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A.A Bondy & James Blackshaw
by Donny Kutzbach
When The Devil's Loose(Fat Possum)
The Glass Bead Game(Young God Records)
Every couple of years it seems as though there’s a new “new” folk music movement that gets bandied about, and usually it evaporates as quickly as it started. Now I’m not out to make those kind of claims nor am I trying to spur such discussions, however I find it interesting that this week Buffalo will see appearances by two artists who, while vastly different stylistically—come from surprisingly similar roots and certainly are carrying on folk traditions and perhaps stoking the flames for new generations ready to dig into and refigure the stripped-down music of the common people.
Listening to A.A. Bondy—who in his previous life as Scott Bondy fronted all-too-unsung rockers Verbena—you can hear something that is key to the best folk music: authenticity. Bondy’s rangy, aching tenor exudes the American Southeast where he was born. He writes and sings his songs with an impassioned conviction that simply can’t be faked. His second album under the A.A. moniker (Aguste Arthur is his given name) is a startling beauty of leanly arranged but nonetheless magnificent songs that taps into a high lonesomeness that evokes Hank Williams more than just about any country singer has in probably 30 years, give or take 10. There’s a balanced degree of world-wary concern and head-shaking abandon as he pines, “Oh the living/And the dying/How easily you bruise” on the mystically touched title track. “I Can See the Pines Are Dancing” is reminiscent of the Everly Brothers, while “On the Moon” is an elegantly stripped voice and piano ballad that ends in a dreamy, feedback coda. It’s one of many startling parts of When the Devil’s Loose where this sense of old traditions and methods collide with something that is completely here and now.
Funnily enough, in a 2009 interview for Buddyhead.com, when listing things that inspire him to keep on going, A.A. Bondy listed James Blackshaw.
Something like 10 years and an ocean separate Bondy from Blackshaw, but the kid from Birmingham, Alabama and the one from Kent, England have some decided similarities in their backgrounds. Blackshaw, too, was a punk rocker—with the tattoos to prove it—who chucked it for folk music. In this case, Blackshaw was turned after hearing the virtuosic guitar primitivism of John Fahey and Bert Jansch’s groundbreaking and cogent synthesis of styles. In the past decade, Blackshaw’s renown as a 12-string guitar master has steadily grown, he’s released an impressive mass of recordings, and he has continually pushed his own boundaries. The Glass Bead Game is the summation of it all. Like Fahey and Jansch, Blackshaw isn’t afraid to pull from many pots—traditional folk, eastern ragas, chamber music, avant-garde—and his growth shows on this album as he incorporates piano, strings, vocals, and woodwinds. The Glass Bead Game is captivating and inspiring from beginning to end.
James Blackshaw performs this Friday, January 29, at Soundlab with special guest Gary Higgins.
A.A. Bondy performs this Wednesday, February 3, at Mohawk Place with Willy Mason.blog comments powered by Disqus
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