The paradox of a roots musician with a foot in avant-garde music is a puzzling one to consider, but the enigma fades when the CD spins out the 12 tracks by guitarist Duck Baker on a recent release that comes from the guitarist's archive, a series of tracks recorded the summer of 1982 that were meant for a demo sampling of his work, but which Baker and sound engineer Dix Bruce realized stood as significant enough material for a full-fledged release.
While the artist may be a critical quandary, the music speaks for itself and satisfies the ear in its curlicue finger picking lines and the nostalgic allusions to a simpler time. This is music that sooths the mind and the nerves, a much needed experience in troubled times. The tracks are all originals, all penned by Baker himself, except for one piece co-written with Lynn Abbott, the ragtime "knuckle-buster" (as Baker, himself refers to it in the liner notes).
Baker has worked the solo acoustic guitar format for most of his career, and is obviously someone who absorbed the musical spirit of his time, which has had both a retrospective and a forward-looking aesthetic. The folk aspects of his compositions, inspired by the melodies, the harmonic language and the rhythms of American folk music with Irish and Scottish music roots, are prominent and beautifully rendered, but there are also strains of ragtime, jazz, and the postmodern tendency for pastiche of styles and eras.
The musical moods range from nostalgic and pastoral to exuberant and reflective, as in pieces like "Deirdre," a contrapuntal composition that sounds almost like a Leo Brouwer tune, "Putney Bridge," a Scottish bagpipe-like tune. The pieces can also be quite intricate and complex, as is the case with "First Frost," which has an Irish lilt, but goes through a number of harmonic and melodic permutations. "The Clear Blue Sky" has an opening modal vamp that sounds like McCoy Tyner, but then goes into jaunty reel-like lines. In a piece like "Holding Pattern," we get an intricate musical experience that is more Manuel Barrueco than Mississippi John Hurt, but also has some nice Nashville style filigree passages.
This is an eclectic selection of acoustic solo guitar work impeccably performed by an accomplished and creative thinking musician that will please anyone interested in the art of finger style music and beyond.
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