The guitar playing is impressive, but the loose and self-indulgent nature of these compositions will test the listener's patience.
It’s an unfortunate fact that instrumental music isn’t always the most listener friendly. The lack of vocals, compelling choruses, and overarching pop precepts often deters casual listeners from offering anything more than an appreciative nod rather than a commitment of time. Even some of the most renowned instrumental artists -- Leo Kotke, Carlos Jobim and John Fahey, among them -- found their appreciation limited to diehards and devotees.
Sir Richard Bishop -- the knighthood is apparently self-bestowed -- has developed his career as a like-minded guitarist whose associations with the alternative underground (artists like Will Oldham, Animal Collective, Devendra Banhart, and Bill Callahan) have brought him to fringes of fame, at least among the hipper set. His string of adventurous instrumental albums, mostly featuring simply solo guitar, has made those folks take special note. This is not to say that he’s destined for mass success; the all electronic album Elektronika Demonika and an even darker turn, While My Guitar Gently Bleeds, allayed any such notion. Furthermore, he has built a somewhat idiosyncratic reputation as a decidedly progressive pundit. His signing to the overtly adventurous record label Drag City has also helped boost his standing as an avant-garde auteur.
When Bishop records with a band in tow, his prospects brighten, given the fact that there’s more diversity in the mix, and there are other ideas spread that can be spread about. However, once he’s off on his own, as he is on Tangier Sessions, Bishop’s self-indulgence stunts any suggestion that anyone other than a serious aficionados is going to express anything more than passing interest. While his fleet-fingered melodies and ability to effectively caress the strings reflect an astute style, the melodies generally meander, making them appear elusive at best and redundant at worst. Some editing might have helped, especially on songs such as “Frontier” and “Bound in Morocco,” two compositions inspired by his wandering muse and quest for creativity.
Make no mistake, though: Bishop is a brilliant player and anyone willing to allow themselves to get lost in the music may reap some reward. That variety that is present affirms his mastery of technique, evidenced on the rapid fire resolve of “Mirage” and the sheer effervescent beauty of “Let It Come Down”. There’s no doubt of his brilliance, but rather his ability to hold interest. Perhaps these offerings would be better appreciated in concert, where rapt attention is a requirement and hushed reverence is fully shared between artist and audience.
In truth, it feels somewhat heretical to even dare criticize such a skilled musician; no doubt there are serious devotees who would sneer at any attempt to defame Bishop’s work. Some have more patience for the kind of intimate interludes Tangier Sessions provides. So be it. In this fast paced world, patience comes at a premium and solo guitar passages don’t stand much of a chance. It’s best to say that when it comes to Tangier, it was probably best to leave the music there.