Do you miss the late great John Fahey? Does it seem like Leo Kottke simply does not come around to play for you much these days? Are you wondering who will lead the 6 and 12 string guitar in this new millennium? Friends, I have seen the future and his name is Gilewitz. Richard Gilewitz. After his impressive CD debut, Voluntary Solitary, the eclectic and imaginative Synapse Collapse, and the positively elegiac interpretation of The Music of David Walbert, Gillewitz has issued his fourth work on CD, Thumbsing, and it will give hope to all who are concerned about the questions raised above.
On Thumbsing, Richard Gilewitz evidences the range of his talent and the breadth of his influences. Influences first: Fantasia is one of several pieces that draw upon classical influences (this having been written by Alonso Mudurra) and allows Gilewitz to feature his remarkable facility in adapting a gut string piece to steel strings — a challenge that in other hands could go easily awry. Prelude for Lute piece by Bach follows and is handled with ease here, in spite of its complexity. Layover, a beautiful Michael Hedges piece, Gilewitz makes his own. Gilewitz takes on Elizabeth Cotton's Freight Train and makes it sound almost as if he is playing it on a hybrid hammered dulcimer/banjo. John Renbourn's The Hermit has Gilewitz doing so much on the fret board, including ringing harmonics, that you wondered if he overdubbed it (he did not). Finally and influentially, there is a nod to the master, John Fahey. Outside of Kottke, no one has a better feel for a Fahey tune than Gilewitz. Fahey's Sunflower River Blues is done at a stately pace allowing the listener to float down that river with a few Gilewitzian flourishes that make the song new again. An obstreperous individualist like Fahey would appreciate the homage while recognizing the creativity that has been newly brought to the tune.
The real delights here though are Gilewitz's own pieces. The first and title track, Thumbsing, might, before listening, be thought of as a novelty number as it is played entirely with the thumb (surprise!). Upon listening though you hear a rhythmically quirky number that keeps you initially off balance before drawing you in with a Kottkesque melodic line. Have You Ever Seen A Rainbow At Night? is reminiscent of Gilewitz's remarkable work with the classical music of his mentor, David Walbert. Here Richard takes what he has learned from Walbert and extends it in what is perhaps the prettiest tune on the disc. The aggressively melodic Dirt To Dust is a long standing Gillewitz favorite. Someday aspiring guitarists are going to being playing this in homage. Another Kottke influenced piece is Gilewitz's Wazamataz. It was first presented as part of an all star tribute to Chet Atkins and half way though you can hear the Chet influenced picking combining bass and treble runs. Sarah Natasha is Gilewitz's tribute to his young niece. This is not a lullaby as it is rhythmically complex and percussive in a way that would not facilitate the child's sleep — this is a good thing that the youngster will appreciate in the days to come. Special thanks should be given to Pete Mote, or rather his feet, as they inspired two tunes here which give a sense of joy that is infectious. With Pete's Feet and Daughter of Pete's Feet, walking tunes both, one could skip, hop, do a couple of cartwheels, jog along a bit and hike through hill and dale quite happily. My wife swears by them.
Thumbsing will not be easy to find in your hometown record store (presuming that you still have one), but it is easily found on the web. Gillewitz is an inveterate touring artist and hearing the music is one thing, seeing the man perform is quite another and well worth your while. Gillewitz shares with his mentors the deep sense of humor that between songs has you thinking and laughing at the same time. The titles of his own compositions give you some sense of this. Richard Gillewitz will lead us in this new millennium! Remember you heard it here first!
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