Rob Byrd: Aurora Season
Del Chapel Recordings

Among the life-changing moments guitarist Rob Byrd has experienced was a chance encounter with John Fahey, who happened to be shopping in the same record store as Byrd and purchased a demo copy of Byrd's debut album as it played over the sound system. Not that Byrd's style in any way replicates Fahey's, at least insofar as it's represented on Aurora Season. By my reckoning, it's his fourth album, arriving as it does after 2006's The Bells of Tomorrow, 2009's My Ghosts and Yours, and 2014's Soul Spaces.

Byrd recorded the ten tracks on the forty-six-minute Aurora Season in real time using his custom-designed sound design programs and did so without the benefit of overdubs, backing tracks, or looping. It's, in other words, about as unadulterated an expression as one imagines Byrd could possibly make, and the impression it leaves on the listener is admittedly enhanced by the awareness that what one is hearing was generated in the moment. Describing the style as ambient guitar isn't inaccurate, given the way Byrd accompanies the solo guitar's voice with a shimmering wash every step of the way, though it distances itself from pure ambient expression when melodic structures are present to differentiate one track from another, even if the differences are slight.

The pace of Aurora Season is consistently leisurely, the flow dream-like, the sonorities pleasing to the ear, and the overall effect luxurious. Each setting unfolds with a graceful ease, the subtle twang of the lead guitar sometimes exuding a sitar-like property as it intones against a reverberant backdrop of soft exhalations. Melodic content aside, Byrd's tracks, most in the four- to five-minute range, are more landscapes than instrumental songs that invite flights of reverie in the listener receptive to their charms; track titles such as “Deserted Town Square,” “Great Coastal Plain,” and “The Sea Journey of Abigail Hood” certainly bolster their evocative potential.

The overall effect isn't displeasing by any stretch of the imagination, though more contrast in volume and intensity between the tracks wouldn't have been unwelcome; all ten play like variations on a common theme, and the dynamic levels and tempo undergo little change from one to the next. As it stands, the album does satisfy as a consistent and cohesive statement, but also one that could have been enriched by a more varied presentation. To that end Byrd might have been better not to have used individuating track titles, as doing so engenders expectations of differentiation; had the material been titled “Aurora Season Part I,” “Aurora Season Part II,” and so on, said expectation wouldn't have arisen in the same way if at all.

Byrd has performed in many places, including Burning Man, where he performed a live guitar score to La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, and at the legendary Bowery club CBGB. Based on the material presented on Aurora Season, it's easier to picture him generating a live soundtrack to Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 silent film classic than throwing down at the legendary Bowery club, though the Byrd doing the latter might have been some past incarnation of the ambient guitarist heard on Aurora Season.

December 2016