Bill MacKay / Ryley Walker

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SpiderBeetleBee Review

by Thom Jurek

In 2015, intrepid guitarists Bill MacKay and Ryley Walker issued their first album of guitar duets, Land of Plenty, after developing their mutual dialogue over a monthlong residency at Chicago's Whistler. Two years later, SpiderBeetleBee reveals their shared instrumental conversation evolving into an intuitive, wonderfully imaginative musical language. Opener "The Grand Old Trout" juxtaposes American Primitive with English folk, as conversations and side conversations emerge, fade, and change shape to return as altogether other schemas. "Pretty Weeds Revisited" features the two interacting with the enchanting sonorous statements of Dutch cellist Katinka Kleijn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She falls directly into their sound world, adding weight and heft. On the all too brief first single, "I Heard Them Singing," MacKay plays a five-string requinto guitar balanced by an alternate harmonic lead to Walker's equally nimble six-string. The two are accompanied on the track by Ryan Jewell on tabla, expanding their rootsy North American groove to embrace the Indian subcontinent. The pity is that it's less than two and a half minutes long. The other short number here, "Lower Chestnut," showcases the direct economy of their interaction inside a gloriously complex waltz, complete with Baroque stylings and jagged intervals inserted. The pair spend three of the six and a half minutes in "Naturita" exploring complex varieties of ambient and tonal space and improvisation before emerging with a slippery, driving fingerpicked interaction between vanguard and modal folk provided by MacKay's glass slide tonalities. The richness of rural open vistas is captured beautifully in "Stretching My Dollar in Plano," where that slide anchors the tune in the red Texas dirt. "Lonesome Traveler" flits between American Primitive fingerpicking and deep Piedmont-style slide blues, infused with a hint of ragtime. Kleijn returns on set closer "Dragonfly." The guitar dialogue suggests Bert Jansch and John Renbourn more than a little -- though the articulation is looser and more playful. The cello adds dimension and texture as it moves about the outside, swooping down on the pair's changes and minor-key elocutions as they offer their own take on English folk and flirt with classical music. If you liked what transpired on Land of Plenty, you'll love the swirling complexity and good-time vibes of SpiderBeetleBee.

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