While few on the North American side of the Atlantic are aware of the sheer poetic and instrumental genius of guitarist Davy Graham -- such listeners usually get all misty over one of the persons he influenced, such as Richard Thompson, Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, and Ellen McIlwaine, all of whom he is superior to in both technique and compositional style -- his place in the world of guitar icons is well-established. Graham literally started the modern folk revival for guitarists in England. The Guitar Player is his first full-length album, recorded in 1962 and issued on the venerable Pye Records Golden Guinea label two years after Graham's recording debut, the 3/4 A.D. EP on Topic. This Castle/Sanctuary reissue of The Guitar Player is lovingly and painstakingly remastered from the original tapes. It contains the 12 dazzling tracks in sequence from its predecessor that showcase Graham's truly astonishing range -- even by today's standards. Jazz classics such as Sonny Rollins' "Don't Stop the Carnival" accompanied by timpanis, Brubeck's "Take Five," Cannonball Adderley's "Sermonette," Horace Silver's "Buffalo," the torch song "Cry Me a River" (which was a hit by Julie London just before Graham reinvented it), and Ray Charles' R&B classic "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" were re-imagined by Graham as folk instrumentals. They retain their swing and their radical harmonic inventions -- even more so because of Graham's wild contrapuntal blues method of playing. His version of a classic blues song like "How Long, How Long Blues" recalls Gary Davis and Big Bill Broonzy (just forget Hot Tuna's version please; it is sickly pale in comparison), and his originals, such as "Blues for Betty," contain an exoticism not heard before or since while remaining true to the idiom. The Guitar Player is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, instrumental acoustic guitar record of the 1960s and 1970s British folk scene. In addition to the album, Sanctuary has seen fit to include no less than eight bonus tracks taken from the Rollercoaster CDs After Hours and All That Moody, and two short cuts -- including a redone "Anji" (covered by Simon & Garfunkel as the lone instrumental on Sounds of Silence) from 1976. The liner notes by British critic Colin Harper are exemplary and exhaustive. Now, if only Topic would see clear to re-release Folk, Blues & Beyond... and Folk Roots, New Routes (with Shirley Collins) on remastered CDs, then Graham's legacy would be available to be reevaluated by ignorant and pigheaded Americanski critics (Byron Coley and Richie Unterberger excepted). Nonetheless, the release of the classic The Guitar Player in America, some 40 years after its initial issue, is still an occasion for great celebration and is a candidate for reissue of the year.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek