ALEX CUNNINGHAM “Fiddle” (Personal Archives)

When your cassette album, called “Fiddle,” opens with the only track whose “self-imposed constraint [is] ‘improvise a fiddle tune,’” what else is there even left to do? I’m just gonna stop writing about it right here, because “Fiddle,” the track, is a hoe-down stomper of the highest caliber, and if you know me, you know that “hoe-down stomper” is a code word for “catnip” around these parts.

OK, that’s not even partially true (the fact that the track is awesome is, though), but “Fiddle,” the album, shifts from moments of almost antagonistic improvisation (hear the bow grind the strings on “Rest Area”!) to graspable propulsion (hear the sawed strings rev like an engine on “Rest Area”!), yanking your attention speakers-ward with its ever-changing virtuosity. Alex Cunningham’s released some pretty great records recently, with the solo “Ache” and also “Parlance” as part of the Vernacular String Trio dropping on Personal Archives within the past two years. “Fiddle” continues his exploration of the titular instrument (or “violin” for those of you who don’t happen to live in some Appalachian barrens somewhere), running through eleven tracks of violent dissonance that are as weird as they are wondrous.

And I’m not lost on the closeness of the phonology of “violins” / “violence.” It was a conscious choice. (I see you, Eddie Vedder.)

Is Alex Cunningham better than Antonio Vivaldi? No, but no one has ever suggested that (at least that I know of). But there’s lots to like here with “Fiddle,” so get crackin’ on listenin’ while swiggin’ that moonshine on yr back porch. Or, uh, don’t do that, and sit in rapt attention in front of a $20,000 stereo system instead. It’s really up to you.

Alex Cunningham

Personal Archives