Anthem series started in 2005, as a way to unearth forgotten guitar pickers
from the American primitive tradition. For Volume
1, label head Josh Rosenthal doggedly sought out men (and one woman) from
the Takoma school’s 1960s heyday, resurrecting the careers of Steve Mann and
Harry Tausig, remembering Takoma-school patron saint John Fahey, and also
welcoming younger players like Harris Newman, Glenn Jones and Jack Rose. Yet as the series continued, it has moved out
of the past, towards a younger generation of folk blues traditionalists. Volume
IV focuses almost entirely on younger players, demonstrating, if nothing
else, the strength and staying power of acoustic guitar blues.
Some of the players on Volume IV are best known for other
projects – Tyler Ramsey plays in Band of Horses, Wiliam Tyler has a main gig in
Lambchop and Micah Blue Smaldone plays with Fire on Fire and tours with Death
Vessel. All give themselves whole-heartedly to the project at hand, however,
Ramsey layering shimmery picking over tremulous pull-offs in “Our Home Beyond
the River” and Tyler contributing one of the disc’s most lyrically beautiful
cuts in “Between Radnor and Sunrise.”
Micah Blue Smaldone wields a spectral slide in his “Rose March”, imbuing a
stately traditional piece with untamed spirituality.
Other artists – C.
Joynes and Nick Jonah Davis – have already
made a mark in the Takoma-style style. Joynes’ “Jemmy Steel,” which closes the
disc, has the old-time-y rectitude and uncompromised purity of an old 78
recording. Still many of these players are young, promising and, so far, little
known. Sam Moss, from Boston,
contributes a radiant, intricate “Miniature Dwellings II,” with an assurance
and rhythmic certainty that reminds you of Jack Rose. Mike Fekete’s “Birds on
the Lake” is serenely, luminously beautiful,
its flurries of notes passing like ruffles of wind on water.
Volume IV is
beautiful, yet it doesn’t have the same impact as earlier albums. The element
of surprise is gone, obviously, but also there’s nothing to quite match
previous selections like Ochs’ “Imaginational Anthem”, James Blackshaw’s “River of Heaven” or the late Jack Rose’s
“Crossing North Fork.”
Still, if there are fewer mesmerizing highpoints, even the
average cut is quite good. Takoma-style
picking is alive and well, even now, half a century on from its beginnings and
half a decade since the Imaginational
Anthem series began.
Home Beyond the River,” “Between Radnor and Sunrise” JENNIFER KELLY