Various Artists

Imaginational Anthem, Vol. 3

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The Imaginational Anthem series on Tompkins Square continues with this third volume, and as has become its wont, it is more adventurous than even its predecessors, yet stays closer to the vest, making it, upon first listen, more accessible but also more mysterious. Guitarist and kalimba wizard Richard Crandall's "Zocalo" opens the set. Played on an acoustic six-string steel guitar, it offers a kind of gentle but sprawling reflection on British Isles folk styles, American Primitivism à la the raga-like melodic repetitions offered in John Fahey's work, but Crandell's interested in the nooks and crannies of minor keys and manages to explore them while keeping the listener inside his circular approach to harmony and modality. It's an arresting beginning that signals a move toward the inside and sets up Ben Reynolds' "Here Toucheth Blues." Whereas Crandell's tune is rooted in old, almost pagan traditions, Reynolds comes at it almost from the church hymnal. After a pastoral into, he moves toward something communal, spring-like and kissed by the breath of God. The masterful and seamless assimilation of various blues guitar styles in Nathan Salsburg's "Bold Ruler's Joys" is simply a startling piece of guitar history rolled into a couple of minutes without a trace of academic detachment. "When the Snow Melts and Floats Downstream" is the American debut of Irish guitarist Cian Nugent, who at 19 is the youngest player here by nearly a decade. There isn't anything particularly youthful about his approach, though. One can hear the ancient Gaelic lineage in his playing, but there is a very current feeling of song in it as well. It's a real stunner. The strangest cut here is by five-string banjoist George Stavis. "Goblins" is from the single album he recorded for Vanguard in 1969 called Labyrinths: Occult Compositions for Five String Banjo and Percussion. It's full of so many knotty twists and turns through the language and history of the instrument that it takes two or three listens to get a real handle on it -- but each of those spins is a delight. No matter what part of this set you choose to play, you'll be rewarded handsomely. That said, there is a method to Josh Rosenthal's sequencing. If you can find the time to listen through at a single sitting, you'll find your way into a truly magical world of sound, reverie, and emotion. Another winner from one of the great indie labels.

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