Justen Cimino is a Florida based guitarist who has been concentrating on producing instrumental music since around 2009. Dragon Tree is his third solo album and 1381 Records, his own label, describes it thus ‘heavily influenced by the work of Bert Jansch and John Fahey this is an album that contains ghosts but seeks to carry something forward’. I am still unsure quite what he means by ‘ghosts’ but in some of the tunes I hear echoes from other music. Whether this is deliberate or not I cannot say. What can be said is that, on occasion, the work does blend elements of other styles with Fahey’s American Primitive.
Richard and John, the album’s opening track, has two distinct parts the first of which is played fingerstyle whilst the second demonstrates Bluegrassy flatpicking. Presumably, the tune is a portrait of a pair of guitarists…sadly there was no clue on the accompanying short liner notes. The first section is quite Fahey in style, reminiscent of his ‘Atlantic High’ but then this tune always seems to me a re-working of the old ‘Casey Jones’ song. Further in, listening to track five, False Hope, I kept thinking of Dylan’s soundtrack to ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’. Ghosts walking?
Cimino is an accomplished player with a fine picking hand. His handling of rapidly picked harmonics and a section of tremolo picking in the album’s title track suggests that he might well have had some classical training. Overall, his playing is precise, he has good control of dynamics and a fine range of technique in more than one style. This sounds like it’s leading to a but, and sadly it is.
The ‘but‘ is difficult to put a finger on but it has something to do with the compositions. What makes it difficult is that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with them. They often include changes of pace, and/or dynamic range but somehow there is something lacking…some spark which just isn’t quite there. I realise that this is, of course, a subjective judgement which other listeners might reject totally but I can only reflect honestly the album I heard. Go away, listen to Dragon Tree and you might very well find in it the element I missed. It’s well worth the effort, it just didn’t quite work for me.
A last thought. On first hearing, some of the pieces seemed to me to have a ‘made for synch’ feel. A bit of research showed that Cimino works at licensing his music and I can’t help but wonder if this has had an unconscious effect upon his writing. There is interesting material here, but I wonder if somehow his creativity is constrained…if so, it’s a pity.