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Published: 2008/01/25
by Pat Buzby

Wayfaring Strangers: Guitar Soli – various

Numero Group

If you’ve spent enough time in used record stores, you’ve probably come across one or two records from the '70s with austere, pastoral cover art and an acoustic guitar as the only instrument. John Fahey’s Takoma label began issuing a long series of avant-folk solo guitar LPs in the '60s; Leo Kottke rode a Takoma release to major-label fame in the '70s, and Windham Hill carved out a large space in '80s culture with its tamer variation on the Takoma model. A number of acoustic guitarists followed in Fahey’s footsteps with their own DIY releases, and the Numero Group's latest collects one track apiece from 14 of the better efforts.

Perhaps you may have bought one or two of these obscure albums before, and your discoveries were probably consistent with what you’ll find on this CD. A few of these guitarists, such as Scott Witte, seem happy to have mastered the same styles as Fahey and Kottke; some, such as Brad Chequer, offer intriguing pieces that might have led to more polished, focused efforts if they had found success. The better ones offer music that stands alongside the more famous role models (Richard Crandell) or gives a startlingly odd variation on their ideas (Jim Ohlschmidt). And now and then there’s a discovery worth pursuing further; William Eaton’s “Untitled” is an attractive piece of psychedelic folk, somewhat akin to the prettiest David Crosby or mid-period Pink Floyd.

The liner notes offer as much interest as the music. They are a set of short stories about people who came to the music game from various angles but never found, never sought or walked away from sustained success. Some of the stories end sadly (“On February 12, 1992, George Cromarty took his own life”), some happily (“While writing his six best-selling mystery novels, Daniel Hecht hasn’t had much time to play guitar anyway”). A fair number of these guitarists came near to having releases on Fahey’s label, earned an approving glance from Kottke, or received the endorsement of George Winston, whose taste as a music collector is apparently better than one would expect from his work as a Windham Hill figurehead.

This CD isn’t as startling an experience as finding a gem in the used bins, but it’s also less expensive, and hints at the pleasures to be found in the wilds of vinyl.

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