James Blackshaw O True Believers

[Important; 2006]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: folk, acoustic, world
Others: John Fahey, Robbie Basho, Glenn Jones, Ravi Shankar, Jack Rose

With O True Believers, 23-year old U.K. native James Blackshaw has crafted the audio equivalent of a morning's sunrise: dispersing the dark, lifting the fog, and bringing a steadily creeping warmth — growing increasingly concentrated in brightness, heat, and hope — which makes your skin prick up as it makes its way up your spine. Spaced strums ring open and freely until falling into decay on intro track "Transient Life In Twilight." Fahey-like picking emerges out of the space; wistful chords, tonally bright, increase their speed and collect together until reaching a frantic apex. Blackshaw carefully reigns things back in, rebuilds the pace, then closes with a layer of fey, twinkling bells. "The Elk With Jade Eyes," 18 minutes of coruscating cymbala and droning tamboura, is Blackwood's most ambitious attempt at generating atmospherics and colors and eliciting sensations and moods through variations in pace, space, and instrumentation. That said, this is not "mood music" (though a callous ear may differ), but interest wanes about halfway through the song.

In "Spiraling Skeleton Memorial," Blackshaw's 12-string guitar rolls lithely in slow and gentle fluctuations. It is a work of subtle, shimmering intricacies flowing down a river of dreamlike oscillations. The closing track, "O True Believes," is the most pop-structured song on the album and holds a hummable refrain upon which an arrangement of harmonium, percussion, and tamboura function together with such airy precision to create a sound that conjures images of some steam-driven flying machine. It's a flat-out gorgeous track that brings the album to a triumphant close. O True Believers is rich in an animistic beauty that is both bittersweet and affirming, but it is difficult now to judge just how ephemeral these pleasures are. At this pace, though, it won't be long before the precocious Blackshaw comes into his own enough to release something so defining as to be considered a classic.

1. Transient Life In Twilight
2. The Elk With Jade Eyes
3. Spiraling Skeleton Memorial
4. O True Believers

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