(141) , Audiophile Audition -- 2/5/2009

"...Nels Cline’s strangely titled Coward, which is anything but uncourageous, supplies an outlet for Cline’s solo overdubs within a broad-minded auto-communication. Fans of Cline’s instrumental group, The Nels Cline Singers, should note that this effort is equally acoustic and electrifying, and less jazz-cacophonous than his trio settings. Cline has been contemplating a solo overdub undertaking for almost 25 years and the venture distinctively balances his various aptitudes as guitarist, improviser, composer, and technician. Like Alex Cline, Nels Cline immortalizes his mother’s memory, most consciously with the droning electric ending statement, “Cymbidium,” which commemorates his late mother’s penchant for growing orchids. Opening movement, “Epiphyllum,” is also a drone excursion that layers loops, electronics, and electric six-string. Both offerings cradle low-lying dissonance which crackles and snaps with distortion.

As with his brother’s songs, Nels Cline’s material often contains an emotional charge, most conspicuous during introspective, acoustic numbers such as dobro/guitar duet “The Nomad’s Home,” “The Androgyne,” and “Prayer Wheel,” an older conception that may be Cline’s most melodically accessible appearance, suggestive of Ralph Towner’s ECM releases. The compact disc’s pièce de résistance is the nearly nineteen-minute memorial, “Rod Poole’s Gradual Ascent to Heaven,” which honors the Los Angeles microtonal guitarist who was brutally and senselessly murdered close to his home two years ago. During the extended narrative, Cline pairs his six- and twelve-string acoustic guitars with banjo uke, tenor ukulele, zither, fretless cigar box cigar and a Turkish twelve-string guitar. While it may seem so many instruments would smother the tune’s minimalist nature, the strings are organized at distant posts within the eccentrically inclined structure, allowing Cline’s penetrating single-note runs to conjure sadness, anger, inner strength, and celebration. While the realization is purely Cline’s, at times he elicits his lost friend Poole as well as antecedents such as John Fahey and Sandy Bull.

“Rod Poole’s Gradual Ascent to Heaven” is just one of the complexities on Coward. Without question, the approximately eighteen-minute, six-part “Onan (Suite)” is Cline’s most prominent elaboration, a diverse sonic showstopper that Cline humorously declares is the most self-indulgent endeavor he’s ever done. The episodic, somewhat tongue-in-cheek audio collage includes unleashed, pummeling passages, a buzzing psychedelic/noise rock protraction, disconcerting tatters of disembodied voices, luminous guitar strumming, and a waggish, shredding finale that would put Trey Gunn down for the count..." -by Doug Simpson

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