Ryan Blotnick: Solo, Volume I
Ryan Blotnick Bandcamp

Having released two well-received albums on Songlines, 2008's Music Needs You and 2009's Everything Forgets, Ryan Blotnick decided that for his third (digital-only) release he'd strip things back to their essence and focus on solo guitar playing. Not surprisingly, then, the thirty-four-minute set exudes a somewhat introspective and intimate quality, one bolstered by the ambient details of the recording process itself that occasionally work their way into the recording.

It's about as pure a guitar recording as there could be, with Blotnick having recorded every track but one (“Intermellem”) using the same guitar (a 1959 Martin 00-18, an otherwise normal acoustic guitar that includes a single coil pickup and volume and tone knobs) sans overdubbing. He gets dramatic range from the instrument, however, since different effects were generated when played through an amp. As a result, “Dreams of Chloe” begins to seem more like a scrabbly, gothic-blues electric guitar workout than acoustic reverie.

Blotnick makes a positive impression from the outset, and not just because “Monk's Mood” is one of the pianist's loveliest tunes. What recommends it most is that Blotnick doesn't treat the composition as a self-indulgent opportunity to solo; instead, he plays the melodies pretty much straight, thereby allowing the wistful beauty of Monk's original to dominate. Each subsequent song finds Blotnick tackling a different genre and providing a full portrait of his range.

He cites Lenny Breau, Leo Kottke, Joe Pass, Marc Ribot, and Neil Young as influences on Solo, Volume 1, and there are a number of instances when said influences are clearly audible. Young is heard in “The Ballad of Josh Barton,” whose laconic folk playing, reminiscent of Harvest, one could easily imagine joined by Young's distinctive voice. An homage to Breau, “Lenny's Ghost” is the album's most adventurous and freewheeling track, a nine-minute exploration heavy on propulsion and earmarked by contrasts between calm and animation and light and dark moods. The treated guitar playing in “Intermellem” suggests Bill Frisell could be included as perhaps an additional influence, given how much the brief setting calls to mind In Line, itself an album largely devoted to solo guitar pieces. Regardless, Blotnick envisions Solo, Volume 1 as the first in a guitar-based series intended to explore different genres, including jazz, classical, Americana, and improv—much as he's done so handsomely in this first volume.

January 2013