EARTH AND SKY
It takes nerve to play solo acoustic guitar. Gripping only a few
pounds of ingeniously assembled wood and metal, you have to dazzle
an audience's senses with your bare hands. On a flat-top, staying in
tune means pushing and pulling strings within each voicing, and
adding sustain means fretting your notes a few milliseconds longer.
Physical stuff. In the tight-wire game of solo acoustic, there's no
escaping the core issue: How's your touch? Your tone? Your time?
Just how well CAN you play?
Masterfully, if you're Robin Bullock. His new Between Earth and
Sky is a breathtaking collection of traditional Celtic, Appalachian,
and Scottish Highland bagpipe tunes, Irish reels, Breton folk
melodies, and finely crafted originals. In addition to acoustic 6-
and 12-string guitar, Bullock plays cittern, mandolin, electric bass
and fiddle. It's easy to overlook his brilliant technique, since
it's always in service of the music.
On eight of the CD's fourteen tunes, Bullock tracks all the
instruments. On other selections, he's backed by equally gifted
players on whistle, flute, djembe (a West African drum), button
accordion, soprano sax, alto flute, and bass clarinet. Dobro master
Mike Auldridge makes a guest appearance on one cut, laying down
ghostly lines that tug and tinkle against Bullock's chimey
Whether flying solo or soaring with others, Bullock has an
extraordinary command of timbre and dynamics. From shimmering
harmonics to densely woven strands of counterpoint, his every note
rings clear. Part of this is due to the transparent, airy recording,
but it's Bullock's knack for arranging that lets each instrument
shine so brightly. You can hear that he has dedicated years to
absorbing the lesson of traditional folk music: A poignant melody,
not fancy fretwork, stands the test of time.
Bullock plays with superb intonation - no mean feat when
overdubbing a cluster of fretted, stringed instruments - and his
fat, pointed electric bass tone makes you wonder why more bassists
don't flatpick. Best of all, his overdubs sound organic and dynamic,
like a well-seasoned ensemble. A remarkable work from a deep player.
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