Peter Lang

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Guitar Review

by Thom Jurek

While Minnesota guitarist Peter Lang may not be as well-known as Leo Kottke, or even the late John Fahey, he is nonetheless one of a handful of acoustic guitarists who defined new American styles in the 1960s and '70s by drawing from this country's own rich musical heritage, and going deep into musical esoterica from around the globe, particularly the Near, Middle, and Far Eastern musical cultures. Guitar is a solo album recorded exclusively on a twelve-string. It's the first Lang has done, and judging by the liner notes where he humorously yet poignantly refers to ice water hand soaks, it may be his last. The 11 selections here run the gamut of folk, blues, old country and folk songs, rags, slide guitar blues, and bad-ass fingerpicking ditties. The set opens with "Little Cairo." The tune is a treasure trove of textures and dynamics that melds Western harmonics and finger-style artifices with maqam, a compositional motif form the Middle East. "John Hurt in the 21st Century" is a medley of camp songs that Lang learned as a boy, and re-encountered later as he discovered the world revealed on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. "I Should Have Known," and "Daylight Is Darkness," are older works that have been recorded but not released before, and the two memorials on the album, "Snaker Ray Has Come and Gone," and "Witness to the Messenger" written for Dave Ray and John Fahey, respectively, are absolutely groundbreaking in their use of Eastern tonalities, muddy Delta blues, and shimmering textural devices. But more than this, they are poetic, elegant, and deeply moving. To say that Lang's Guitar is literate is to far understate the case. This is guitar music that matters because it is played not only with technical acumen and a sense of history, but with an aesthetic that celebrates and pushes the tradition in new directions.

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