Mariano Rodriguez: Praise the Road
Grass-Tops Recording

Appearances can definitely be deceiving, as Praise The Road, the latest collection of solo guitar pieces from Argentinean Mariano Rodriguez (b. 1971), makes clear. Were one to listen distractedly to the opening cut, “Brewmaster's House,” one might be tempted to simplistically label the forty-three-minute album a rootsy, blues-influenced collection of acoustic fingerpicking. But a more concentrated listen would hear more going on beyond the banjo picking, Jew's Harp twang, and slide playing, specifically psychedelic phasing effects of a kind one would more expect to hear on, say, an Iron Butterfly record. It's merely the first surprise of many on Rodriguez's eclectic, ten-song set, one that finds its creator as comfortable picking on the back porch as channeling Eastern spirits. In keeping with the Jack Kerouac-styled title, the album takes the listener on a wide-ranging tour through exotic and domestic locales, the road a metaphor for freedom and liberation.

To call it a solo project is generally accurate, though Rodriguez, whose own main instrument is a steel-stringed acoustic, is joined by guests on a couple of tracks, specifically guitarist Victor Fuertes on “Somuncura” and harmonium player Fernando Lamas and percussionist Martín Díaz on “Ragalamas.” There's a pronounced blues influence to much of the material, but Praise The Road is not, strictly speaking, a blues album, even if some songs (e.g., “Dodging Progress”) are knee-deep in raw slide playing. It's in the latter that one can hear the echo of American Primitive guitarist John Fahey, an admitted influence on Rodriguez.

Of course there's ample fingerpicking on display to keep guitar enthusiasts happy. The quietly jubilant spirit coursing through “As The Days Grow Shorter, My Shadow Will Be Smaller”—the song fittingly inspired by the migration of the swallows—might have you imagining yourself strolling through the countryside on a summer's day without a care in the world, whereas country-blues and bluegrass are the streams from which the bright fingerpicking of “Peter Creek” draws. The aptly titled “Ragalamas” spotlights the Eastern side of Rodriguez's music-making, with the drone of the music augmented evocatively by the aromatic presence of tabla and harmonium, and if the jaunty title track possesses a hymn-like character, it can be explained by the fact that its melody comes from a Catholic hymn, “I Will Praise My Lord,” which was taught to Rodriguez by the priests who taught at his school.

To these ears, Rodriguez errs only once, specifically during “Requiem for a Railroad Worker” when train sounds are featured so prominently they become overintrusive and not only compete with the guitar playing but sometimes overwhelm it. But one misstep's nothing to get too worked up about, and the album overall impresses for its superior craft and encompassing vision.

March 2014