Acoustic guitar music has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance over the past decade or so, thanks to an ever-expanding armada of emerging fingerstyle players. To my mind, this activity stems from the late-90s comeback of guitarist John Fahey. He’d managed to overcome serious health issues and briefly began touring and making records again, though he largely turned his back on the American Primitive sound he invented in the late 50s and 60s. But interest in Fahey exposed loads of musicians to his early work. These days it’s hard to keep up with all the guitarists pushing the instrument in new directions, and when you dig a little into their influences, you’ll often find Fahey at the root—even when they sound nothing like him.
Few labels have chronicled that sprawling landscape with as much verve, consistency, and variety as Vin du Select Qualitite. The label is run by Steve Lowenthal, who literally wrote the book on Fahey: the 2014 biography Dance of Death: The Life of John Fahey, American Guitarist. VDSQ takes an impressively catholic approach to solo guitar music, making room for the improvisational elan of U.S.-based Bhutanese guitarist Tashi Dorji, the jarring primitivism of Bill Orcutt, and the melodic fantasias of the Iceland’s Kristin Thora Haraldsdottir, among others. The latest batch of releases from the label includes a stunner from Sarah Louise of Asheville, North Carolina—a collection of eight 12-string meditations steeped in gorgeous, ringing harmonies. Her music draws inspiration from and mimics the rhythms, shapes, and sounds of nature: titles such as “Rabbit Hole,” “Silent Snow,” and “Evidence of a Bear” suggest the imagery embedded in her sounds and structures.
Louise’s pieces are richly episodic and employ a wide array of techniques—dissonant strumming, delicate single-string filigree, rolling fingerpicking. They often use organic, asymmetrical constructions, much like nature itself. As you can hear on today’s lovely 12 O’Clock Track, “Floating Rhododendron,” she creates spellbinding, slightly spiky intervals voiced with single notes, then opens up into cascading rhythms that evoke the wending, gliding path of a flower carried by the eddies and crosscurrents of a babbling creek. The intervals return occasionally, voiced in chordal patterns that heighten the tension in the piece.
Graham Lambkin & Michael Pisaro, Schwarze Riesenfalter (Erstwhile)
Liza Lim, Orchestra Works (Hat Art)
Alasdair Roberts, Alasdair Roberts (Drag City)
Ted Hearne, The Source (New Amsterdam)
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly (Interscope/Aftermath/Top Dawg)