James Blackshaw

Lost Prayers and Motionless Dances

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    8
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Lost Prayers and Motionless Dances was composer/guitarist James Blackshaw's third recording. It followed his debut, Celeste, and a long out of print split album with Davenport (his half, White Goddess, can be found as a download on eMusic), and was issued by Digitalis Industries as a CD-R in an edition of 200 copies. Thankfully, in 2008, New York's fine indie Tompkins Square Records made it available as a proper CD release. This is a single work that clocks in at a bit over 34 minutes. It is introduced by Blackshaw playing not his guitar, but a harmonium, a series of notes and minor chords droning and breathing, before it trims itself to a single droning note. At just under the eight-minute mark, his trademark 12-string enters over it, tuned to C F C F C F; shimmering, airy chords are strummed with the drone note in the foreground, but in the space of less than a couple of minutes, that guitar begins interacting with the drone in ever more complex and compelling ways. The glorious fingerpicking style he employs makes not only the guitar strings play a counter-melody over the harmonium, but also creates separate ones over and against one another. Stuttering stops that fall in between the cracks of his myriad rhythmic inflections offer color and textural differentiations that are sometimes gradual, and at others seemingly sudden, but never jarring. Blackshaw employs sitar techniques in his picking, creating a beautiful raga-esque feel in certain sections of the work, where open drones and long-held lines come seamlessly together offering a new set of modal possibilities. Of course, this doesn't begin to describe what is really happening here in this music; it is very mysterious -- wonderfully so -- but in a sense that it is connected to something both inside and outside of itself. Blackshaw is not an academic guitarist; he may have the technique of a master, but more than this, what he does possess is a way to plug fully into the music he is offering like a poet, to surround himself with its dynamics, its heart, its gaps. This sense of beauty builds until it has nowhere else to go, and although what comes after it -- when radio and percussion sounds enter and the guitar simply vanishes for a while -- is a bit jarring, it never takes away the center of the music that came before it; in a very alien way, it adds something immeasurable and heartbreaking, even when the guitar eventually returns to bring the work to a close. Highly recommended.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 34:31
blue highlight denotes track pick