The title of this solo recording by Nels Cline deserves explanation, for it is not yellow, reticent, soulless, or timid music. Coward refers to the murder of Cline's friend and guitarist Rod Poole, who was mindlessly slain in 2007. While there are those who believe things happen for a reason, indiscriminate killing without conscience is not one of them. Cline's predilection for multi-tracking electronic based instruments is here on many levels, but you also hear much of his rich acoustic guitar, often overdubbed in duets with himself, and beautifully rendered in the best European or classicist sense of chamber music. There's also an inherent sound/style reminiscent of the genius Ralph Towner, and in the duo format the work he did with John Abercrombie, or even the late acoustic guitarist John Martyn. Cline's fertile mind and extreme musicianship pull both pretexts off with startling results, as the interplay he employs with the ensembles he performs with is all in his head, executed here firmly and clearly by himself. The CD is bookended by looped electronic soundscapes "Epiphyllum" and "Cymbidium," very much in the vein of Brian Eno's Music for Airports. Wilco fans will relate to "Thurston County" with its electrified plucky themes, twangy inserts, and cartoonish phrasings. The massive six-part suite "Onan" weaves through latent volcanic rumblings with alien invaders overhead, an elegant renaissance traipsing love dance, shards of vocal dream blips under a shimmering facade, an interruptive freakout, buzzing troupe marching orders, clanging guitar signals, war like cues, and a rock epilogue parallel to the Byrds. Acoustically, Cline's inclination toward Towner's climactic approach is most evident during the stairstep construct with multiple strings during the 18-minute tribute "Rod Poole's Gradual Ascent to Heaven," as tearful waterfall chords tumble in chiming, funereal, and celebratory fashion. "The Divine Homegirl" is reprised from a previous recording, a guitar self-duet in Baroque style, "X Change(s)" is improvised, abstract, scattered, noisy, and percussive, while "The Nomad's Home" has Cline on the dobro and slide guitar, slipping through a bluesy, country field patch. At times he overdubs autoharp, zither "things," a sruti box, the Quintronics drum buddy, a kaosillator or megamouth, whatever they are. While these instruments change the textures and nuances of the pieces, the acoustic guitar is the most prevalent and attractive tool Cline wields. This sounds like a very personal and emotional project, certainly one that is rendered from the heart, and must be listened to with the challenged bravery and wide open ears that ignorant, frightened people and those afraid of living life will never, ever experience.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos