When UK-native James Blackshaw plays his 12-string, something spiritual takes place. This unassuming 23 year-old is transformed into a guitar god whose name belongs alongside the likes of Jack Rose, Steffen Basho-Junghans, and Glenn Jones. Making instrumental, solo, acoustic music that remains consistently interesting and moving is a difficult task. Yet, time after time, Blackshaw hits out of the park, constantly breaking boundaries in what could be conceived as a somewhat limited medium. O True Believers is the latest in a string of impressive releases, all with their own mood and inspiration.
An untrained musician living in the isolated suburban environs of Greater London, Blackshaw draws inspiration not only from the early Takoma Records roster, but from sources as varied as the sublime film-work of Werner Herzog, the books of Richard Brautigan and an endless amount of music: free-jazz, 60''s psych, drone, ethnic music and modern-day composers, to name a few. He is also an enthusiastic runner, part-time poet and a keen reader of books on Hindu and Sufi religion and mythology.
Consisting of mainly solo 12-string acoustic guitar, played in a finger-picked style not too dissimilar to Robbie Basho, perhaps Blackshaw''s biggest inspiration, James Blackshaw has devised new tunings and new techniques both of which are in full display on O True Believers. In these part improvised and part written songs, Blackshaw traverses between Eastern and Western scales; simple and incredibly intricate picking patterns; waves of fast, powerful rolls and glass-fragile harmonics. The album is embellished with other instruments such as the Hindustani tamboura and harmonium and a specially tuned psaltery of Eastern-European origin called a Cymbala.
Like most of his previous work, O True Believers may be born of a finite moment of hope in a sea of infinite sadness, a fleeting moment of fragile beauty that extends beyond it''s physicality. Unlike past albums, the listener''s feeling upon conclusion is more ambiguous: there is no happy and immediate resolution, as if ghosts of the past will find themselves resurfacing time and time again in the future, an idea which is reflected in several reoccurring themes within the songs themselves. Colourful ragas sit next to mournful Fahey-esque refrains, triumphant mountaintop marches besides almost neo-classical chord changes, endlessly repeating until there is only transcendence.
This is James Blackshaw at his most vunerable and sincere and, with that, there comes rare and wonderful qualities to his music: truth and freedom.
James Blackshaw has toured and collaborated with artists such as JosephineFoster, Peter Wright, Taurpis Tula, Ashtray Navigations in the UK and Europeand is due to tour the US in the summer of 2006. James is also confirmed andhas contributed tracks to two forthcoming compilations in 2006, which seeshim alongside the likes of Six Organs of Admittance, Marissa Nadler, Christina Carter, John Fahey, Robbie Basho and Peter Lang.