It's interesting how some CDs fit into daily life better than others. You might not, for example, put on Sun Ra
if your mother was coming over for tea, but you might not be inspired by music that seeps harmlessly into the woodwork. Mystery of the Guitar
is one of those special CDs that can function as both background and foreground; it possesses the unique virtue of being both soothing and interesting.
Mark Dagley is a genuine Renaissance man. Trained as a classical guitarist in his preteens, he studied the blues with the likes of John Jackson and Elizabeth Cotten, then moved on to seminal punk bands the Girls and the Hi Sheriffs of Blue, meanwhile pursuing an international career as a visual artist that continues to this day. On top of all that, since 1997 he has been co-running Abaton Book Company, home of some of the freshest music around, including jazz singer Devorah Day
and the happily impossible to categorize Marianne Nowottny
Now, Dagley is stepping out with a CD of solo guitar and banjo. The ten songs are an eclectic mix of styles, and the wonder is that the songs flow together so seamlessly. The blues are well represented here, including Big Bill Broonzy
's joyful romp, "New Pig Meat Strut (Hey Baby, Hey)" and Dagley's own "When I Lay My Burden Down," which features deep plucking that's downright pretty. On the other end of the spectrum, Dagley covers seventeenth-century composer Gaspar Sanz's "Folia," a Spanish Baroque song brought to life with exquisitely shaped notes. Dagley also includes "Flow My Tears," the classic 1596 lute piece better known as "Lachrimae," revealing a beautiful sense of pacing as he unfolds the elegant melody with utmost gentleness.
The CD also features five other Dagley originals, ranging in mood from the Spanish-infused "Mystery of the Guitar" to the enchanting folk-rock "Pretty Flower of the Valley." The CD's tour de force is the charming "Banjo Blues & Raga," which weaves from blues to raga with the greatest ease, showcasing Dagley's facile finger-work and delightful inventiveness.
The mystery of the guitar is, perhaps, that it can express the continuum of the human heart and evoke strong feelings in both the player and listener. Dagley has tapped into the depth of the instrument, creating music that grows with each listen, while also proving perfectly suitable as the soundtrack to life.
Personnel: Mark Dagley: guitar and banjo.