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I'm sure I must’ve listened to the Boston trio the Slip sometime in the late 90s, but my patience for jam bands is nil, and by the time I received the recent solo debut from Slip guitarist Brad Barr, The Fall Apartment: Instrumental Guitar (Tompkins Square), I'd forgotten what they sounded like. The Fall Apartment is so good, however, that I felt compelled to give his main band another shot. (His piece “Bubba’s Bounce” previously appeared on the label’s first Imaginational Anthem collection.)
So I did--and I feel like I was right the first time around. Although the group’s last album, Eisenhower (Bar/None, 2006), transcended the usual jam band stasis and excess in favor of concise pop tunes with some weird, sometimes proggy instrumental excursions tossed in, it’s inconsistent and not particularly striking.
Barr’s acoustic guitar playing is another matter. He’s a dazzling fingerstyle player, and while he hasn’t yet developed a signature sound--the influences of different predecessors, including John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Bert Jansch, mark different tracks here—the performances are lovely. Barr's pretty originals conjure all of kinds of moods: “Newst Flurries” has a flamenco-like intensity“Still Shivel” is pretty and pastoral, the slow-moving "War" is spooky and atmospheric. His cover of the Ernesto Lecuona bolero “Maria La O” savors the sanguine grace of early Cuban classic, while electronic bleeps and washed-out electric-guitar noise provide ambience for a lean reading of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box.”
The only real dud is “Do I Have to Understand That?” where he’s partly plugged-in, using effects pedals, and percussively beating the guitar’s body. I’d love it if Barr devoted more time to his solo work than to the Slip, but for now he seems to be splitting his time about evenly. Tomorrow night at Schubas he’ll play a solo acoustic set, and then join his bandmates to back the pop-rock singer Sonya Kitchell.