Robbie Basho: Rainbow Thunder - Songs of the American West
Grass-Tops Recording

If there's one word that describes Robbie Basho's Rainbow Thunder, it's celebratory. Originally released by Silver Label Recording in 1981, Basho's twelfth studio album is now being reissued for the first time in a remastered version that brings forth nuances and subtleties less audible on the original. In Basho's own words, “Rainbow Thunder is a collection of songs expressing the feelings and textures of the West in its Prime, and of the Native American Peoples who lived there. I hope it does them some small degree of justice—they who looked so hard into Nature.” It's not an album-length collection of fingerpicking instrumentals, though the guitar playing is stellar throughout (“The Long Lullaby” a representative example); instead, the focus here is as much on Basho's distinctive singing as it is his six- and twelve-string.

The fifty-minute collection does begin, however, with a delicious sampling of Basho's guitar picking in the brief instrumental “Redwood Ramble,” which lunges forth at a rapid clip before “Crashing Thunder” presents the first of ten vocal settings. Here and elsewhere, he sings with an irrepressible spirit, his vibrato-heavy delivery declaiming the glory of the land with open-hearted conviction. He often alternates between singing lyrics and bellowing wordlessly, the latter emerging as if by an unstoppable inner force. His singing is typically featured so nakedly that hearing his voice presented in multi-tracked form during “Home Again” proves jarring, at least initially.

“Moving Up A'Ways” complements Basho's chiming guitar patterns with impassioned vocalizing in a traveling song eager to celebrate the creatures of the land and the promise of a new locale. The receptive listener's spirits can't help but be buoyed by these rapturous songs of devotion (from the title track, “When you turned your face towards me / I felt the moon sublime / I felt the stars dancing in my heart / I felt the end of time”) for people, the American outdoors, and natural life-forms (“The White Buffalo”). That Rainbow Thunder was recorded more than three decades ago matters little in this case. Music of its life-affirming kind rarely dates, and one imagines it'll sound as fresh fifty years from now as it does today.

October 2015