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Billy Jenkins: The Semi-Detached Suburban Home (Music For Low Strung Guitar)

Roger Farbey By

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For the uninitiated, Billy Jenkins stands alone, a unique guitarist in a world full of axe murderers. His back catalogue contains some of the most compelling and often challenging music to be found within the context of jazz. He might be compared to Frank Zappa for both his humour and his eclectic style but Jenkins is unquestionably a one-off, his style inimitable and his imagination seemingly boundless. For those still in any doubt about his prodigious talent, then listening to his three part magnum opus Uncommerciality Volumes 1-3 (recorded 1986-1991 and reissued as a download) will instantly dispel any such qualms.

Jenkins usually records using an electric guitar and with a full band. In this context he has been supported by the likes of Loose Tubes luminaries such as Django Bates, Martin France, Iain Ballamy, Mark Lockheart and Ashley Slater. On this download-only recording however, Jenkins is performing solo on prepared acoustic guitar where the strings have all been lowered by two whole notes. Thus the bottom E string is now a C, and so on. Each of the 30 tracks is short with only three exceeding two minutes duration and unlike many of Jenkins blues-infused vocal recordings, the tracks presented here are all instrumentals.

The eccentric tuning of the guitar affords Jenkins the ability to change the note played by bending the string either upwards or downwards which often has a disconcerting effect on the listener. The low stringing does however mean that chordal work is severely limited to impossible. Sometimes the detuning even produces an Eastern drone effect on the lower strings (as in "Grease Stained Carpet"). However, this mechanism is effective in producing a unique sound and uniqueness is Billy Jenkins undoubted métier. The idiosyncratic track titles (referring to rooms, artefacts or timelines centred around his suburban home) typify Jenkins' penchant for satirical side-swipes, combining toilet humour(literally)with British faux self-deprecation.

At various times he plays in classical, baroque, latin, blues, folk and jazz styles—sometimes a mélange of all these styles within a single piece. The rich tonal quality of the acoustic guitar is enhanced by very slight reverb to counteract an otherwise "dry" sound and this is embellished upon with a stereo mix. The overall essence of this album might be accurately described as ruminative, all the tracks knitting together seamlessly save for a short gap of silence between each of them. At certain times the listening takes on a near-meditative quality so, as a complete album it's quite unlike anything Jenkins has attempted previously and the nearest comparisons to his prior work might be a couple of tracks: "If I Were A Lollipop Man" and "Sitting On The Dock Of The eBay" from his 2005 album, When The Crowds Have Gone, a bluesy affair replete with Jenkins typically sardonic and witty lyrics. However, two of the tracks on Semi-Detached Suburban Home (Music For Low Strung Guitar) were previously released on a compilation in 1995 entitled Eclectic Guitars.

Semi-Detached Suburban Home (Music For Low Strung Guitar) is Jenkins unplugged and metaphorically naked. Here there are no stomp boxes, feedback or amplification to distort or enhance his playing. Any unBilly-ievers who listen to this unusual set of recordings and recall Miles Davis' instruction to John McLaughlin on In A Silent Way to "Play it like you don't know how to play the guitar," should listen carefully to tracks like "Halltalk," "More Paperwork" or "Pee Stained Rim," if proof were needed that Jenkins actually does know how to play guitar (superlatively) and after repeated plays it becomes evident that this album is something of a mini-masterpiece.

Track Listing: Steps & Front Door; Reluctant 'How Do's'; Halltalk; Washing Hands; Looking In The Mirror; Wallpaper; Gaps Between The Floorboards; Adjusting The Aerial; Crap Swedish Settee; Ancient Antimacassar; Dead Flower Arrangement; Desk; Studying A Tax Return Form; More Paperwork; Batik In Bamboo Frame; Grease Stained Carpet; Brown Oak Sideboard; Tall Straight Back Chair; After Dinner Talk; A Toast To Absent Friends; The Kitchen Sink; The Plastic Bags Under The Stairs; Traditional Kitchen Scales; Tidying Up; I Lock The Back Door; Climbing The Stair; Pee Stained Rim; Brown Stained Towel; The Stinking Sheet; Bedtime

Personnel: Billy Jenkins: low strung acoustic guitar

Title: The Semi-Detached Suburban Home (Music For Low Strung Guitar) | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: VOTP


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