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Scott Wainwright - Talking Backwoods (Saw Music)

Star rating: 
5

Scott Wainwright is a sensitive vocalist and a fine guitar player with a captivating line in acoustic blues  like the UKs answer to a slurred world weary Chris Smither. However, like Leo Kottke, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Michael Chapman and many many others  Scott has much to say when he pushes the vocal mike away and just plays his guitar. Anyone who feels that many of the new wave of UK and American primitive guitarists haven't moved that far in 40 years since Fahey or Kottke, really needs to listen to this album. Remember The Zoo is a glorious foot stomping acoustic piece. Fingers fly like the best of Michael Chapman with a head bobbing insistent rhythm, but it really lifts off when the phased 'juddery' tape machine electronics start. Dub Michael Hedges anyone.

What makes TALKING BACKWOODS special is the way that ancient meets modern, ancient being guitars and period electronics, modern being beats, textures and ideas. Sometimes it'’s a smooth blend, different flavours and accents like a cocktail blind tasting. Sometimes it's a collision of separate parts with the joy in the differences and contrasts. Backwoods Progress Blues takes a Chicago Blues guitar and RL Burnsides it. A wonderful pile up  of urban noise, car alarms, phones, trains and radio noise cut across the guitar. This is Twenty First Century porch blues by a modern highway, jamming with the commuters like Sonny Rollins. The Refuge Of Hope is a beautiful melody, played straight and clean long enough to convince any nay sayers unfamiliar with  Scott's material that he isn't just a pedal head with a board of loops, but that he can really play. Delta Surfin' is interstellar travel by guitar with a movement of slow Tangerine Dream abstraction and a movement of hot blues that just builds and builds. Eleanor’s Dance is another pastoral interlude, a Renbournesque Celtic twirl spins round the dance floor with some atmospheric electronics.

Better Days is a stunning train blues, with track noises and steam, invigorating and cinematic, managing to be nostalgic and forward looking. Better Days ahead and behind if you like. Before The Battle, After The War is an acoustic masterpiece, slide and perfect picked notes over layers of bird song and atmospherics with an up tempo final section. Mellow Rag has an earworm repeating motif and some wonderfully retro keyboard squeals, with some of the 80s chill of Kraftwerk, duetting beautifully with Wainwright’s guitar. Dolly Johnson is a rustic piece of guitar with what sounds like bones or spoons as rhythm. Effortless summer breeze music that you could listen to all day. The album ends on a trio of perfect acoustic guitar tracks The Distance Between Us is cerebral and thoughtful with both the notes of the guitar and the sounds of playing forming the piece. It has that wonderful sense of space and contemplation that characterises Windham Hill recordings. Leo's Greenhouse places a delightful guitar part with a touch of Nick Drake over electronic washes. At The End closes the album with a reminder that fundamentally Scott Wainwright is a master of the guitar, picking and sliding a perfect tune as a final piece. 

American William Tyler experimented with live electronics, Michael Chapman pushed the Improvisation envelope with his electronica and Guitars albums on Blast First Petite, Gomez in the 1990s melded together the  gritty 78s sound of acoustic blues and retro electronica. For those prepared to listen and travel with it, like a sound wave leaving our galaxy, the envelope of instrumental guitar music is still being pushed.

Marc Higgins
Northern Sky