Thursday, June 18, 2015

STEVE PALMER
“Fables of the Feral Boys + Unreleased” C42
(Fall Break Records)



You can unabashedly revere an artist and attempt to emulate that artist’s style in your own music, but you have to be really careful: the results could prove disastrous. Music history is littered with the likes of Editors, Jet, the Vines, Candlebox, and Crazy Town, and those are just the somehow famous ones within a very narrow category. Anybody want to go on a rock-hating screed with me over on Reddit? I’ll be there in a minute with my 15-year-old self’s record collection.

Sometimes, the results turn out OK. Pretty good, even. Sometimes, the results are borderline excellent. It’s in this latter category that guitarist Steve Palmer falls, meaning I can’t get enough of Fables of the Feral Boys + Unreleased, a collection of an EP, Fables, on side A and three unreleased tunes on side B. See? The title itself explains it for you! I barely had to, and my time is incredibly valuable.

Palmer is a student of John Fahey, the only name you need to intone when talking about solo instrumental acoustic guitar, and whose fingerstyle playing is immediately recognizable to anyone with half a brain. He combined folk, blues, raga, classical, among other styles, into a singular sound. He’s pretty much been anointed a saint in the folk community – after his death in 2001, many people came forward claiming that Fahey had indeed witnessed two miracles. Just like John Paul II!

I sort of feel like I’m witnessing a miracle right now, listening to Fables – that’s too strong, sure, too hyperbolic, but when I close my eyes and let Palmer’s steady playing flit through my earbuds, I’m reminded how incredible it is when one man and one instrument can connect like that. It takes me places, dude, and that’s all there is to it. At once, I’m camping in a dusty western gulch. Then I’m on a back porch in West Virginia. At some point I’m thumbing a ride in rural Georgia.

It’s really hard to pick a favorite here, and I’m not going to – each of the eight songs has a singular and unique personality. Whether Palmer’s fingerpicking like a crazy person with a banjo on fire or intertwining titanic chords and lead runs with the ghosts of Appalachian legends at his back, he’s truly in control. I haven’t been enthralled with a tape like this in a while. Well, this week anyway.





--Ryan Masteller

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