I have my man Josh at Turn It Up! to thank for my introduction to the music of British guitarist, pianist and composer James Blackshaw. Who needs those fancy preference algorithms when you’ve got Josh and his dedicated cohort? For here, in one handy musician, were so many of my favorite things: Fine finger-picking guitar in the manner of John Fahey and Jack Rose, rich and detailed acoustic textures, complex rhythmic play, and the wonderful sense you get from some music of time suspended. It was love at first listen.
If you want to hear what I heard, check out Blackshaw’s late-twenty-aughts masterpieces “The Glass Bead Game” and “All is Falling” (click on album titles for Spotify playlists) — just not while driving, lest you forget where you’re going. Or go to the last three tracks of Blackshaw’s latest album, “Summoning Suns.” The first, “Winter Flies,” is a brief taste of vintage Blackshaw: Lilting 6/8 rhythm, modal harmonies, that incredibly rich 12-string guitar. Not having full knowledge of his current instrumentarium (I’m listening via a high-quality download with no album notes), I can’t say for sure how Blackshaw creates the resonant harp-like effect featured on the next track, “Holly” — but my goodness, it’s beautiful, as are the track’s leisurely ruminations on tempos, moods and colors. I dare you to not to be swept away. And the finale, “Boo, Forever,” may strike you as an extended answer to Jorma Kaukonen’s “Embryonic Journey” from Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow” album. Yes, I know we’re going way back to the hash-infused heyday of psychedelia, but please bear with me.
But to to go back to the top of the album, after a bright instrumental prologue called “Averoigne,” the next five tracks give us something new: Blackshaw’s voice. And while I wouldn’t sing its praises (ahem) quite as loudly as the reviewer in Pitchfork, it’s not an unpleasant voice in the least, especially when blended into two lovely duets. In “Confetti,” Blackshaw and Annie (daugher of Harry) Nilsson sing of cheap motels, poisonous spores and other cheery thoughts, all set to the most infectious, finger-popping tune you’ve heard this year. I can’t tell you what Blackshaw and Kaoru Noda are singing about in “Towa Yo Nume” because it’s in Japanese, but again, the tune is irresistible. These and the other songs fit nicely into the freak-folk genre pioneered by ’70’s Connecticut legend Garry Higgins on his cult album “Red Hash,” and maintained today the likes of Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsome. If you like the scent of patchouli, you’ll love this music as much as I did.