Richard Bishop

Polytheistic Fragments

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Sir Richard Bishop, formerly guitarist of the (in)famous Sun City Girls ensemble, has been making solo recordings intermittently since 1998, and quite regularly since 2004. In fact, Polytheistic Fragments -- his debut for Drag City -- is his fourth in as many years, and his third since 2006. The Sun City Girls split after the death of percussionist Charles Gocher in February of 2007. This is Bishop's first musical statement since that time. He has a given style as a guitarist. Icons like the late John Fahey and Robbie Basho are usually invoked, but Bishop plays nothing like either one. His musical knowledge and technical range are vast: from ancient and modern Asian scalar modalities (Vietnam to China to Japan to Malaysia) and Indian raga, from South American indigenous rural folk musics to British Isles and Celtic instrumental forms, from American Appalachian folk, blues, and jazz, to Brazilian samba and Spanish flamenco and fado and Argentinean tango. Polytheistic Fragments delves into a number of these, from classical Spanish flamenco to open modal explorative improvisations. He employs mostly a single acoustic guitar, but there are some overdubs and slide tunes where the electric is utilized as well. It hardly matters once one encounters a track like "Rub' Al Khali," where flamenco and Spanish classical styles encounter Pan-Asian modalities. On the very next cut, "Free Masonic Guitar," what appear to the ear to be overdubbed acoustic and 12-strings are tuned in an odd open-toned scale and woven into a tightly knit fabric of single-string wizardry and percussive chord flourishes that touch upon blues, old Andean folk tunes, and a shimmering bluegrass breakdown framed in a flamenco -- not nuevo, either -- rhythmic attack (as if you could dance to Bishop's wildly mysterious music). But there are more surprises here than that, including the shimmering surf-country of "Canned Goods & Firearms," with its electric guitar in plectrum style that doesn't ape Dick Dale so much as go beyond his own wildest dreams. "Saraswati" offers minimal, lightly reverbed piano playing and an odd minor-key melody that is as quizzical as it is beautiful, backed by a droning Indian sarod in the backdrop. "Tennessee Porch Swing" is a Southern hornpipe-styled folk tune, and the set closes with the gloriously languid, elegiac "Ecstasies in the Open Air," an acoustic guitar piece with what sounds like a lone organ line in the background (there are no credits) before an electric guitar offers a contrapuntal lyric line and guitars (including a Resophonic six-string) begin to bleed and blur together in a wall of tastefully layered overdubs to carry this combination lullaby and dirge, sweet as it is, home into silence. Polytheistic Fragments may not appeal to those who enjoy Bishop's longer compositions, but this was meant to be a collection of instrumental songs, and to that end it is successful -- focused, investigative, searching, and full of barely concealed reverie and emotion. It is not less forward-thinking than his other recordings, simply less experimental in nature.

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