Chas Smith

An Hour Out of Desert Center

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On his third solo album for Cold Blue, Chas Smith focuses on the pedal steel guitar instead of his metallic sound sculptures. Does the listener lose something in the process? No, absolutely not. If anyone needed proof that Smith's music runs deeper than the novelty impact of gigantic, multi-rodded creatures struck and bowed with odd-shaped apparatuses, An Hour out of Desert Center nails it. Using pedal steel, a Bigsby lap guitar, a zither, crotales, and a Pez Eater (although how the latter is used remains a mystery), Smith builds shimmering soundscapes. He stacks track after track of crystal-clear notes and motifs integrated through the use of volume pedals, aiming for the unperformed voices that will emerge at their intersections. The three pieces share the same instrumentation and approach. "Absence of Redemption" sounds a bit darker than the title track and the two-part "Albuquerque 5402," but that detail aside, everything else falls into the same continuum. Those fearing boredom should rest at ease: The total duration of 54 minutes prevents this immersive journey from turning into sleep aid. Smith's music shares affinities with experimental guitar soundscapers like Oren Ambarchi and Rafael Toral, but it remains somewhat "purer" (besides looping and multi-tracking, there seems to be no electronics involved) and more accessible to the uninitiated. Its beauties are immediately palpable, yet they don't fade with repeated listens. The use of the Guitarzilla in "Albuquerque 5402" adds a delicate metallic touch to the piece, making it sound richer in tricky overtones. Beautiful.

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