Observing gifted guitarist Daniel Bachman’s work in progress
Daniel Bachman at age 22 is remarkably young for a guitar virtuoso, but the Fredericksburg native has already journeyed far down the path laid out by Jack Rose and the king of American primitive guitarists, John Fahey.
For those unfamiliar with this peculiar yet vital subspecies of Americana, perhaps an explanation is in order. John Fahey was a solo guitarist, originally from the D.C. area, who relocated to California in the 1960s, blazing a musical trail by inventing a new language for the acoustic guitar—crossbreeding the dense, immersive drones of Indian classical music (specifically the raga) with the finger-pick techniques and instrumentation of Appalachian blues and folk—to create a sound that was incredibly expressive and lush, while remaining raw and personal. He called it American primitivism, a phrase taken from painting, and a fitting one. Like many in the mid-century art world, he was a clever and often difficult post-modernist, dissecting and expanding upon the techniques found in rural, unschooled styles.
Fahey had a long, strange career, full of setbacks, sharp left turns, and more than a few masterpieces before his death in 2001. But Fahey’s disciples over the past half-century (consisting of a few direct apprentices and a swarm of devotees) have carried on the tradition, finding their own voices and styles while working within the framework. From contemporaries like Robbie Basho and Leo Kottke to more recent artists like Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance, UK guitarist James Blackshaw, and Fahey’s student and collaborator Glenn Jones, the American primitive style remains alive and well. Many are still exploring the musical possibilities it has to offer, and none more so than Jack Rose, a Virginian who started out as a member of Pelt before embarking on a stellar solo career and tragically passing away in 2009.
These are tough shoes for Daniel Bachman to fill, but he seems eager to try. Performing and touring regularly since the age of 17, Bachman has already shown remarkable technical talent and a dependable ear with a reliable sense of taste. On both banjo and guitar he switches between dark and thoughtful drones, bright and whimsical melodies, and dense, lush anthems of delicate beauty. He occasionally performed with the late Rose, and designed the cover art for his posthumous release, an implicit passing of the torch from one generation to the next.
Bachman has already begun to carve out a sizeable discography, issuing a handful of releases under the alias Sacred Harp before reverting to his own name. He’s found a home on the esteemed Tompkins Square record label, which usually concentrates on archival releases and re-issues, making Bachman the youngest artist on that roster by a significant margin (many of his labelmates have been dead for decades).
Bachman is clearly still developing his craft, and while he’s not on the level of the giants his name is associated with, there’s a certain amount of wonder to be gleaned from hearing a work-in-progress. For a listener such as myself who is not so technically informed, hearing his apprentice wizardry reveals much about the process and construction of this music, while also providing its own visceral pleasures.
Some guitarists play effortlessly, the sounds shoot like magic from their fast-moving fingertips. With Bachman, the effort is still apparent, but the skill is obvious as well. That contrast creates a tension and gives the listener an entry-point into the performance. On rare occasions he’ll pause a lush and glorious riff to sheepishly mutter an apology for an imperceptible error, or will double back to re-attempt a tricky transition, but he remains professional and entertaining, a dedicated craftsman sharpening his skills on stages around the country.
Bachman’s crew-cut, corn-fed charm might lead you to initially mistake him for yet another singer-songwriter-type seeking industry validation, but even a cursory listen to one of his tunes should reassure you that his muse was grown on the true vine.
Daniel Bachman will perform at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar on April 26 at 9pm. The opening act is Dais Queue, the solo project of Grand Banks guitarist Davis Salisbury.
Friday also marks the EP release for local rockers Left & Right. The quartet was formed by UVA students, and in the years since graduating, they have sharpened that act into one of the most dependable rock bands in town. The most recent release is the EP 93, named for the year that produced many of the bands’ favorite albums. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I designed the album cover for 93). Though they were only toddlers that year, the members of L&R are devoted to the styles and aesthetics of the college radio and early alternative eras. The group’s sound is reminiscent of Superchunk, Built to Spill, and Sebadoh, with enough precision and drive to be worth your time, but enough scrappy energy to remain charming.
The band is returning from a recent tour, and will play a combination homecoming and EP release party at Random Row Books on Friday, April 26. They are joined on the bill by Charlottesville power-pop supergroup Borrowed Beams of Light, and Girl Choir, an ass-kicking new act formed by veterans of the college radio era. Tickets will be on sale at the door.
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