Rob Noyes: The Feudal Spirit
Poon Village

John Fahey, Robbie Basho, Sir Richard Bishop, Jack Rose, Glenn Jones—the list of artists with whom upcoming guitarists must contend is intimidating. Every new axe-wielder, it seems, must face the challenge of cultivating a solo acoustic voice that in some conspicuous manner stands apart from such distinguished company. Certainly one of the things that identifies Rob Noyes is the passion with which he performs his material; as his debut set The Feudal Spirit plays, it's easy to imagine his fingers bloodied by the ferocity of his attack, and that he's become known for his playing in electric bands hardly surprises, given the fire stoked on at least a few of the songs on this solid, thirty-five-minute outing.

Apparently a common set-opener for Noyes, “Paydirt” rushes from the gate, the guitarist blending furious strums and fingerpicking on his twelve-string like a 19th-century horserider sprinting across the plains desperate to warn the next town with news of an impending disaster. His playing bursts with energy, whether it be cyclonic dazzlers like “Blather” and “Soft As Lights” or something of a more restrained character; as peaceful in spirit as “Oni” is, for example, it also feels as if this splendid fingerpicking meditation could morph into a gallop at any moment. No fool he, Noyes realizes that an album packed with one blizzard after another won't satisfy in the long run as much as one with a varied presentation, and to that end it's not uncommon for a bucolic reverie to follow something fast and furious. At the quieter end of the spectrum lie “Cloistral Hush,” a brief yet effective vignette refreshing in its simplicity, and “Further Off,” a sparkling, light-hearted outro sure to send any listener home wearing a smile.

Noyes isn't a blues guitarist, formally speaking, but a hint of it does find its way into even the least blues-like setting. One of the album's most striking tunes, “Stultification,” stands out not just for the excellence of the picking but for the way Noyes works blues and Eastern influences into its pastoral design. Though an occasional influence understandably surfaces on the ten-song set, one comes away from The Feudal Spirit with a clear impression of Noyes's personality and style; it might be his debut release, but he comes off like a seasoned player, and standouts like “Stultification,” “Ash,” and “Golden Week” show that, technically, there's no seeming limit to what he can do. No review would be complete without mentioning the presentation of the release (issued in a limited run of 330 copies), which features a 180-gram LP handsomely housed within a hand-painted, screenprinted, and hand-glued sleeve.

December 2016