The opening strains to Brad Shepik's Across the Wayrepeated six-string figures of wistful longing, tending toward melancholy, with strains redolent of Radiohead's OK Computer (Capitol, 1997)signal that the guitarist is exploring darker, more insular spaces than on his previous effort, Human Activity Suite (Songlines, 2009). To be sure, that work, which takes on global climate change and humanity's active role within the growing disaster, could hardly be labeled trivial or lighthearted. But Shepik's tone and the music as a whole is brighter, even if that brightness often takes on the character of shrill alarm.
With a new lineup of musicians for Across the Way, Shepik has jettisoned the trumpet, piano and organ; opting, instead, for the sparse etheriality of Tom Beckham's vibraphone. Shepik limits himself largely to electric guitar, shedding the tambura and electric saz from Human Activity. Bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Mark Guiliana round out the quartet. The result is a lyrical remembranceand celebrationof things past.
The contrapuntal harmony of Shepik's rich, deep tone and Beckham's dreamlike flights guides much of the record, giving it the fully fleshed dynamic of substantive nostalgia, of reflecting not from a staid position of regret, but from a train bulleting forward, recalling with the appropriate mix of joy, sadness, confirmation and uncertainty, the roads already traveled. There exists, of course, the stretching of heartstrings that the opening title track portends: "Xylo," "Garden" and "Pfaffenhofen." But the album is hardly an all-out weeper; even the most wistful of moments are saved from sentimentality by the quartet's tough, grounded drive. Numbers like the Bavarian-tinged "German Taco," the thumping "Mambo Terni" and the jumping, playful "Your Egg Roll," invites the call to dance (or, at least, chug the head up and down, back and forth).
Throughout, Shepik traverses a wonderfully inviting course, with crisp, questioning guitar lines that might as easily shift into biting fits of joy as drift into echoing fields of pensiveness. And there always to counter and complement him is Beckham, who displays an equal fluidity in blending sharp emphasis and languorous drift. The pair is galvanized by the terse, shock-solid undercarriage laid down by Roeder and Guiliana. This is most certainly a group effort, but one that pushes its leader Shepik into the fast lane of musicians communicating something both universally vital and intensely personal.
Across the Way; Down the Hill; Xylo; Garden; German Taco; Marburg; Transfer; Pfaffenhofen; Mambo Terni; Your Egg Roll; Train Home.
Brad Shepik: guitar; Tom Beckham: vibraphone; Jorge Roeder: acoustic bass; Mark Guiliana: drums.
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