Harris Newman Decorated

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Rating: 3/5

Styles: Takoma worship, instrumental acoustic troubadourism
Others: Leo Kottke, early Gastr Del Sol, Glenn Jones

You could easily -- too easily, perhaps -- cast Harris Newman's split musical-personality as two sides of a Slint-ish coin. When this Montreal stalwart plays with Hrsta or mans the boards for groups like A Silver Mt. Zion and Fly Pan Am, he exorcises his demons through climactic walls of distortion, calling to mind the dense wail of Spiderland's final minute. When he flies solo, Newman entertains those dark spirits by serenading them with skeletal lapsteel drones and hypnotic acoustic guitar dreamweaving of the Takoma school, channeling the creaky, tiptoeing repetition of Slint's creepiest songs.

This comparison holds water -- listen during "Anamnesis" to the guitar strings circle about like vampire fingers tracing your spine, and try in vain to avoid thinking of "Don, Aman." But Newman's been slapped with enough RIYDs already; critics dismissed his previous albums as nice-enough Fahey/Lang/Basho redux. Time to slap the man on the back for coming into his own. Down a Boddingtons in honor of the title song, in which Newman dabbles in raga-like bends without sounding too culture-vulture for his own good. And pay careful attention to "Opera House Stomp" and "A Quarter to Call the Ambulance," two places where our man flips the script by giving us more tension and texture than we expect from one-dude instrumental albums. This happens in the former track because he calls in another dude, Eric Craven, to pound the skins while he picks up an electric and fingertaps some mind-boggling math-blues; in the latter, Newman bounces rattling acoustic trills off of sustained drones, strings shaking and echoing like a bag of bones in a Kentucky cavern. Nice.

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