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Few guitarists cover the sheer range of Nels Cline, moving between genres from folk and rock, as a member of Wilco, to free jazz, with Vinny Golia and Gregg Bendian among others, to his own highly eclectic projects that impinge on all of these categories.
Coward is a solo record, in the sense that it's the work of a single musician, but it rarely sounds that way, Cline building up many of the pieces with layers of overdubs, combining guitars and effects pedals with sruti boxes, miscellaneous strings, synthesizers and a drum machine. Despite the level of hardware, there's an intimacy to much of the CD, giving the feeling of folk music or the kind of virtuoso steel-string acoustic music associated with Robbie Basho or John Fahey, a lyricism that bridges Elizabethan lute music, baroque sonatas, Appalachian folk tunes and Eastern idioms that first found voice on saz, oud, veena or koto. The apotheosis of this music comes in the most extended piece, "Rod Poole's Gradual Ascent to Heaven," a profoundly meditative, microtonal reflection on the death of Cline's friend and partner (with Jim McCarthy) in the Acoustic Guitar Trio. There are also pieces here which push electric guitar to electronic, including the dense drone of the opening "Epiphyllum" and the floating sci-fi weirdness of "Thurston Country."
Its range is vast, but the CD flows together seamlessly, each piece issuing from the same highly developed musical sensibility. Cline provides copious notes on his assembly processes on his website nelscline.com/coward.html. It's music well worth exploring.
Track Listing: Epiphyllum; Prayer Wheel; Thurston County; The Androgyne; Rod Poole's Gradual Ascent To Heaven; The Divine Homegirl; X Change(s); The Nomad's Home; Onan Suite: I. Amniotica, II. Lord & Lady, III. Dreams in the Mirror, IV. Interruption (Onan's Psychedelic Breakdown), V. Seedcaster, VI. The Liberator; Cymbidium.
Personnel: Nels Cline: acoustic and electric guitars, lap steel guitar, autoharp, Dobro, Marxophone, ukulele, zither, sruti boxes, Megamouth, Korg Kaossilator, Quintronics Drum Buddy, various loops and effects.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.