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Since he first emerged early in the decade, both on his own and in tandem with his good friend Ryley Walker, it was clear that Bachman was an immensely skilled guitarist, but, understandably for his age, he hadn't quite worked his way out of the shadows of his heroes. As he devoted himself to his instrument and absorbed the byways of early blues, folk, and old-time music, a personality began to emerge—succinct, melodic, and a bit restless. On his terrific album Jesus I'm a Sinner (Tompkins Square), for example, he makes quick excursions into Cajun terrain (via Dennis McGee's "Happy One Step") and old-time (through a spirited take on Blaine Smith's Chattanooga"). But on River he's never sounded more confident in both his increasingly rigorous, structurally whole compositions as well as his interpretations of ragtime guitarist William Moore and modern fingerstyle great Jack Rose.
The album opens forcefully with "Won't You Cross Over to That Other Shore," a spiritual epic clocking in at nearly 15 minutes. Bachman frequently returns to an almost violent pattern built around the instrument's low strings; it functions like a thunderstorm that eventually opens up, allowing for the sunshine of a spry, lovely, almost Piedmont-like run; but some of those low notes keep peeking in, like black clouds lurking on the periphery. Through deft manipulation of tempo and density, endless motific variation, and shape-shifting he keeps the performance gripping throughout. A rendition of Rose's "Levee" maintains an air of gravitas, with shimmering bottleneck technique that balances rusticity with menace.
Three successive originals seek to evoke the natural beauty of the Rappahannock River, which runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Chesapeake Bay. As Bachman writes in his liner notes, "The river flows through hills and river rock over 195 miles to the confluence of the bay where the water is fat, wide, slow and still." On the brief "Farnham" and both parts of "Song for the Setting Sun," the second of which you can listen to below, Bachman's at his most glowing and lyric, with a tenderness that counters the ferocity of the opening cut.
Bachman plays a show tonight, headlining a bill that also includes wacko Belgian experimentalist Ignatz and the duo of guitarist Andrew Clinkman and vocalist Carol Genetti. The show begins at 9 PM and you can obtain the pertinent details by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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