For his recent album Waterworks (Thrill Jockey) Boston fingerstyle-guitar specialist Glenn Jones planted his spindly, quietly virtuosic take on John Fahey’s American Primitive style within the acoustically challenging Metropolitan Waterworks Museum. To adapt to the space he and longtime friend Matthew Azevedo, who’s mastered his recordings for 15 years, devised a 20-channel setup, but as they prepared for the June 2015 performance the project became more interactive, Azevedo complementing the guitar (and occasional) banjo lines with field recordings and subtle harmonium and synthesizer accents. The recording, by Ernst Karel, meticulously captures Jones’s playing with dry clarity; unfortunately, Azevedo’s contributions feel a bit superfluous. I admire the guitarist’s willingness to experiment, but I’m still glad this visit will feature just him and his own instruments.
House and Land is the duo of Sarah Louise Henson, one of the most exciting instrumental guitarists to emerge in the last few years, and Sally Anne Morgan, the fiddler in Black Twig Pickers. Together they essay songs from Appalachian folk tradition, usually devising fascinating arrangements for tunes they originally heard in a cappella form. Their stunning eponymous debut for Thrill Jockey finds them expanding their instrumental arsenal with a variety of string instruments as well as occasionally generating drones with a shruti box. Their vocal harmonies recall the singular hillbilly singing made famous by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, augmented by a kind of accidental avant-garde rich in overtones and psychoacoustic effects. This dazzling marriage feels utterly natural, teasing out microtonal elements while remaining firmly rooted in and respectful of American folk traditions. Morgan’s hydroplaning fiddle drones on a track like “Listen to the Roll”—enhanced by Louise’s shruti box and the bowed double-bass lines of guest Joe Dejarnette—recast a sound that has existed for ages into something fresh, reinforcing the otherworldly durability of the repertoire. v