First there was B.B. Then there was Albert, then Freddie. And now there’s R.D., the latest in a line of first-class guitar-playing Kings. Difference is that R.D. King plays acoustic, and that his style is not blues but his own intricate, meticulous instrumental material that could be called pastoral psychedelia or cinematic folk. Either way, it’s a hell of a lot more energetic and epic than most music for the acoustic guitar.
King is bound to get comparisons to a whole slew of fingerstyle players who use unorthodox or open tunings – John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Adrian Legg, Leo Kottke and John Fahey are all in the mix – but if there’s any current-day artist he brings to mind, it’s David Grubbs, who’s more of a Strat guy. This particular King’s album RD King vs. Self is streaming at Soundcloud, and for anybody who wants to see his fingers fly up and down the fretboard, he’s playing the small room at the Rockwood on August 19 at 6 PM. Then the following night he’s at Pine Box Rock Shop at 9:30.
His technique is spectacular, employing all kinds of harmonics, hammer-ons, pull-offs, flurrying upper-register clusters and contrastingly terse, precise basslines – and as many notes as this guy plays, he doesn’t waste them. The album’s first track is Lightness of Being, set to a rapidfire triplet rhythm. With its web of overdubs and subtly shifting center, it’s as if Fahey and Renbourn conspired to write their own Twin Peaks theme, but closer to waterfalling folk than noir cinematics. The Precipice is a stormy blend of flamenco and a 60s hotrod theme, while the pensive, propulsively waltzing, attractively summery title track hints at acoustic Pink Floyd, 60s American folk and Scottish highland balladry.
Heartstring, a gorgeously wistful song without words, brings to mind what Richard Thompson could do turbocharging a sad Jimmy Webb ballad. There Are No Young Forests comes across as a verdant, enigmatic counterpart to Grubbs’ vast electric deep-space tableaux. The uneasy Vertigo continues on a long, subtly crescendoing tangent, sparkling with harmonics, followed by the tight, emphatic variations of Luminescence.
The album winds up with the tidally shifting vamps of Twilight, rising to a bristling peak, and then the sparkly, cascading An End to Wandering. If you play guitar and feel stuck in a rut, listening to this guy will get you unstuck in a hurry.