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Ear to the Ground: James Blackshaw’s “Between Tides”

London’s 12-string dignitary reinterprets a piano composition by Brian Eno’s brother, Roger.

Every once in a while you hear a guitarist who sounds like they were born with six fingers on their fretting hand. London-born multi-instrumentalist James Blackshaw is one of them. His otherworldly understanding of the instrument has garnered comparisons to such masters as Jack Rose, Bert Jansch, Robbie Basho, Leo Kottke, and of course, John Fahey. But it would be a shortcut to describe Blackshaw’s music as folk or new age. Even though there are audible influences you could trace back to the dexterous discipline of Fahey’s Takoma Records, Blackshaw has the power to take the 12-string into previously uncharted territories.

His contribution to All Saints Records’ Greater Lengths compilation is a great example of this. Blackshaw reimagines Roger Eno’s 1988 composition “Between Tides.” Originally an instrumental piano piece, Blackshaw’s reinterpretation uses an electric 12-string, organ, and drums to create nearly tangible topographies of lush, sonic landscapes.

It opens with desolate, sparse beauty, sounding a bit like an electric take on Bruce Langhorne’s acoustic score for Peter Fonda’s 1971 directorial debut, The Hired Hand. As analog keyboard lines slowly seep into the mix, it’s easy to be reminded of early ’70s recordings by Bo Hansson—though Blackshaw foregoes progressive arrangements in favor of simple melodies. It’s the softly skittering drums that add the final dimension, lifting the song off the ground with a comforting, airy mantra.