As both a sideman and a leader, guitarist and composer Nels Cline has been prolific over the past ten years, lending his six-string wisdom, production, and compositional help to a number of projects and exploring the unknown with his own ensembles. This trio, ironically called the Nels Cline Singers, features only the voices of guitars, basses, and various forms of acoustic and electric percussion. Accompanied by drummer and loops/processing whiz Scott Amendola and bassist Devin Hoff, Cline turns in one of his most genuinely mystifying performances to date. Using an entire host of guitars, including 12-string and baritone guitars in addition to his army of electrics, Cline looks to the jazz muse for inspiration and finds it. While these tracks transcend jazz-like structures after awhile in search of the inexpressible, they nonetheless take their cue from the rhythm, harmony, and (truncated) melody formula. There is great inspiration here, a spirit of cooperation and communication that transcends genres yet sticks close to jazz as a guiding principle. The trading of solos in the opener "A Mug Like Mine" between Hoff and Cline as Amendola literally dances around before driving through both of them is a case in point. The haunted beauty of "Harbor Child" is another, with Cline's fingerpicked melody enveloped in the soft, lonesome swirl of Hoff's arco work and the gull-like percussion effects of Amendola. Then there's the dirty, screwed-up blues of "Lowered Boom," which sounds like it's the backing track to some outtake off of Tom Waits' Bone Machine album. It's blues hoodoo with a greasy-assed guitar that sounds positively evil. The most mystifying and maddening thing on the album is the 15-minute "Blood Drawing," which begins as a microtonal noise exploration, becomes an avant-classical chamber piece drawing heavily on post-serialist concerns, and ends as a rocked-out, screaming skronk piece, coming to a complete clattering halt before "Slipped Away" commences to end the album. The final track is a shimmering glissando jazz ballad with restrained dynamics and timbres and an ethereal hint of a melody that resonates long after the recording ends. This is one of Cline's strongest and most innovative efforts. Where the notion of "Singers" comes from, perhaps, is that these musicians make these tracks sing with invention, inspiration, and a rough-hewn grace.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek