James Blackshaw

Celeste

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    7
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AllMusic Review by

Guitarist and multi-instrumentalist James Blackshaw's first issued recording, Celeste is actually a single composition offered in two parts. "Pt. 1" clocks in at nearly 15 minutes, and showcases Blackshaw's widely celebrated abilities as an acoustic guitarist. Played on a 12-string in a tuning of C G C G C D-sharp, it is all fingerpicked raga-style drone and modality. It begins very slowly and picks up speed, offering differing vamps inside the drone, with multiple textures in chord voicings and octave play. This is not all technique, however. It's a gorgeous piece of music where the fingerpicked style becomes a series of rhythmic interplays against the tonic tonal structure of the piece. Mysterious and movement-oriented, it doesn't drift so much as channel various voices, from Leo Kottke's tough-edged bottom-string pulses to Sandy Bull's homemade flamenco-styled flourishes, and even Peter Lang's spiritual roots primitivism that reflects both the old Episcopal hymnal and Indian sacred music. It moves hypnotically to a single phrase repeated ever more insistently until it simply vanishes. At almost 14 minutes, "Pt. 2" is introduced via a single note on a Farfisa that becomes a chord, played through a swirling Leslie whose fluctuations and flutterings are heard as washed-out interruptions in the chant-like chord. Sonically manipulated cymbal tones are added, until a complete ambient sound world is ever present before hushing itself at a little over four minutes, when the first notes of the guitar are heard. The tuning is almost the same, except an E replaces the D-sharp. What a difference a half-step on one string can make. All of these dominant sounds mirror one another as the organ note at the root of the entire piece is held as a drone. Blackshaw adds his lower strings to juxtapose against them and creates a counter-melody. It's almost an inversion of "Pt. 1," but played higher on the fretboard with more chord flourishes and a rhythm that is more languid and less measured; it creates an open field of sound. This is music as warmth, as spiritual journey, as reverie, as emotional bedrock -- where the mind and heart are offered free play inside the articulations of his 12-string's voicings. It's gorgeous stuff, really.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 14:44
2 13:45
blue highlight denotes track pick