We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
On this week’s cover, we talk about Takoma Park-born guitarist John Fahey and the style of fingerpicked guitar playing he pioneered, American Primitive. Or rather, nine American Primitive musicians discuss what, exactly, that expansive and somewhat ill-defined label means—how it can be both limiting and expansive, meaningless and deeply meaningful. Though Fahey and contemporaries like Max Ochs, Leo Kottke, Robbie Basho, Harry Taussig, Peter Lang, and Mark Fosson helped pioneer American Primitive, there’s a new generation of talented guitarists who are pushing the boundaries of solo guitar music and all that it can be. Here’s a mere sampling of some of those musicians.
Tashi Dorji Bhutanese-born, North Carolina-based guitarist Tashi Dorji is perhaps one of the most exciting six-string innovators in today’s music world. Dorji’s improvisation techniques often include using a prepared guitar with various objects jammed between strings, which transport his instrument to new dimensions.
Sarah LouisePart of what makes Sarah Louise’s music so exciting is its connection to the natural world. On her debut album, Field Guide, Louise’s lush fingerpicked melodies send listeners to a meditative plane, full of dense woods and peaceful surroundings.
Rob NoyesEastern Massachusetts mainstay Rob Noyes channels the spirit of Robbie Basho in his 12-string compositions, but plays with the force and ferocity of a freight train barreling down the tracks. He takes listeners on a wild ride on his debut record, The Feudal Spirit.
Willie LaneWillie Lane is something of a mythic figure in the solo guitar world: He self-releases his own records, with hastily pasted-on cover art, and rarely performs live, much less outside of his home state of Massachusetts. But all that adds to the charm of Lane’s hazy, meandering experimental guitar melodies, which are so easy to get lost in.
Alexander TurnquistIf American Primitive is a spectrum, upstate New York-based 12-string guitarist Alexander Turnquist would probably fit on the fringes. Turnquist’s compositions feel like a dream, one that culls influence from experimental composers like Phillip Glass and Steve Reich as much as fingerpickers of yesteryear.
Jon CollinFor U.K. guitarist Jon Collin (who now calls Stockholm, Sweden home), the environment is an instrument. The innovative guitarist’s minimalist compositions and improvisations utilize distinct sounds and tones from his slide and other reverberations, but it’s the recordings that really take his music to another level—birdsongs, the ruffle of leaves from a slight breeze, and other sounds are captured on tape as he plays.