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Davey Graham: The Complete Guitarist

AAJ Staff By

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You may not know Davey Graham, but you’ve probably heard those who have. In late ‘Fifties England, here was a virtuoso in a folk scene just starting to play. Many guitarists call him an influence -–people like Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. It continues today: adapting Moorish music to guitar, Graham hit upon the D-A-D-G-A-D tuning, now used by Pierre Bensusan. His tastes were eclectic: blues would follow hymns, preceding a jazz tune – and he learned instruments from around the world. Here he sticks to guitar, but variety is not lacking: with all sorts of tunings he covers a spectrum of music. You may not know Davey Graham, but there is no better time to start.

The sound here is strong: deep metallic strings with plenty of ring. The low strings drone, with theme floating gracefully above. It’s the effect of chords without their presencel things like “Lord Inchiquin” sound like a harpsichord. It’s even stronger on “Mighty Fortress”: Davey uses a “Gnashville” tuning, where the bottom four strings come from a 12-string. The resulting shimmers embrace you, giving it greater majesty. (The hymns were Renbourn’s idea; good move.) Another style comes in “Renaissance Piece”: mellow notes played crisply, the sound is sweetly intimate. Hearing this, you’d think Graham a Renaissance man – but you knew that already.

“Sarah” is a deep blues, served with a tangy finger style. The high notes snake downward; the bass brings the theme! There’s even a point where he sounds like a National Steel guitar – a most appropriate touch. It’s similar on Blues for Gino”, only here it sounds like two guitars, as Davey calls and then responds. “Suite in D Minor” sounds vaguely Spanish, the tender lines descending in elegant fashion. Davey’s “Forty-Ton Parachute” comes down smooth: the blues is bitter, but the sound is mellow. (Sounds like nylon to me.) “Down Ampney” is another classical piece, but with the Gnashville sound: the peaceful strains of a time gone by. The same applies to “Banish Misfortune”, with lots of that droning bass. The churning strings bring a strength to the tune: times may be hard, but not for long. When hearing this, the times were never better.

As a bonus, there are eight tracks from other albums; in many ways, these are the highlights. “Dance for Two People”, about a friend’s children, starts uneasy and goes down from there. Faster it gets, and the notes go progressively sour; a rancorous lot, those kids. “Bloody Fields” glistens as the Gnashville shines: a hopeful theme for a horrid event. “Mna Na hEireann” takes a flamenco approach, with big rolling lines and moments of stilness. Notes bend and echoes rebound: the gentle grace of a rippling pond.

What’s listed as “Panic Room Blues” is actually Bobby Timmons’ “So Tired”: a creeping bass and little notes on top. His blues style in a nutshell, and something more. And we leave with two vocals, his charming accent smiling through tales of woe. It fits that flow of notes behind him: that quiet ease is heard throughout, and he’s willing to try anything. His success is complete, and so is your enjoyment.


Title: The Complete Guitarist | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Kicking Mule


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