Scott Tuma: No Greener Grass
Dismal Niche

At twenty-five songs, No Greener Grass is about as comprehensive a portrait of Scott Tuma's artistry as one might hope to find. Pitched by the label as “a deep-rooted and photographic song cycle utilizing the echoes of an historical American folk palette to document the ever-fleeting present” and with frequent collaborator Jason Ajemain in tow, the voluminous collection finds the Chicago-based folk musician baring his soul with one plaintive instrumental after another.

Tuma's acoustic guitar dominates, naturally, but other sounds appear alongside it, things like harmonium, banjo, organ, chimes, cowbells, and the like; a fragile vocal occasionally surfaces to deepen the heartache (see “Miss You,” “Miss Me?”), but for the most part it's an instrumental affair. Amplifying the intimate character of the material is a homemade production style that sees ambient hiss as audible an element as an instrument sound. Only three songs push past the four-minute mark, many of the rest pithy statements lasting no more than two to three minutes at a time.

Tuma obviously isn't out to dazzle with virtuosic fingerpicking displays (though evidence of virtuosity does surface); instead, his rustic waltzes are bare-boned, nostalgic reveries delivered at the most unhurried of paces. The album's filled with laconic picking of the kind you might imagine emanating off of some rickety front porch at an old cottage, paint peeling off its exterior and buried deep in the countryside. There's an outdoorsy feel to the material, one so potent you can almost feel a gentle breeze rustling through the trees and hear the burble of a nearby stream, and the music breathes naturally, its flow indifferent to the strictures of conventional meter.

An occasional light-hearted moment does arise (e.g., the jaunty “Durango” and “Auld Sod”), but the tone is largely melancholy. Throughout this appealing portrait, Tuma renders emotional states into physical form to consistently haunting effect; it'd be hard to imagine any human being not being moved by the tender heartache of “Bogr'd,” to cite one particularly affecting instance.

September 2017