It's a bit difficult to understand how, after more than four decades of playing guitar, Derek Bailey developed a debilitating case of carpal tunnel syndrome. It's not like holding a pick was something new to him, but the condition (fortunately confined to his right hand) made it such that he was no longer able to hold a "plectrum." This fact comes out in "Explanation & Thanks," the introductory piece to the album entitled Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, an audio letter dictated/played by Derek to someone named "Carol." He goes on to describe his playing as "desultory and inaccurate" as a result, having to relearn to play with his thumb instead of a pick, but "not using a plectrum has turned out to be quite interesting for me." He says that while "medical people" insist he should have an operation, he's "more interested in...trying to find a way around it," claiming at that moment to be "only partly successful." Thus the stage is set for a fascinating aural documentary. Here you have a man who single-handedly changed the vocabulary and future of guitar decades ago, having to relearn how to play his own instrument. Never afraid of a new situation, Bailey documents his progress after that "letter" with pieces recorded over the weeks following his diagnosis. He actually explains some of the problems he's having in the first piece (while simultaneously demonstrating them), giving the listener some guideposts to the challenges he's facing. His playing at the beginning sounds somewhat hesitant and a bit clunky, and the harmonics don't quite ring they way they probably should. As the tracks progress, the playing gets more and more deliberate, and swells of volume and distortion start to enter the mix again until it's clear that Bailey has largely overcome this rather serious hurdle. Although musicians have come back strong from what could have been career ending medical issues (Sun Ra, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Tom Petty come to mind), few would have the courage to actually release their baby steps to the public. His music has not changed tremendously as a result, but on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome you hear Derek Bailey figuring out how to sound like Derek Bailey again, and succeeding in every way.
AllMusic Review by Sean Westergaard