Triptych - James Blackshaw
In only five years, James Blackshaw has earned a reputation as Britain’s most brilliant young composer-guitarist, wowing the avant-garde and folk underground with his acoustic 12-string reveries.
Like contemporary US pickers Jack Rose and Glenn Jones, the 26-year-old Londoner draws inspiration from the American Primitive school of guitar instrumentalists – John Fahey, Sandy Bull, and, in particular, 12-string guru Robbie Basho – but his vision isn’t limited to an exploration of folk, blues and raga forms. In fact, his compositions have more in common with the minimalism of Steve Reich and Charlemagne Palestine, Southeast Asian folk, and Renaissance courtly music.
It’s as a composer that Blackshaw principally sees himself, although the 12-string guitar, with its resonant, bell-like sound, is instrumental in realising his ideas. The results are quite remarkable: long, mesmeric pieces driven by cascading arcs of finger-picked notes, rich in overtones, drones and graceful melodies. Although Blackshaw is reluctant to describe his music as psychedelic, his ability to put the listener in a trance-like state, then transport them somewhere else with a subtle harmonic shift or fleet-fingered flourish, can be transcendent, spiritual even.
The Cloud of Unknowing, named after a 14th century mystical Christian text, was one of the great albums of 2007, and previews suggest its follow up, Litany of Echoes, due in June, will be equally special. There’s also a collaboration with Dutch lute maestro Jozef Van Wissem to look forward to.
An extraordinary talent, James Blackshaw will hypnotise, dazzle and move you. In one word: unmissable.
James Blackshaw plays Bongo Club, Edinburgh Sat 26 Apr; The Ivy, Glasgow, Sun 27 Apr.
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