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Daniel Hecht: Guitar

In 1973, Daniel Hecht – now a novelist and environmentalist living in Vermont – was residing on a commune in Wisconsin. Imbibing the same stream of influences that his contemporaries like John Fahey would spend the rest of their careers developing into the genre popularly called American Primitivism (though a variant, Guitar Soli, is probably the better label), Hecht recording his debut album, Guitar. Previously unavailable in any format other than its original pressing, this recent reissue is a much-deserved recognition of Hecht’s contribution to solo guitar music.

“Baba Dream Songs” is the first, and longest, track on the record. It’s lively, rambling rapid at the confluence of blues and classical tradition – something like a thesis statement for the music that follows it. “Demolition Derby” is a playful rag that, despite the album’s title, brings out a piano and light snare drum for its final movement. Leaning distinctly to the “American” side of Hecht’s sound, the tracks that follow “Demolition Derby” offer a counterbalance. “Black Cat Lament” is suitably downbeat, with passages of minimalism that bear a modern touch, while “Sweet Mantra” is contemplative, showcasing Hecht’s lucid, soft touch in his finger-picking – in contrast with more raucous passages on the album.

Elsewhere, “Chicago” is all metallic resonance, trafficking in a kind of industrial blues. One can picture clearly the train rattling in and out of the city, passing through the industrial landscape that precedes the brick and metal of the city’s center. More rural is “Seymour Volunteer Fire Dept,” which opens with some classically inflected picking before reeling off a successive group of melodic figures evocative of a timeless, small-town Americana. There’s a languid nostalgia here, like the volunteers don’t see too much action in their one-stoplight town. When the pace picks up, it’s easy to imagine the “emergency” that conjures the volunteers forth is more likely to be a cat stuck in a tree than a burning building.

Late in the album, “Suite in E” alternates between a heavy blues that relies on the depth and resonance of the lowest string and passages dwelling more in the upper register that don’t sound that different from a John Dowland composition before closing off with a bright and balanced rag. That is to say, it’s another example of how Hecht deftly straddles the “old” and “new” worlds. Album closer “Pear-Shaped Piece” is perhaps the best example of this deftness. Taking the dynamic form suggested by the title, the opening ramble gives way to a stately and delicate movement that escalates over a few minutes before Hecht reaches a quick-playing finale that combines the two previous, contrasting sections.

Guitar does not present itself as a lost masterpiece of the Solo Guitar/American Primitivism movement of the last century, but it may serve as a welcoming entry point for new listeners to this style of music who find the corpus of the likes of John Fahey too daunting. In fact, Hecht eventually came to the attention of Fahey himself, leading to Hecht’s third (and to date, final) record – Willow – finding a home on a bigger label in 1980. Hopefully the reissuing of Guitar is a sign that Hecht’s other albums will find their way into the world again sometime soon. If Guitar is any indication, such a move is long overdue.

Guitar is a welcoming entry point for new listeners to this style of music who find the corpus of the likes of John Fahey too daunting.
73 %
Classical Americana

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