Randy Adams: Invoking The Muse
Randy Adams

As I listen to Randy Adams' Invoking The Muse, I'm reminded of the opening lines from Blue's “All I Want”: “I am on a lonely road and I am traveling / Traveling, traveling, traveling / Looking for something, what can it be.” Similar to the protagonist in Joni Mitchell's song, Adams is an exhaustive explorer and self-questioner, even if his searches are introspective instrumental journeys undertaken using acoustic guitar.

Formally released on the last day of 2016, Invoking The Muse actually forms a small part of a much larger picture. Last year, he produced each month an album-length volume of improvised guitar meditations, resulting in an immense, year-long musical diary of sorts. Conceived initially as his response to the current “American Primitive” guitar scene associated with figures such as Glenn Jones, Daniel Bachman, and Jack Rose, Adams would sit himself down, tune his acoustic guitar to an unfamiliar open tuning, and surrender to his meditative muse. Resisting the impulse to judge, he opened himself up to wherever the music might take him, the result being tracks of modest, eight-minute duration and a small number of opuses in the twenty- to forty-minute range. To compile Invoking The Muse, Adams selected one track from each volume to provide the listener with a representative sampling of the year-long project, though it's a rare sampler indeed that weighs in at a robust 210 minutes.

It's not, by the way, the only project with which Adams has been involved over the years. Born in New York and currently residing in Virginia, he's played guitar in country rock and hippie rock bands, and his CV also lists experience as a music educator as the Director of the Guitar and Electronic Music Studio at Virginia's Foxcroft School. And though Invoking The Muse offers an encompassing presentation of his acoustic guitar work, his current project, Union of the Sun & Moon, subjects his acoustic guitar and vocals to processing treatments using Ableton Live, granular synthesis, and a variety of synthesizers.

The pieces on Invoking The Muse come across like mood transcriptions that convincingly capture the particular state he was in during the moment of recording. It might be risky to draw too absolute an equivalence between the presumed mood of the artist and the material created—for all I know, Adams might have been in a furious state when one of the set's more peaceful settings emerged—yet it's hard not to do so when a particular setting exudes such a peaceful air (consider, for example, the fifth and eleventh tracks, “25 2016 PM 5” and “23 2016 PM 5”).

In general, Adams satiates the listener with literally hours of acoustic guitar-generated jangle and sparkle. Similar to many pieces on the collection, March's “15 2016 PM 3” dazzles the ear with cycling patterns that glisten like sun-dappled snow crystals, while hints of Eastern and American country sonorities seep into the panoramic purview of October's twenty-three-minute ride “24 2016 PM 4.” The longest piece, September's forty-five-minute “26 2016 PM,” offers a surprising change-up from the purely instrumental design of the collection in prominently featuring Adams's wordless (and occasionally ecstatic) vocalizing (chanting, more like) alongside heavily treated, slow-motion guitar expressions.

While the track titles are prosaic, they effectively cue the listener by indicating the precise day and time when they were recorded. As one listens to the opening track's blues-inflected fingerpicking, for example, knowing that it was laid down at four in the morning on January 23rd makes for an enhanced listening experience. Not surprisingly, it's on the longer pieces where the searching quality is most prominently felt. Recorded late in the afternoon on April 20th, the twenty-minute fourth setting plays like a deep exploration wherein Adams poses questions to himself and does everything seemingly in his power to summon answers. Patterns and themes are tackled from multiple directions, with Adams pursuing a particular direction before circling back and exploring it again in a different way. Tempos slow down and speed up as the guitarist lulls the listener with wave upon wave of glistening patterns and strums.

As mentioned, a few pieces are, shall we say, rather long-winded, and the listener will need to have a few extra hours on reserve to hear them all the way through—not an easy luxury to have in this day and age. Given the encompassing nature of the compilation, Adams might have been wise in such cases to consider slightly shortened versions, even if doing so might seem a tad contrary to the editing-free, improvisatory spirit of the project. Regardless of whether a track is short or long, one nevertheless comes away from the collection impressed by his dedication, sincerity, and unwavering sense of purpose. There's certainly no question that his muse was invoked in the most thorough manner imaginable over the course of the project's production.

February 2017