Monday, June 16, 2008
A brilliant and innovative 12-string guitar player, James Blackshaw was born in 1981 in London, where he continues to make his home. Another in a long string of amazing British acoustic guitar wizards, Blackshaw has been compared at various times to Bert Jansch, Davy Graham, Robbie Basho, John Fahey, Glenn Jones, Jack Rose, and Leo Kottke, among others, but his sound, often modal and based on improvising across set themes, is entirely his own.
James Blackshaw's Sunshrine was originally issued in 2005 by the Digitalis Industries label in an edition of 1,000 CDs. A year later, Bo'Weavil re-released it on vinyl as half of a double album that also included his first recording, Celeste. That pressing was limited to 525 copies and sold out quickly. Blackshaw was garnering a small but very dedicated following to be sure. His earlier recordings had been reviewed in The Wire and in Signal to Noise, and were circulated by word of mouth and on dubbed CD-Rs for two years. Blackshaw was introduced to American shores via the Cloud of Unknowing album in 2007, thanks to the great ears over at New York's Tompkins Square imprint. The label has undertaken a great labor of love in providing the American releases of Blackshaw's back catalog: this is the third and final entry in that series on CD. Sunshrine is the shortest of Blackshaw's early recordings. It is comprised of two tracks; the title piece at 26 and a half minutes and "Skylark Herald's Dawn," a beautiful little sketch that lasts just a bit over three minutes. Call it a mini-album, a long EP, whatever; the title track is perhaps the single most stunning piece of music Blackshaw released up to Cloud of Unknowing.
Blackshaw plays both six- and 12-string guitars on "Sunshrine," and an Indian sarod, harmonium, organ, bells, and bowed cymbals as well. The track is pristinely recorded and is developed, as his previous works had been, by combining modal notions of Indian raga with long drones juxtaposed against various melodies and fluctuating rhythmic pulses and dynamic textures.