James Blackshaw, a Londoner who fingerpicks the 12-string guitar in a style inspired by the Takoma recordings of John Fahey, Leo Kottke and Robbie Basho, has created an airy work that displays an increased level of control and balance from its five predecessors, the most recent of which displayed his affinity for the marriage of beauty and virtuosity. Blackshaw can be a technical wizard – the skill displayed on 2006’s “Oh True Believers” was breathtaking – but on “Litany of Echoes” he explores the avenues created from slight shifts in a drone, the bass note shift from minor key to major and intense melodic layering on a single instrument.
Like Kottke and Fahey, Blackshaw is building a body of instrumental work that displays maturity and development, giving each recording a distinct identity. Ironically, “Litany of Echoes” would be a more apt description of his hailed 2007 disc “The Cloud of Unknowing”; whereas “Cloud” positioned Blackshaw as part of the solo guitar continuum, “Litany” supplies substantial evidence that he is a singular talent.
His piano playing, less assured than his guitar work, is rolling and repetitive, bordering on homage to Philip Glass or LaMonte Young. Fran Bury adds violin and viola to a few tunes, most significantly to Blackshaw’s piano piece “Gate of Horn,” transmorgifying a piano exercise into a bracing and powerful closing statement.