Photo: Maren Celest
Gregory Uhlmann - It's Not Your Fault
Info: A guitarist and composer with a marked propensity towards mixing the prickly and the beautiful. Uhlmann aims to seamlessly incorporate influences from the rich history of American improvisers, West African music, minimalism, noise, and anything else he finds on the internet (especially cat videos). His output as a leader/co-leader includes the projects and bands, Fell Runner, River Song Quintet, Pocket People, Typical Sisters, ISTANBUL, Walsh/Uhlmann, Tom Foolery, Aquadeer, and different iterations of his name followed by trio, quartet, septet, etc.
In a first for me, I find myself reviewing the second of two solo albums from members of the same band in a matter of weeks, in L.A.'s Fell Runner. Interestingly both are strikingly different in style, despite loose connections genre-wise. Gregory Uhlmann's Odd Job is a fine foray into beautiful folk-based song-writing which is wrapped inside his instincts as a composer.
'Impulse' kicks things off, with a sombre but moving mood, like a cross between The Staves and Sufjan Stevens, strings weave their way like a puff of smoke around the dual vocals of Uhlmann and Cari Stevens. The album's title track follows and it's deft piano and guitar picking are most soothing, the deep but soft hum of the clarinet helps to create a mystical soundscape, a wonderful melding of styles between folk story-telling and classical music.
Gregory Uhlmann - Too Much To Bear
Third track 'Good Dog' is a short but equally atmospheric, and to my ears at least, creates the visual of a Celtic pagan ritual deep in the woods, beautiful and strange in equal measure. 'Phone It In' is the forebear for some changes that are to follow on the remaining tracks on Odd Job, Uhlmann opts for his indie-folk leanings, a little Elliott Smith, a little Death Cab for Cutie. On 'Too Much To Bear' a solemn opening greets us, strangely sounding like Brazilian-folk from the 60's, it's strings are Hitchcockian in their delivery, it's haunting, unsettling, dark yet euphoric, and as it reaches it's climax you are elevated to the most wonderful ethereal heights, it's a stunning piece and my favourite track on the album.
After the pointed drop of 'The Quiet Sky Bled Dry', we get a contemporary folk outing via 'It's Not Your Fault' (top stream), another mesmerising track on the album. Swaying between lo-fi acoustic guitar and carefully built up twinkling sound fills, the song is the perfect cross-over between the past and the modern day within the genre. A key part of the enjoyment of this album for me has to be the movement between grandiose and stripped down, and the latter comes once again on 'I'd Rather Be', the vocal partnership between Uhlmann and Stevens is a perfect match, harmonious more than harmonies.
That combination works so well once again on 'Silent Speak', a hazy and escapist track which glows with warmth and adopts an almost disorientating choral pattern coming into its final third. As the album reaches its end it's important to also acknowledge its tone, exemplified in final track 'Lily', flat piano chords and vocals are critical to the sound that is being resonated all across Odd Job. The track feels timeless, like it could have been performed in any decade over the last 100 years. Ultimately Gregory Uhlmann has pulled off a bit of a master stroke on his album, expertly joining contemporary with classical, which is one thing, but it has evidently been achieved through great respect, love and care for both styles.
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