Imaginational Anthem IV: New Possibilities (Tompkins Square)
The fourth volume in Tompkins Square’s Imaginational Anthem series showcasing contemporary acoustic guitarists bears the subtitle New Possibilities. It’s an allusion to one of John Fahey’s most famous albums, though no one really needs to be reminded how heavily the late guitarist’s influence looms over the current generation of fingerpickers. It works as a title, though, because most of the 10 artists represented here are newer names on the scene, and though these guys (and it is mostly guys who are compelled to play this stuff) are well-versed in the traditions of the past, most of these selections look forward as much as back.
Chris Forsyth underscores the nervous agitation of his acoustic playing with a calm ambient electric hum on the aptly named “Paranoid Cat”; Nashvillian William Tyler, who performed at this year’s Big Ears festival as Paper Hats, turns in a gorgeous, tricky tune that hints at the blues; Nick Jonah Davis displays a flair for both minimalism and Spanish guitar; Pat O’Connell’s “Song for Eugene” is a charming piece of ragtime that ends abruptly as it’s just getting going, adding a strange note of self-conscious artificiality to the otherwise neo-primitive proceedings; Band of Horses guitarist Tyler Ramsey’s “Our Home Beyond the River” is perhaps the least formally challenging piece, but is still as lovely sounding as it’s title suggests; Micah Blue Smaldone plays a languid country blues that’s perhaps the most Fahey-derivative thing on the album. The album closes with two highlights, 20-year old self-taught Aaron Sheppard’s dexterous run through “We Meet,” and a jaunty, Davey Graham-influenced Celtic piece from U.K. player C Joynes.
New Possibilities ends up hosting a wide variety of styles, and the guitarists all exhibit excellent technique without being precious, their playing emotive but not sentimental.