A review written for the Folk and Music Exchange
Somewhere between the 70s and 80s, a musical and psychic break occurred when the eclectic, eccentric, roots-based John Fahey gave way to the technically proficient, but erratically souless, William Ackerman. The progeny of the latter have grown in number and output, while those of the former have either held on and mildly prospered or have moved on to ultimately uninteresting experimental self-satisfaction. Perhaps it is this break which Richard Gilewitz describes in entitling his latest release, Synapse Collapse. Gilewitz knows the difference between the two forms of acoustic-guitar mastery and falls firmly in the roots-based camp where he has, more than any other current player, moved the genre into the 90s with his own accomplished vision, technique, and mastery of melody.
Gilewitz is quite aware of the masters who have gone before and pays homage to them. But he does so in a way that acknowledges what his predecessors have accomplished, while putting his own subtle and amusing touch on their work. He starts the disc with Jorma Kaukonen's Embryonic Journey. Gilewitz slows it down and puts a comping, occasionally cascading piano behind himself. This touch allows you to hear the tune as you have not before, elegiacally rather than frantically, as it has been so often presented by others in the past. Fahey's Steve Talbot..." and W.C. Handy's St. Louis Blues are presented in somewhat similar fashion, with a Rivers and Religions bluesy feel to both. It works. Kottke's The Sailor's Grave... is much more similar to the original, but Gilewitz's slide work here is exemplary. But where things get interesting is on Gilewitz's own tunes which are highly melodic, combining traditional fingerpicking with harmonic reverb and a perfect touch of synth. All of that is in the title cut. That might be said to be the highlight, but there are many more. I have never heard simple, but subtle hand-clapping and finger-clicking used so effectively as in his Bilingual Fantasy. On Echoing Wilderness, Gilewitz uses a uniquely evocative slide style combined with some great and varied fingerpicking. A favorite is the dark, somewhat menacing Dirt To Dust, which has a sinuous melody and a terrific percussive background making it flow.
Gilewitz has also found some writers with whom he has an obvious affinity, notably Gove Scrivenor, whose bouncy "Gove's Tune" and slower Minuet for the Backroads" add to the variety of rhythms and styles that Gilewitz is able to apply. David Walbert's Dance is another lovely tune that Gilewitz picks delicately and delightfully. The final tune, Pat McCune's lullaby "Jeannie Sleeping" is again somewhat Faheyesque, though with some unusual shimmering organlike piano accompaniment that works well with the alternating bass and melody.
This CD has been on the player for the last two months and continues to delight. Richard Gilewitz gives one the sense in this recording that he is a player to watch, that he will continue to grow, and will be one of those individuals whose latest releases will be must-buys. There is nary a misstep on Synapse Collapse. Rather there are constant surprises that will allow many repeated listenings. The following is said with full knowledge that it is dangerous: This is my album of the year.
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Edited by David Schultz.