Sunday, April 22, 2007

Finger Pluckin' Wonder

Wooden Spoon - Dead Shrimp

After the recent vogue for albums of solo piano music by the likes of Gonzales and Goldmund, it's refreshing to hear an album where the sole instrument is a reverentially plucked acoustic guitar. 'The Folk Blues Guitar of Wooden Spoon' is simply wonderful. It's the sort of music that doesn't demand your attention, so it can quite happily play along in the background as you go about doing whatever it is you do on a sunny Sunday morning like the one I am lucky enough to be experiencing today. By the same token, if you do choose to listen intently, you will be hugely rewarded with multi-layered and skillful plucking and strumming that evokes a whole smorgasbord of emotions from within. The last album I heard where the acoustic guitar was at the forefront in this way was the somewhat cloying Boards of Canada-approved Bibio, but Wooden Spoon's efforts are far more genuine and engaging. This is the sort of music I could imagine soundtracking a Jim Jarmusch film.

Wooden Spoon is the work of Owen Hills. The album is released on the London-based Bo'Weavil recordings, which is dedicated to releasing lost gems from the wealth of traditional folk and avant garde / free music available, along with music from new talent. Hills falls into the latter category. Each track slowly unravels, like a flag uncurling in a gentle breeze. Wooden Spoon's main styles, as suggested by the title of the album, are folk and blues, often mixed together in the same song. Nine-minute opener 'By the Riverside' evokes an image of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer floating down the river on their homemade raft, as it swings between bluegrass and delicate English folk, reminiscent of Richard Thompson. In 'Dead Shrimp' there's a lovely moment when you hear the wail of the siren of a passing police car, and you are jolted out of imagining Hills sitting on a swing chair in a porch in the deep south of America, and are instead placed in the basement of a flat in the heart of a city. Deliberate or not, it works brilliantly in bringing you out of whatever reverie you may have sunk into, and offers you the opportunity to appraise the music in a completely different light. The only deviation from the acoustic pluckings comes with the 57 seconds of 'Oban', which is an exercise in looped backwards feedback, and 'Piano # 2', which is a short piano piece. Closing track 'In the Dark Night' is an epic yet minimal 17 minutes of muffled plucking with a vague Eastern tinge, which works hypnotically via repetition of the slightly faltering and off-key picking. 'The Folk Blues Guitar of...' is a bold and original take on traditional themes, and a hugely rewarding listening experience.

Buy 'The Folk Blues Guitar of Wooden Spoon' from Bo'Weavil Recordings
Wooden Spoon My Space
Buy Wooden Spoon's earlier recordings from Foxglove
Wooden Spoon plays at Union Chapel, Upper Street, London this Tuesday (April 24th 2007) as part of the Daylight Music Festival. More information can be found here