Peter Lang,
Guitar
(Horus, 2003)

Listening to guitar instrumental recordings, we non-musicians are often left to feel like bystanders at a conversation. Other musicians know what is being said, but the rest of us can only examine our impressions of what we're hearing and hope that should we presume to venture an opinion, we don't make laughable fools of ourselves -- for example, by expressing some variant of "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like."

Well, I know I like this record, Peter Lang's second since his return to recording after a 15-year hiatus (during which he focused his efforts on raising a family). Lang is one of what might be called (to parody the title of a John Fogerty song) Big Guitars from Minneapolis, a city that, along with its sister St. Paul, houses an unsettling number of acoustic masters, including my old pal Dakota Dave Hull, Tim Sparks, Phil Heywood, Dean Magraw, Pat Donohue and -- most famously -- Leo Kottke. Kottke and Lang in particular are the products of the late John Fahey, who in the 1960s created what he called "American primitive guitar," a moody, melodic, impressionistic, finger-picking style fashioned out of folk songs, rural blues and old Protestant hymns. Both Kottke and Lang released their first albums on Fahey's Takoma label.

Since then Kottke has gone his own way, recording vocal pieces (in what he cheerfully refers to as his "goose-farts" voice) as well as instrumentals that explore a wide variety of sounds. Lang, however, remains in the Fahey school -- in other words, no singing and a classisist's take on folk melody. On Guitar, his second new CD in two years (the other being 2001's Dharma Blues), he picks up the 12-string while conceding ruefully that "it is not really geared toward more delicate and complex compositions" and is "more akin to a three-foot cheese grater than a musical instrument." His liner notes reassure us, to the relief of all concerned, that after an extended repast in ice water, his hands are now largely healed.

From the sound of things, everything turned out for the best. This is rich, beautiful music, both full-bodied and subtle, and always moving, never more so than in the three tributes to fallen friends and idols, "John Hurt in the 21st Century," "Snaker Ray Has Come and Gone" (dedicated to the late Twin Cities folk-blues legend Dave Ray) and the 8.5-minute "Witness to the Messenger" (to Fahey). If you don't like what Peter Lang is doing, I feel sorry for you.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 12 June 2004



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