Despite decidedly left-of-center beginningson his own ECM discs Rambler
(1985) and Lookout for Hope
(1988), and in collaboration with artists including Jan Garbarek
and John Zorn
guitarist Bill Frisell has always been a melodist at heart. Even at his most outréhis oblique yet stunningly constructed solo on "Next Love," from clarinetist Don Byron
's minor classic, Tuskegee Experiment
(Elektra/Nonesuch, 1992), an ideal examplethere's always been an imbued lyricism.
Frisell's personal approach to Americana musicbeginning in earnest with Nonesuch albums Nashville (1997), Gone, Just Like a Train (1998), and Good Dog, Happy Man (1999)may have perturbed purists, but the same idiosyncrasies brought to experimental works like This Land (1994) and Quartet (1996) remain perennially counterbalanced by an appreciation for the beauty of a simple melody. No matter where the music goes, Frisell remains unmistakablyand curiouslyappealing.
The Best of Bill Frisell: Vol. 1 - Folk Songs is, as the title suggests, largely folkloric. That doesn't mean, however, an absence of the skewed eccentricities that define his more overtly jazz material; they're just tempered down and, with influences ranging from elder blues statesmen like Robert Johnson
to the overlooked and under-appreciated Johnny Smith
, re-contextualized into a nexus point of beauty and ethereality. Nashville
's "We're Not From Around Here" is a blues but, with the injection of a quirky, unequivocally Frisellian chord that makes the head cock the same way a dog's does when presented with something curious, it becomes something more. Frisell can take a simple theme and repeat it beyond what, for anyone else, would be ad nauseam
; but his magic is an enduring ability to bring subtle new meaning with each iteration. Trance-inducing, it's proof of the power of an unaffected and occasionally even naïve melody.
There are no unreleased tracks or alternate takes, so those who already own Frisell's albums will have this material, culled from albums as early as 1990's Is That You? (the gorgeously layered acoustic "Tag"), middle period discs including 1993's Have a Little Faith (John Hiatt's title track, delivered with sublime sensitivity by Frisell's trio with bassist Kermit Driscoll
and drummer Joey Baron
) and Good Dog, Happy Man
(the loop-driven "The Pioneers," with drummer Jim Keltner's behind-the-beat playing powering the tune's poignancy) through to recent discs like 2002's overlooked The Willies
(atmospherics meet newgrass on the traditional "Sittin' On Top of the World") and ambitious Blues Dream
(the tender, backbeat-driven "Poem for Eva," with Frisell's repeated descending major scale a thing of profound beauty). But Folk Songs
' sequencing makes it stand on its ownwho'd have thought that the buoyant "Verona," from Gone, Just Like a Train
, would be such a perfect follow-up to "Tag"?
For those yet to become converts to Frisell's decidedly unorthodox yet pathologically respectful approach to American roots music, The Best of Bill Frisell: Vol. 1 - Folk Songs is a perfect entry pointnot to mention an ideal warm-up for Vol. 2, which will most likely feature his more experimental, jazz-centric side.
Personnel: Bill Frisell: electric and acoustic guitars, loop (5); Danny Barnes: banjo (3, 14); Jerry Douglas: dobro (4, 11); Greg Leisz: dobro (13), pedal steel guitar (5, 15); Ry Cooder: electric and Ripley guitar (8); Wayne Horvitz: organ (5, 15); Viktor Krauss: bass (2, 4, 5, 7-9, 11, 15); Keith Lowe: bass (3, 14 ); Kermit Driscoll: bass (10); David Pitch: bass (13); Jim Keltner: drums (2, 5, 8, 9), percussion (7, 15); Joey Baron: drums (10); Kenny Wollesen: drums (13).