Thursday, July 28, 2011

Old Song Review: Robbie Basho - Night Way

Robbie Basho is widely regarded as a guitar pioneer. As an orphan in Baltimore, he taught himself acoustic guitar and fell in love with the steel string guitar, being particularly enchanted with the "fire" it conveyed that nylon strings could not. As an artist, he was massively influenced by Asian art and philosophy and counted the  great Ravi Shankar as an influence and a friend. He often played a twelve string guitar with various open tunings in an attempt to capture features of the Indian music he cherished. With this preface, I anticipated his remarkable complexity and creativity. What I did not expect was his incredible voice.

"Night Way", the seventh song on his absolutely essential Visions of the Country LP from 1978, starts much in the way you would expect from a guitar virtuoso. They are some sitar-like twangs and pickings, squiggling here and there, gradually gaining in momentum and focus as the song approached a full gallop. After 90 seconds or so, a new sound enters, fluttering above the rest. It's Basho himself, singing in one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard.

His voice is riveting and pure, and within it I can hear the hundreds of artists that have sprouted from it. From the trembling soul of Antony and the Johnsons, to the more experimental (but no less captivating) David Thomas Broughton, I was flabbergasted by what I was hearing. An immense talent I had never heard of, was changing the way I looked at some of my favorite artists today. Much like seeing the film Citizen Kane upends how you view everything that came after it, Basho's art stands tall decades ago, its shadow continuing to stretch ahead in time.

"Night Way"

"Blue Crystal Fire"

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