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Published: 2004/10/30
by Pat Buzby

The Art of Modern/Primative Guitar – Shawn Persinger

Innova 610
Charles Young, a onetime Rolling Stone writer who found his way to the magazine Musician in the early 90s, spent much of his time trying to be Lester Bangs Jr. It was a pleasant surprise to see him speak up in favor of what he called ‘one person/one instrument’ music, possibly in a review of a Windham Hill release, if memory serves. (He mentioned its appeal to ‘one person/one typewriter’ types, which of course encompasses most of us populating this website.) I’m not sure whether it was Leo Kottke or Keith Jarrett I heard first, but both of them planted an appreciation for ‘one person/one instrument’ music which continues to be evident in my collection.
As those two examples indicate, the "one person/one instrument" road cuts through many musical territories. Its heritage includes figures as lofty as Bach and as rough-hewn as Robert Johnson, and its modern representatives can be as banal as George Winston and as arcane as Derek Bailey.
Shawn Persinger started out with second-generation proggers Boud Deun, but here he places his work firmly in the "one person/one instrument" tradition. Scanning the cover, one first notices the album title, then sees that he bills himself as "Shawn Persinger is Prester John." Then the back cover lists titles such as "Blood Jokes," "Betray Your Country" and "Stupid, Stupid Rain" for a series of 19 pieces totaling 45 minutes. One might think that Persinger was offering a skewed variation on Kottke and John Fahey’s style. And one would be right.
Unlike those influences, Persinger’s work is often dissonant. He’s apt to include string-scraping in the "melody" of a piece, as he does in "Equine Medley," and to start out with some folky meandering only to quickly upend it, as he does in "Sherman Hairpin." However, the whimsical nature of his writing makes it only a hair less inviting than Fahey’s once was and Kottke’s still is. He’s as deft a picker as those two, also.
For a reference more suited to, there’s Keller Williams, whom Persinger cites on his website as "fantastic (if a little too cheerful for my normal taste)." If you can relate to that, this disc is worth tracking down.
The only shortcoming here is that the CD could use more variety — perhaps in the form of (shudder) vocals. As a layout of the rules for Persinger’s form of Modern/Primitive Guitar, though, this disc works as a new entry in the pantheon of "one person/one instrument" music.

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