Loren Connors: As Roses Bow

Loren Connors
As Roses Bow: Collected Airs 1992-2002
Family Vineyard

Loren Connors has an unmistakable tone that is not duplicated in modern guitar playing. That tone, along with an uncluttered approach, lends significance to every note he plays. None, though, could be described as ‘overcooked’.

As Roses Bow, like all of Connors’ albums, is a journey into another dimension from which the listener cannot help but emerge somehow altered. This music illuminates labyrinthine paths that could lead to a sense of disorientation were his tone and touch not so eerily familiar, welcoming, and desirable. Connors plays in a style that is concentrated and uncompromising, yet also gentle and, yes, airy. Admirably, his natural preference for brief, unfussy phrasing is never abandoned, even on a piece with as dramatic a title as “Air For Bobby Sands and the Hunger Strikers”.

Connors’ inspiration came from several Irish airs but particularly those of Turlogh O’Carolan, a harpist who went blind at an early age. O’Carolan continued to compose and play until March 25, 1738 when he lay, aged 68, on his death bed composing “O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music”. Since all of Connors’ work is infused with his singularly austere and cosmic blues, there are no pieces here that could be described as “jaunty”, yet there is a complexity of feeling in even his simplest tune.

So, in his hands, even a track as hauntingly sad as “Evangeline” shines like light shafts gleaming off a spider’s web on a clear frosty morning. And even a piece as relatively jolly as “A Boy’s Day at the Fair” aches with a quality that isn’t quite as sweet as nostalgia, or as bitter as regret, but floats somewhere between memorial and celebration. Suzanne Langille’s pure and soft vocal on four of the airs, including “Child” and “St. Brigid’s Air”, adds just enough subtle contrast.

Originally released as Airs 1992-2001 in an edition of just 10 copies on Black Label, the collection has been remastered by Jim O’Rourke. In the liner notes Loren Connors remarks that all these pieces just seemed to be in him and that their completion was not laborious. Certainly there is no labor in the listening, either. The 43 tracks come mainly from 10 of his previous albums, eight of which are out of print, including Hell’s Kitchen Park, Moonyean, St. Vincent’s Newsboy Home, Lullaby, Evangeline and Standing Upright on a Curve.

In a sense, the most succinct way to describe this delicate, accessible, and affecting record is to simply borrow a phrase from John Banville’s The Sea where he writes of “the moments dripping away, unnoticed almost, drip by golden drip, toward the final, almost unnoticed, quietus”.

RATING 8 / 10