The finest new disc for guitar in ten years. Dawkins has compiled original, inventive music that is uniquely American. The opening track is the American Leyenda. Similar structure, but not reliant on the flamenco but rather bluegrass and, dare I say, a little allusion to Boston at the end (probably to be disputed by the composer, but I can hear it). Servicable technique, more akin to the duo responsible for Macedonian Blues than say Barrueco – but fitting to the music and rife with moments of ‘How did he do that’ (multi-tracking...).
The genius of the disc is that you think you have the recording pegged from the first track, but you don’t. The second track is a banjo solo called ‘kite’. It’s simple, revelling in the strident tone and evoking the play of something fragile on the wind – apropo when one considers that the previous track referenced a river – both water and wind natural, elemental modes of transportation (but now I’m reaching...)
Again, the track is followed by something new. A prepared-guitar track called Water Witch which employs another new device – refreshing rhythmically asymmetrical sections (emphasized through golpe attacks) bridged by a prepared-guitar tremolo section.
With A Quiet Strand we’re back on the banjo. While listening, one realizes that the banjo puts the guitar in a positive lyric relief – it’s the only instrument with a more strident attack than the guitar. Generous allusions abound here to the famous Reich piece – similar building and variation devices, but leading into a full-on (that’s right, full-on) bluegrass section into a rhythmically asymmetrical section sort of like a down-home-Stravinskian-rock-out. I love the banjo – what more American instrument is there – and for once put in a purely artistic, non-humurous light. This piece requires the greatest patience. Slow builds are the rule of the day here, but the colors are so new and the writing so committed that you will make it through.
Sticks, the next track, seems the best corollary to the prepared guitar sound used here. The least in touch piece of the group – the pentatonic sounds come across as exotic - and the extended recitatives seem indulgent, but, like the slow middle sections in an animated Disney movie, this piece accentuates the quality of the other pieces through its mediocrity and aimlessness. (Thankfully, it’s quite short)
And then with the Crow, we are rocking again. This time with some serious banjo – complete with some chromatic licks that are humorous. I was reading Twain’s version of the Bible during this and the tweaked, sitting-on-a-paddleboat-riding-the-Mississippi-while-Stravinsky-played-the-banjo feeling washed over me.
Left, in a room, our penultimate track ranks as the most optimistic track on the album. The piece felt like an American Villa-Lobos Etude or Prelude – some of the same parallel chord work with build ups crowned by chromatic scale work which is then followed by some beautiful, Stepan Rakian strummed chords with tremeloed melodic lines. And then, shock of shocks, all of a sudden I’m listening to some progrockian, palm-muted grooves which actually bring us back around to the original melody. Tasty stuff, very tasty stuff.
Flight, the last track actually reminded me of the theme music to THE EQUALIZER, perhaps the coolest television show of the eighties. It was about this independently wealth guy who defended the rights of the downtrodden in Big-City-USA(Chicago). His thing was that he would help you for free, but someday he would come to you to ask a favor and you couldn’t refuse (in retrospect, I know this is a Godfather thing, but as a kid it was way cool). Each week he would call on someone we had never seen before and we wouldn’t know who this person was or why they were helping, but that mystery, not knowing, and the breadth of experience which it implied – AMAZING. Well, the guy had the coolest, sophisticated, forward-driving theme music and this piece is that +. At the end (of the piece), there’s a great build up – strummed chords, repeated with a second guitar doing this rising scalar motive all capped with a little nonsense a la Ginastera (but it does work in context – there is no doubt in Dawkins when it comes to the performance).
The last track (hidden) is a nice little tremelo which utilizes some similar, however muted material from the first track, creating a nice bookend. For those bored with Recuerdos, here is a very beautiful piece with the sort of new age harmonies that can move a modern audience.
I loved this disc. This disc made me believe in the guitar again.
Conasuaga is a river that runs through Georgia, where the artist hails from. You can take a virtual journey here: www.conasaguariver.net