Steve Gunn / Black Twig Pickers

Seasonal Hire

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Despite the billing, Seasonal Hire seems to reference guitarist Steve Gunn hanging his shingle on a Black Twig Pickers recording more than the other way around. Before launching his career as a solo artist, he spent his time working with everyone from Meg Baird and the Magik Markers to Kurt Vile, and he was a member of GHQ and the Gunn-Truscinski Duo, to name a few. He had also worked with the individual members of BTP before. He and Mike Gangloff recorded Melodies for a Savage Fix for Important, and Nathan Bowles was part of Gunn's Way Out Weather studio band. The Black Twig Pickers, who reside in Montgomery County, Virginia and Greenbrier County, West Virginia, have been a string band whose roots lie deep in the soil of Appalachia, but who've nonetheless been influenced by everything from psychedelic music and punk-blues to the music of North Carolina's experimental fiddler Henry Flynt. Gunn's love for folk styles, raga, and Piedmont and Delta blues is a natural fit. There is only one public domain tune here, a wide-open modal read of "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down," where Sally Anne Morgan and Gangloff play fiddles and sing, while Isak Howell's mouth harp, Bowles' banjo, and Gunn's guitar create a middle and bottom that wed drone to a Celtic reel. "Dive for the Pearl" is a new, longer version of the same tune that Gunn and Gangloff cut, played in a round with slide and standard banjo, harmonica, fiddle, and guitar all turning the same phrase over throughout, while different tonal accents are displayed as each instrument takes a turn at the forefront. Morgan's "Cardinal 51" is a fiddle tune that could be a lonesome square dance number. Here, more than any other cut, is where the recording process really shines -- this was cut live in the same room with no amplification, just recording microphones. Gunn's presence really asserts itself on the back half of the record. A vocal version of his "Trailways Ramble" (from Time Off, though this one was recorded first) asserts its raga-blues quality for nearly seven minutes before he and the Twigs spin off into a glorious improvisation on the title track for over 16 minutes. Gunn's gorgeous 12-string playing is the centerpiece of the first half, supported by Bowles' bowed cymbals, jaw harp, singing bowls, gongs, fiddle, banjos, and sruti box. Despite the exotic instrumentation and colorful textures, its central motifs are melodic, building and releasing in dynamic as both Western and Eastern traditions are bridged. And while the tune ranges far and wide, it eventually echoes a return to its origins, but from a different hemisphere. Despite the relaxed, very informal nature of the playing, some deep music gets made here. While guitar freaks may have hoped for more guitar from Gunn, he's everywhere even when he's not running the show. Seasonal Hire is excellent country and Eastern.

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