William Tyler

Behold the Spirit

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Nashville guitarist William Tyler is well known in musician's circles. At home he's called "Willy T," and he's made a name for himself in the indie rock and folk worlds collaborating with everyone from the Silver Jews and Lambchop to Simone White and Bonnie Prince Billy. His own solo debut, Behold the Spirit, on New York's wondrous Tompkins Square label, is aptly titled. It is indeed a mysterious amalgam of acoustic guitar styles that reveals the influence of Anglo players such as Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Davey Graham, and even Jimmy Page. That said, one can also hear the fingerstyle picking of Mississippi John Hurt and Jorma Kaukonen in Tyler's approach to the guitar. But, recording in the 21st century, he is also not a purist, and in this regard has much more in common with someone like his peer James Blackshaw, as a composer and a player. While the acoustic guitar is the predominant instrument on this beguiling set of nine originals, subtle shades of electronics, brass, violin, percussion, pedal steel, and piano also appear. The album opens with the mysterious "Terrace of the Leper King," where a pronounced but slightly reverbed acoustic guitar playing a droning dirge is augmented by traces of a barely audible conversation, a ghostly trace of brass, and the incidentals of Page's trademarked DADGAG tuning. Clocking in at eight-and-a-half minutes, the piece is its own journey that ends far from where it began. "Oahspe" begins with ambient noise in empty space before Tyler begins with a deliberate slow strum, opening a melody that at once suggests memory, a dreamy reverie, and the intimacy of a mirror. His fingers pull at the middle and high strings even as his chords create a frame; that is, before he rips the seam and flurries of notes enter the fray, though their urgency is tempered by warmth in his use of reverb. "The Cult of the Peacock Angel," with its employment of pedal steel, violin, and multi-tracked acoustic guitars, begins in one time and space and poetically cracks, opening another more provocatively impure one; controlled feedback and dissonance become part and parcel of a harmonic construction that never surrenders its sense of order but delightfully struggles with it nonetheless. Behold the Spirit is an otherworldly recording. Certainly it is rooted in folk music, but it cannot be contained by it. It enters the culture from so many directions -- both inside and outside the usual dialogues -- it is by its nature something quite other, that is at once strange and almost unspeakably beautiful.

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