The Welsh-born guitarist draws upon classical punk, grunge and folk-horror to write dark, immersive acoustic compositions
Gwenifer Raymond’s rich, powerful solo acoustic instrumental music first took flight with her debut album, You Never Were Much Of A Dancer. A 13-song flurry of acoustic guitar and banjo compositions – very much in the vein of the big hitters of American primitive, John Fahey and Jack Rose – the set was a riveting demonstration of her often-blistering playing.
For Gwenifer’s second release, Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain, she has composed music that feels more personal and confident. Longer pieces unfold in complex forms and worry less about typical structure.
“The first album was the result of spending years playing in [American primitive] style and gathering songs,” she says. “Some of the riffs went back to when I was learning. With the second album, I’d been playing this music for a long time and at lots of shows, so by that point my voice had begun to come out more naturally. Before, I felt like I was trying to do this American primitive music, but with this one I was like, ‘I’m all right with whatever comes out.’”
Solo acoustic music is solitary by nature, but the pandemic put paid to Gwenifer’s plans to record the second album in a studio, forcing her to take a homemade approach. Continue reading →
Basho helped invent the playing style known as American primitive, but his music was nearly forgotten after his death. Then a few years ago, a trove of never-before-heard recordings suddenly surfaced.
A few years ago, filmmaker Liam Barker was at work on the film that would become his 2015 documentaryVoice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Basho. Barker’s subject was the late guitarist who (along with figures like John Fahey and Leo Kottke) helped invent the acoustic style known as American primitive, and he kept hearing about a collection of the artist’s personal recordings that had seemingly been lost after his death in 1986. That’s how the director found himself in a ramshackle house in South Carolina, surrounded by stacks of old newspaper and animal excrement.
“When I went there, it was kind of like something out of a horror film,” Barker says. “It was like, you know, unbelievable filth all around.”
But to his amazement, Barker found exactly what he was looking for: box after box of magnetic reel-to-reel tapes, still sealed. “Miraculously, some of these recordings sound like they were recorded yesterday,” he says.
Now, the personal recordings stashed in those boxes are being released for the first time in a five-disc set called Song of the Avatars: The Lost Master Tapes. [ . . . ]
Gwenifer Raymond – Strange Lights over Garth Mountain
Welsh-born fingerstyle guitar devotee Gwenifer Raymond‘s second album contains five tracks less than You Never Were Much of a Dancer, over pretty much the same running time. This is significant because it gives each longer piece (most are around six or seven minutes) space to breathe and Gwen time to flex and explore. Although You Never Were Much of a Dancer was an accomplished debut, it still felt like Gwen was demonstrating her skills and doffing her cap to the players who helped influence and shape her sound. Strange Lights feels like a huge leap forward; every note sounds original and creative. That space in the songs is also critical to how the album plays. There is still plenty of Gwen’s punky frenetic picking across the set, but it is juxtaposed with moments of calm (touched with menace of course; it’s still a Gwenifer Raymond album). Take opener Incantation as an example; after the briefest of percussion intros, Gwen begins playing a low tattoo, which leads into a slow-picked line that hits top strings before heading into a slightly more anxious part. The bass notes run through the whole song, giving it structure, but the tune is complex and intriguing, not quite allowing us to relax. This incantation could still take you somewhere dark.
Things heat up for Coal Train down the Line, this album’s train song. After another fairly calm intro, Gwen’s fingers start moving and after half a minute she hits a groove that gathers pace until the engine is hurtling. A train song is a staple feature of solo guitar music, but this piece is far from posturing to tradition; indeed, it is as brimming with ideas and complexity as all of the other tunes here. There are moments of intense playing in several places, but each is balanced with a strong melody line and interesting direction. Living up to a gory title, Gwaed am Gwaed (Blood for Blood), is the most hostile piece, with flat notes hidden throughout that give it a rough cut texture and a sinister edge. Even the melody line that crops up at points is unnerving. More forgiving is Marseilles Bunkhouse, 3am, a fascinating song that shifts pace at several points, letting a sense of drama and paranoia build until a quickly picked line with buzzing bass string bursts out at the halfway point.
Gwen plays with pacing throughout Strange Lights to great effect. Stand out piece Ruben’s Song begins with a lullaby of a line before gathering momentum a la Coal Train down the Line and then deciding to switch into a tightly played upbeat melody song. A deceptive little creation, it’s a lot of fun and shows off Gwen’s deft playing and her ability to write a cracking hook. Eulogy for Dead French Composer is another multi-faceted tune, with as many moods as a piece of classical music. The final title song maintains the drama of the previous Eulogy, but while the playing is softer and quite sweet in places, the oddness of the shifts and fidgety nature of the piece lends it the strange character of its title. Completely fascinating, daring and complex, it’s a splendid piece that neatly sums up the progressive nature of this album and Gwen’s playing as a whole.