James Blackshaw - O True Believers

"I would say that, on this album at least, the influence of Sandy Bull looms largest of all. (Having said that I have no knowledge of actually playing the guitar so treat this comment with caution - I could never stand the thought of having finger nails like Howard Hughes in his later days). "


 


James Blackshaw - O True Believers


 


There seems to be a lot of it about at the moment: guitarists playing in the tradition of John Fahey and Robbie Basho. In addition to Steffan Basho-Junghans, Glenn Jones (Cul De Sac) and Jack Rose (Pelt), we can now add the name of James Blackshaw. O True Believers is not Blackshaw's debut - he's been putting out limited edition albums for a couple of years now - but it is certainly the first that has been made widely available. The album, made up of four lengthy tracks, kicks of with Transient Life in Twilight. The song starts slowly as simple strums are gradually transformed into a gentle and melancholy melody. As the song progresses the melody becomes more muscular and the riff more positive before the songs fades back to its initial refrain. This cycle is repeated several times before the song finally ends.


 


The Elk With Jade Eyes displays a similarly pastoral title to its predecessor but there the resemblance ends. Clocking in at almost 20 minutes the song starts in a more abstract fashion than Transient Life in Twilight. The playing is more intricate and it eventually creates a raga-like intensity. On this track Blackshaw also plays cymbala and tamboura; as the raga breaks down, and the guitar playing becomes more open and spacious, so the harp-like sounds of the cymbala glisten and shimmer and add a magical presence to the track. On the brooding Spiralling Skeleton Memorial the guitar takes centre stage again before the album is rounded off with the title track. O True Believers features quite an array of instruments and sounds like the work of a genuine band. Blackshaw adds harmonium and percussion to the track and the result is something of a sweet post-rock drone. Gently uplifting and hopeful the song has a languid, summery feel and the album ends suffused in a soft warm glow.


 


Although he is still in his early twenties Blackshaw plays confidently and with great delicacy on this album. There is no doubt that Blackshaw is influenced by Fahey and Basho but I would say that, on this album at least, the influence of Sandy Bull looms largest of all. (Having said that I have no knowledge of actually playing the guitar so treat this comment with caution - I could never stand the thought of having finger nails like Howard Hughes in his later days). Ultimately though, Blackshaw's work has to survive independently of the work of those who have gone before him, and it does so with room to spare.


 


Words: Chris Dawson.