Entrancing fingerstyle guitar instrumentals.
Perhaps the most enduring attraction of americana is the sheer extent of its styles and influences. Piedmont blues comes as no surprise but nineteenth-century classical guitar or early twentieth-century French avant-garde might raise a few eyebrows. To hear how these rather unlikely influences gel seamlessly listen to Bryan Rahija’s debut solo album ‘Timber’. This collection of acoustic instrumentals owes its creation as much to the fingerpicking ragtime rhythms of Blind Willie McTell, Reverend Gary Davis or Blind Blake as to Fernando Sor whose solo compositions made the guitar a respectable instrument for classical musicians.
Rahija is no stranger to pushing musical boundaries having been a founder member of the innovative folk-pop band, Bombadil. His music also featured in two screenplays. Since then he has studied classical guitar, which combined with his long-standing love of the blues from his North Carolina origins, explains how he describes ‘Timber’ as “a batch of warm and organic instrumental guitar pieces”, something “to settle into while you’re watching the world go by”. Rahija has not completely cut his ties with Bombadil. Over pandemic enforced distance, to his own guitar and dobro, he adds minimal bass and percussion from Stacy Harden while Daniel Michalak and James Phillips respectively assisted with production and mixing.
‘Timber’ is also a nod to Erik Satie, the Parisian composer whose music was called “furniture music”, something to be heard as part of the overall ambience rather than specifically listened to. But ‘Timber’ is far more than background muzak as Rahija demonstrates while he gently pulls you under the hypnotic spell of his cascading guitar.
‘Silent Advance’ tip-toes into the record as the central phasing builds. In the background faint harmonica meshes with gentle bass and cymbal. The sound envelopes and mesmerises but what really grabs the attention is its clarity and precision. That bewitching quality continues on ‘Three-Legged Buddha’, softer but again constantly looping like an aural whirlpool.
‘Nothing’s Fifty-Fifty’ skips lightly along the Appalachian trail of its possible home. The deft guitar finger-picking contrasts with the firm hum of background organ. Similarly, ‘Eight of Wands’ gathers momentum into a bluegrass feel evoking images of very relaxed jamming on the porch as the sun goes down. Harden’s bass, thumps and shaker add to the party. It is worth mentioning the titles. Without lyrics these are the composer’s only other contact with the audience. Rahija has chosen his with great care. ‘Eight of Wands’ is a tarot card that signifies action, change and forward motion. All perfectly capture the tune.
Nature appears throughout. ‘How The Grape Ripens’ has a bucolic feel, country blues as distinct from the Delta. Similarly ‘Itinerant Star’ gazes up into the vast distance, the notes shooting away into space. ‘Storm Queen’ throbs with the foreboding of a gathering squall. And to appreciate the natural beauty of the music watch the stunning ‘Silent Advance’ video below set in Rahija’s new Oregon home.
Leaning back into classical Spanish guitar comes ‘Téléphérique’, a modulated melody moving steadily up and down the scales as do the Grenoble cable cars near Michalak’s home, after which the piece was named. An equivalent symmetry lies behind ‘Zoopraxiscope’, that mixes the romantic and instructional.
But in the end what blends Rahija’s various influences into such an original record is his total freedom of expression. Whether ‘Timber’ is played as part of the furniture or studied closely Bryan Rahija brings enormous pleasure and enjoyment. Isn’t that what music is all about?