The Cloud of Unknowing
(06.2007, Tompkins Square)
As a part of a group of new weird American guitar gurus including Sir Richard Thomas, Jack Rose and Glenn Jones, James Blackshaw is subtly unique. Still harkening images of eastern guitar ragas and incorporating the spirit of John Fahey, Blackshaw playing is unique among his peers because it allows the listener to see the beauty of his compositions before having to meditate on his virtuosity. In fact, if unwanted, Blackshaw’s virtuosity (for documentation of said ‘virtuosity’ see the YouTube video below) never even has to enter into the equation. This has always been the winning factor of Blackshaw’s instrumentals for me. However, Blackshaw has been as susceptible as any of his contemporaries for becoming occasionally tedious in his noodling. This is why The Cloud of Unknowing is such an accomplishment. Progressing ever so slightly from the terrific O True Believer, Blackshaw’s latest outing sees him successfully incorporate supplemental instrumentation into his normally purist guitar ruminations. On “Running to the Ghost,” Blackshaw may have created his most beautiful song to date, incorporating Bells and eventually strings to the equation. The transitional “Cloud Collapse,” in the middle of the five song set, sees Blackshaw exploring a far more dissonant, abstract composition than is usually common of him and the fifteen minute “Stained Glass Window” closes the album with voluminous barrage of collapsed violins. However, even with these progressive elements, the album is distinctly Blackshaw’s and retains his signature guitar mastery. So, it is with just minor adjustments that The Cloud of Unknowing has become James Blackshaw’s best album to date, engaging from start to finish.