Robbie Basho’s recording career started in the mid 1960s with ‘The Seal of the Blue Lotus’ an instrumental steel-string guitar record with low production values released on John Fahey’s legendary Takoma Record label. Although Basho had a limited recording time for this record, he managed to create a strong impression on the then fledgling steel-string guitar movement and is regarded as one of the key players that helped to establish the instrument in a solo concert context. Unlike his fellow compadre John Fahey, Robbie Basho’s music covered a wider landscape that includes (but isn’t confined to) America, and wanders off into Europe and even further still into the East, where he adopted the name Basho from Matsuo Bashō, the Japanese Haiku poet. After this first album, Robbie had a full and vibrant recording career that included collaborations with other musicians, critical acclaim and singing that came from deep within the lungs and heart.
It seems unfair, yet somehow fitting, that his recording career ended up being bookended by Twilight Peaks, a solo guitar record, again with low production values, originally released on cassette tape in 1984 on an easy listening meditation label called ‘The Art of Relaxation’. Now picked up and repackaged by a Robbie Basho fan and friend; Glenn Jones, who provides some interesting liner notes along side a former guitar student of Robbie Basho. There’s some as ever, beautiful art work by the Belgium engraver Wouter Vanhaelemeesch, however I can’t imagine Robbie Basho picking such sorrowful imagery for an album cover, which features a wounded bird, full of arrows that have entered it from all directions. It seems to represent Basho’s relationship to the world at the time.
I first came into Robbie Basho’s music via Steffen Basho-Junghans who without his guidance, I might have of foolishly passed off as “just another American hippy”. Especially some of Basho’s emotive singing, which if you download the mp3 version of this album you’ll get to hear an example of on the bonus track ‘Kingdom Of Love’. But as Steffen once put it “[Robbie] really means it” and when listened to in this context, the music takes on a whole new power.
The guitar playing on this album has a dazzling sparkle to it, that shows off great mastery of the instrument, but always with a sense of emotion and feeling.
The track ‘Nice Enough For love’ glows brightest for me. It seems to capture a sense of wounded pain that Robbie is said to have felt about his recording career entering its twilight. At the same time, It sounds like a man at ease, coming to terms with the difficulties of life, looking back over time at the Peaks and just letting go. For me it represents a ‘good bye’ from Robbie and a coming to the end of my eBay searches of his many fine rare LPs.
Review by: Harry Wheeler
Twilight Peaks is released on Smeraldina-Rima