crandell, Polk Miller, and Harry Taussig, to name a few. Most music fans know Brad Barr's work as the lead guitarist and frontman for the Slip, who some were astonished by when they opened for singer and songwriter Sonya Kitchell in 2007 and 2008. No one who's ever heard him play would ever doubt his guitar chops; yes, that said, no one's ever heard him quite like this before. The Fall Apartment: Instrumental Guitar is exactly what it says it is, a collection of 11 pieces for solo guitar. All but three of these pieces are original. The three covers are as wildly diverse as the originals, and include a spaced yet intensely personal reading of Kurt Cobain's "Heart Shaped Box," Cuban maestro Ernesto Lecuona's "Maria La O," and "Gin Gin" from legendary Andalusian (gitan) dancehall guitarists Le Trio Ferret, who recorded during the 1930s and '40s. Barr is a supremely lyrical player. His melodies dance and dip; they almost literally sing their way through his changes -- check the opener, "Sarah Through the Wall," with its sense of near Baroque European melodicism and modern classical flair. While it's gorgeously played, the sense of feeling is equally important here as it unfolds like a folk song, albeit a very old and sophisticated one. Elsewhere, such as on "Newst Flurries," space and an ornate sense of chordal harmony entwine in his unfolding lyric even as the tune engages flamenco, Spanish classicism, and Near Eastern modal conventions. His version of the Cobain tune is full of drama and tension, but never overdoes it, even when electronic atmospheric sounds haunt the backdrop. His sense of space and phrasing in the song is true to form and his extrapolated harmonies never undermine the original. Those are present on several other cuts as well, including the stunning yet haunting "War," which sounds like time immemorial coming home to haunt the listener. This is a gorgeously poetic, fluid, and utterly engaging listen from start to finish. It's also another proud chapter in Tompkins Square's emergent catalog of American strangeness, charm, and beauty. ~ Thom Jurek