Simple Twist of Fahey: Tyler finds opulence in the guitarists American Primitivism. s American Primitivism.

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For much of his young career, William Tyler has toiled in the shadows. He joined alt-country stalwarts Lambchop on guitar right out of high school, and in the years after became an indie-rock version of a Nashville session cat, playing with Silver Jews, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and others. He’s finally recorded a full-length under his given name, and it’s stellar, but it’s also unlikely that it’ll earn him many admirers outside of Nashville or beyond fans of fingerstyle guitar. Tyler first came to the attention of the latter demographic with “Between Radnor and Sunrise,” an outstanding track on Tompkins Square’s Imaginational Anthem Vol. 4 compilation. The instrumental Behold the Spirit fulfills the promise of that track and offers more evidence of Tyler’s expansive and diverse repertoire. Unlike many of the loner-minded practitioners of American Primitive music, Tyler’s frequent, successful collaborations show that he’s a finger-picker who works well with others. The opening track, “Terrace of the Leper King,” features guest players who augment Tyler’s spry fretwork with electronic effects, strings, and brass. Similarly, steel guitar, piano, and drum embellishments make “The Green Pastures” sound lusher and fuller than what listeners have come to expect from the genre. Still, the presence of Takoma Park’s John Fahey—who beginning in the 1960s pioneered the American Primitive style—is felt throughout Behold the Spirit, as is (to a lesser degree) the work of other guitarists on the Takoma label, like Robbie Basho and Leo Kottke. Tyler, like Fahey, finds inspiration in his sense of place: Two songs on Behold the Spirit, “Signal Mountain” and “Missionary Ridge,” are named after locations in Chattanooga, Tenn. Tyler also embraces the sound collages and electronic dissonance that Fahey went for on later albums like City of Refuge and Womblife, both from 1997 (Fahey died in 2001); take Tyler’s hypnotic drone in “To the Finland Station” or his pastoral fuzz in “Signal Mountain.” But while this debut is earnest and mystical, it’s also a little hard to reconcile with the fact that it was made by the same man whose record label, Sebastian Speaks, releases wacky oddities like Hilarity and Despair: American Answering Machine Tapes Volume 1. And so Tyler, the longtime backup man, remains a bit of a mystery. (The only picture of him in the insert is a back-lit silhouette.) Yet the poignancy and opulence of Behold the Spirit’s sound ensure that while Tyler may seem faceless, he isn’t without a voice.