Joseph Allred doesn’t play the guitar so much as he assaults it. And this assault isn’t meant to suggest a heavy metal shredder. Rather, Allred is an avant-garde/primitive folk guitarist in the true tradition of an “outsider” artist. Not unlike Daniel Bachman, whose 2018 album Morning Star was an engaging collection of experimental folk/noise acoustic guitar, O Meadowlark – Allred’s third album – is full of unvarnished stringed catharsis.
The instrumental album, which was recorded in one night “without really intending anything in particular with it”, follows the narrative of a fictional character named Poor Faulkner – an occasional Allred alias – who lives in a house in a remote part of Tennessee. Faulkner sees ghosts, follows birds into the woods, and is visited by an angel. Not exactly standard top 40 fare, but the music itself certainly bears no resemblance to an artist following a standard commercial trajectory.
For anyone interested in raw, unapologetic, non-traditional art, O Meadowlark is a godsend. The title track is seven minutes of tumbling, strumming, slashing banjo, setting the scene for a brash, deeply emotional listening experience. While no less thorny, “The Woods in the Morning, and the Angel Descends” follows with a slightly warmer tone, due in large part to the banjo being traded in for an acoustic guitar. Allred’s playing style is thick, dense, and veers between muscular thrashing chords and gentle fingerpicking.
Switching back to the banjo for “The Porch at Night”, the key suggests a Middle Eastern or Asian style, giving the song an odd combination of rural Americana and sitar-like raga. For an album that seems singular and specific in concept, Allred can wrest a variety of moods within this type of solo guitar thrashing. “Mother of Believers” contains a great deal of deliberate pauses that give his thorny folk style plenty of room to breathe. The somewhat sparse, deliberate pacing is also used to great effect in “The Porch in the Morning, and the Angel Returns”. It’s a moody, meditative track that eventually ramps up to a cacophonous pitch before eventually coming off the ledge.
“The Woods in the Day, and Faulkner Ascends Through the Trees” is another song with a more Eastern, almost raga-type feel. But as performed on an acoustic guitar – as opposed to a sitar, or with tabla accompaniment – Allred keeps the song grounded in an intense, sober, folk-centered environment, acknowledging global touchstones but still unmistakably rooted in Americana. It closes the album the same way it was opened: fierce, raw, and deeply moving.
With O Meadowlark, Joseph Allred continues to produce music that is uncomplicated yet capable of conveying a deep emotional experience. He may be an outsider, but with this music, the outside feels cleansing and liberating.