In recent years there has been a glut of new guitarists influenced by the “American Primitive”, or “Guitar Soli” style of guitar playing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the bulk of that style was and is brilliant music. But, what do you do when you’re an acoustic guitarist into the music of Robbie Basho, John Fahey, Leo Kottke, etc. but aren’t content to imitate them? If you’re Kyle Fosburgh, you take these influences and process them through your own internal filters and experiences and create something new and more in line with your own personal vision.
Fosburgh’s One Night was recorded in a single three hour session in an empty ballroom at the top of a skyscraper in Chicago. I can’t but be reminded of the title of an old Incredible String Band song, “Log Cabin Home in the Sky”. Not because the music is rustic, per se (though it is all acoustic), but because of its link to the past in the way it seems part of a bardic tradition. There’s a purity of expression, and the songs don’t feel like they’re attached to a certain time. The sound like they could have been written hundreds of years ago, or yesterday.
Fosburgh is a busy guy, also running his own successful small record label, Grass-Tops Recording, upon which he issues his own works and those of other acoustic guitarists. The label spotlights contemporary artists, but also produces reissues, including an ongoing series of albums by idiosyncratic luminary Robbie Basho.
With his own music, he’s tapping into a similar vein as Basho, though Fosburgh’s is more accessible. Like Basho, he often references the wonders of the natural world in his song titles and lyrics. This affinity also comes through in his playing, which resonates with big skies and deep wilderness. Mountains figure prominently in his lyrics (“Sunrise Over the Andes”, “Sky and Earth”, “Variations on Rocky Mountain Raga”), usually as places filled with spiritual power.
A student of traditional music and early blues, Fosburgh’s “Big Star Falling” is influenced by two Blind Willie McTell songs. The relaxed, easy approach he takes to the song gives it a vibe unlike what might be expected from a standard blues song – there’s a fresh air and light in this lambent and somewhat whimsical ramble.
About a third of the album is instrumental, and his soothing and often intricate guitar playing shines on those lyric-less cuts, always with a story being told through the notes. One, “There Is a Way” has a questing, autumnal vibe, the distant rumble of a passing train or plane picked up by the microphone partway through contributing to the evocation of a journey.
This is his sixth release (not counting a compilation titled Collection from earlier this year) and it’s a testament to his ever increasing skill and confidence as a musician that he would record it all in one sitting, with no doctoring afterwards. As a result, there’s a pronounced roundedness and coherence, a true document of the artist at a creative high point when all cylinders were firing.
A perfect encapsulation of the mood of the music is found in the striking cover art, which uses a turn of the century photograph taken by Walter McClintock of a Blackfoot Native American encampment under a Montana evening sky. A small hand-colored glass slide originally, it speaks, like the music, of serenity and strength.
One Night is a link in an ongoing chain of a style of American folk music now largely disappeared. A collection of songs unique in today’s musical climate, you won’t find much else quite like it. And it’s all the better for that.