One of the challenges facing any solo acoustic guitarist has to do with separating oneself from the crowd. On his follow-up to 2015's well-received River, Daniel Bachman largely succeeds in doing so by working into his new vinyl set (download included) a smattering of acoustic drone elements. There's certainly a generous amount of high-quality fingerpicking on offer, but a few interesting side-routes are ventured along the way, too. If your collection includes albums by Jack Rose, John Fahey, Glenn Jones, and/or Robbie Basho, chances are you'll also cotton to Bachman's.
Playing guitar and shruti box, Bachman's joined by octotone player Forrest Marquisee on the seven-track affair, one of them presented in two versions of markedly different durations. In somewhat of a throat-clearing gesture, the first treatment of “Brightleaf Blues” introduces the recording on a bit of an abrasive note, but be patient: the harsh, industrial clangour gradually gives way to the comparatively more soothing sound of single-note slides and resonant picking, a faint residue of shudder attending his playing during the quieter moments. The chiming sonorities that surface in “Brightleaf Blues” blossom more completely during “The Flower Tree,” with the guitarist expertly modulating transitions in tempo, dynamics, and density from peaceful episodes to wide-eyed exuberance. Aggressive strums and picking go hand-in-hand as Bachman gallops across open plains and then slows to take in the panorama.
A good-time feel occasionally pervades the album, the breezy crowd-pleaser “Wine and Peanuts” a case in point, whereas Bachman's swampy side emerges during his vivacious take on “Watermelon Slices on a Blue Bordered Plate.” Rather wistful by comparison is “A Dog Named Pepper,” a pastoral reverie that, one guesses, is the sound of Bachman memorializing a beloved canine partner in song.
The album's natural centerpiece is the second iteration of “Brightleaf Blues,” which unspools for fourteen wide-screen minutes. It's not simply an unedited version of the shorter one, by the way, but a wholly different take on the material. The drone of the first treatment remains but, initially less dominant, acts as a backdrop to Bachman's patient explorations and shimmering slide. Admittedly all of that changes nine minutes into the piece when the acoustic playing drops out and the steely drone's razor-sharp overtones take over.At twenty-six, Bachman hardly qualifies for senior status, yet he does bring a good many years of experience to the recording. A sure sign of maturity on this self-titled album is the confidence he shows in allowing room in his playing for space. There are uptempo passages, for sure, but just as many meditative sections that capture this deft fingerpicker musing unhurriedly in real-time.