Released in 1997, Jim O'Rourke's Bad Timing is the first in a trilogy of solo releases to be named after films by British director Nicolas Roeg. O'Rourke's significance as a guitarist and experimental composer had already been well established, and by the time of this solo outing his work with David Grubbs in the post-rock group Gastr del Sol had begun to show elements of the organic, fingerpicked guitar style he explores more deeply on these four lengthy tracks. Entirely instrumental and mysteriously packaged with no track titles, Bad Timing was a bit of an enigma for its time. The most obvious influence is that of American Primitive guitarist John Fahey, whose spirit imbues O'Rourke's wayfaring compositions with a strange but good-natured folksy charm, especially on the front half of the wonderful second track. Also present are avant-garde fragments of the Chicago indie scene to which he was closely associated. Tracks that take five or six minutes to develop suddenly change on a dime with an audible tape splice, dramatic rhythmic shift, or the addition of a horn section. Tortoise drummer John McEntire makes a guest appearance, as does ace steel guitarist Ken Champion, whose long, breezy parts act as a perfect foil to O'Rourke's staccato punctuations. Tempos and rhythms wobble and flutter, varying from one moment to the next and suggesting a good deal of improvisation on the initial guitar tracks, which often receive warm layers of organ, piano, bells, and accordion, as in the midsection of the near-mystical third track. Each track acts as its own little suite with sections that are as unpredictable as they are enchanting, hanging together in a sort of cerebral level that feels loosely organized yet beautifully orchestrated. For all its eccentricity, it seems like it should be more of a challenge to enjoy, but the wonderful thing about Bad Timing is how surprisingly palatable it all is. By the time the final marching band/Western swing collision winds to a close on track four, the natural reaction is simply to press play and begin the record again.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger