Jim McAuley: Gongfarmer 18 (2005)

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Jim McAuley: Gongfarmer 18
My only previous experience of Jim McAuley's guitar playing was via an Acoustic Guitar Trio record on Incus. McAuley was the dominant voice in that trio. He showed himself to be adept at improvising melodic lines, and he frequently instigated lines that the other two members—Nels Cline and Rod Poole—picked up on.

This (inexplicably oddly titled) solo album finds McAuley confirming and building upon my earlier impressions. He plays acoustically throughout, without any overdubbing. He uses various guitars, extracting very different sounds and effects from them—from the lush richness of the twelve-string used to stunning effect most notably on "Nika's Waltz," to the prepared guitar on the freeform "Kneebounce." Despite limited preparation—using only accessories such as picks, tuning forks, and capos—this piece abounds with sounds from all over the guitar, defying belief that none of it was overdubbed!

Even without such preparation, McAuley certainly has a bag of technical tricks at his disposal: unusual original tunings, detuning whilst playing, and note bending are all standard parts of his repertoire. Importantly, the recording captures all of this in fine detail, allowing us to hear and appreciate what he is doing. However, this is no mere technical exercise. McAuley always employs his technical skills to produce emotionally affecting music.

There is so much good music here that is hard to identify any standouts. However, my current favourites (soon to change, no doubt) are the two "Blues for Wally Blanchette," titled for the alter-ego of John Carter (that alone being reason to like them). It is not easy to be original and creative with the blues, but McAuley manages it with consummate ease.

Jim McAuley has been cruelly under-recorded; I hope this album signals a change to that situation. This is an uplifting record.

Track Listing: Dark Blooming; Stately Chords; Blues for Wally Blanchette (1); Eyelids of Buddha; 1+2; Nika's Waltz; Kneebounce; Sulustar Sipsihiilere (Whisper of Stars); Before Thought; Blues for Wally Blanchette (2); Stone Cone.

Personnel: Jim McAuley: Ramirez classical guitar, Guild 12 string guitar, Collings steel string guitar, Marquette prepared parlor guitar. No overdubs.

Record Label: Nine Winds Records

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