A dispatch from Fahey-style finger-picking's next generation
A year or two ago, Joshua Rosenthal, head of then infant Tompkins Square Records, made a quest of digging up old guitar legends who had appeared on the out-of-print compilation Takoma Spring. His search took him, necessarily, to the Bay Area, where almost forgotten guitarists like Steve Mann were still alive and, ahem, picking and where the Takoma label had gotten its start. As the Imaginational Anthem series grew from one compilation to two, younger artists began to predominate, and one in particular seemed able to hold his own with the masters. That one was Sean Smith, a 20-something guitar phenomenon whose three luminously beautiful tracks lead off this third in the series, Berkeley Guitar 2006. His “Augur of Divination,” the CD’s first track is astonishing for its skill—the 32nd note picking near the end is as smooth and rapid as any you’ll hear—but also for the artful way it moves across chords and moods and tempos, flickering like fire or running water as it shifts from minor to major, from tranquility to franticness. His other two tracks—“What Once Was Will Be” and “Die Until Tomorrow, Sleep”—are nearly as fabulous as the first and ever-so-slightly better than the two other artists that follow. These are from Smith’s friends Adam Snider and Matt Baldwin, also accomplished, sensitive players who contribute four tracks each in roughly the same style. Snider’s cuts, particularly the minor key “Little Death” and the shivery, flourishing “Anger of God,” wonderfully balance complex playing with accessible melodies, while Baldwin’s have a playful country-style lilt. Berkeley Guitar 2006 is strong evidence that, even with Fahey gone, his gorgeous folk-and-blues rooted guitar styles that he unearthed will persist for at least one more generation.