Cold Weather Music is the first solo release from guitarist Paul Tasker who is, perhaps, best known for his work with singer Iona Macdonald in the band Doghouse Roses. As Tasker’s label, Yellowroom Records, puts it the album is ‘performed primarily on acoustic guitar, the ten tracks are musical responses to both real life and imagined events. That ‘primarily’ is important, this is not just one man and a guitar but a fine collaboration between that man and a group of musicians which vary from track to track. This group comprises Jo Shaw (Flute), Curran Macarthur (cello), Thomas Marsden (pedal steel and Weissenborn guitars) and Luigi Pasquini on percussion. In addition to acoustic guitar Tasker also plays five string banjo. Guitarist Dejan Lapanja, a long term collaborator provides jazz tinged additional guitar on two tracks and was also responsible for mixing and mastering the album.
The album opens with Husker’s Theme, which was ‘ written for a fictional character travelling with his adopted daughter from Scotland to the USA at the turn of the 20th century’. A ‘Husker’ is used as a slang term for a native of Nebraska, and Husker’s Theme has that wide open feel you get on some of the tracks on Springsteen’s album named for that state. The piece is mainly carried by the banjo supported by understated pedal steel and the tune itself sounds as if it’s been around forever..like an American hymn from the nineteenth century.
In contrast, Gorlitzer which follows seems far away from the Americana which open the album. A simple theme of held notes on the acoustic is set against a more sophisticated bass/mid line which, together with the title, takes us back to Europe. Again, the feel is that of a tune which has been around much longer but in a different tradition. There is a short section at around 02:30 which has some echoes of both classical guitar and music from a much earlier century.
The next track, Sky Train, provides another shift, introducing flute and cello into the mix. The result is an atmospheric piece, this time making use of the flute’s sustain a simple melody underscored by Tasker’s occasionally percussive guitar and the darker notes of the cello. The flute and guitar combination is used differently, and to great effect on a later tune ‘Ne’er Day’. The track is described as a ‘homage to New Years day’ which is handy to be told as I assumed the apostrophised word was ‘never’. In fact, the piece is largely a playful conversation between flute and guitar perfectly characterised by the ending, a harmonic run on the guitar with the final, resolving note given to the flute.
As with the opening track, the other two banjo driven pieces are essentially Americana but quite different in feel. Valve Oil, track four, is driven, redolent of movement be prairie schooners, trains or Greyhound buses. Optimistic, it is travelling to a new town, new job, new life? Tundra Plane , track six, is altogether darker. Maybe it’s simply a depiction of a flight over a hard tundra landscape, but it seems to suggest hardships along the way. Something in the piece made me think of Preston Reed’s Franzl’s Saw, which to me has the same dark edge..but then, reaction to any music is highly subjective.
Blooms in the Autumn returns the album to Europe. The first of the tracks on which Dejan Lapanja plays is a waltz straight out of a film such as The Third Man. The flowers are fading and the tune makes sure that you know. It is a lovely piece, haunting enough to creep into your day and stay there. As with the two banjo driven tracks above, In E, which also features Lapanja, couldn’t be more different. It opens quietly enough and grows into a piece which suggests in turn bluegrass then Tony Rice’s newgrass. The closing track, Rising, has some similarities with InE but is perhaps less blue grass and more American Primitive as it has and continues to be developed by players such as Glenn Jones.
If you like your music to be predictable and albums tracks to be homogenous, maybe this is not for you…your loss. Personally, I loved it.
Cold Weather Music is Out Now via Yellowroom Records.