Also feat: Hush Arbors, Trevor Healy and Jefferson Pitcher
TEXT/PHOTOS BY JENNIFER KELLY
It’s all about guitar on this chilly November evening, specifically acoustic, finger-picked guitar, undiluted by voice or other instruments. Daniel Bachman is in town from North Carolina on a small tour that has wound its way through New England, Portsmouth last night and back south through Philly tomorrow. Here in Florence, at a nice, relatively new venue (13th Floor Lounge), he reconnects with Trevor Healy, an old friend who spends his days making and repairing guitars, and Keith Wood of Hush Arbors, who often plays with a band and sings, but tonight brings just a guitar.
Trevor Healy (above) opens, at first playing alone on a 12-string, covering a Fahey tune, then venturing one of his own. If nothing else, he’s a living advertisement for his business; both the instruments he plays have beautiful, resonant sound, a clarity at the high end and a glowing warmth in the mid-range. A former San Franciscan, Healy featured on the 2010 Tompkins Square compilation, #Beyond Berkeley Guitar.” This evening he revisits the lovely, meditative “Wrapped in Water” from that disc.
Then he’s joined on stage by Jefferson Pitcher, who plays a guitar that Healy constructed. Pitcher is also a Northern Californian who has relocated to Western Mass, though his playing slants more towards rock and experimental. Together they work out the contours of “Song of the Little Road,” Healy constructing a filigreed foundation of picking on acoustic, while Pitcher coaxes a high, tremulous note-bending melody on his electric. Later, Healy switches to electric, and the two of them embark on an angular, octave-jumping composition that sounds far more modern than anything they’ve played so far. The closer, “A Story They Told,” borrows a Native American rhythm, Healy explains. It is lovely and far from arcane, with a melody that rises buoyantly, then circles back to its start in three-four time.
Then it’s Hush Arbors — which I know from a series of dreamy psychedelic folk albums, but which here tonight is just Keith Wood (above) and an acoustic guitar and one long, mood-varying piece. Wood begins in the kind of lysergic folk rock that you might associate with Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” but just the guitar. That morphs eventually into a more stridently rhythmic kind of rag, which struts its way through another few minutes, and then returns to the lyrical, psych-ish strumming of the opening segment. His whole set is one piece, no talk, no theatrics, and when he is done he unplugs his guitar and left the stage.
Daniel Bachman is the main draw tonight, and talking to him briefly before the show, I learn a couple of things about him. First he is another of those very young guys who play very old music. He looks, I would guess, even younger than he is, and he has a wonderful, carrying laugh that you can hear all across the room when he does it, which is pretty often. Also, he is a serious, serious music aficionado, who, in about five minutes time, enthused about a new Native American psych reissue set that Paradise of Bachelors (his label) is working on, a set of horror movie soundtracks coming out soon and a culty Texas songwriter named Willis Alan Ramsey, whose main claim to fame is the Captain & Tennille song “Muskrat Love,” but who, Bachman insists, is much, much better than that. Actually, I probably missed three or four things he was excited about. There are a lot of them.
Anyway, he sits down to play, first on a regular six string, wringing splayed, widely spaced chords from his instrument and flicking his picking hand away from the guitar to allow them to resonant. At first there’s silence between the chords, but then he begins to populate the empty space with extremely rapid, extremely accurate picking. It’s like hearing a melody sketch, then its full orchestrated realization, it’s hard to process the fact that it all comes from one instrument.
Bachman switches to a lap guitar for the second song , and the cool thing about this is that he’s doing two diametrically opposed things with his two hands. His right hand keeps a metronomically precise kind of time, while his left, further up on the neck, draws out eerie, vibrating slide notes that melt into other notes while you listen to them fade. It’s a disorienting mix of structure and atmosphere, the earthy certainty of picking matched with a free-roaming spirituality of slide.
Bachman plays “Sarah Anne” from the #Jesus I’m a Sinner# album on the lap guitar, and a spectral blues that he says is a cover (but which, sadly, I do not recognize). Switching back to the regular guitar, he plays a rapid picking, country ramble which is quite likely “Rappahonnock,” and closes with a stately rag (he calls it a “slow and soupy one”). It is all wonderful, both in the skill and in the spirit. He is a very good guitar player, but he uses that proficiency not for its own end, but to convey the deepest, simplest sorts of meaning.
It’s a good night for the guitar — and maybe more to the point, a good night for music.