Scissor Tail Editions, a small label operating out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was founded in 2010 by one Dylan Golden Aycock. Six years later sees the release of his own début full-length album Church of Level Track following on from the Rise and Shine EP put out in 2012.
Aycock, whilst now essentially regarded as a guitarist, is a multi-instrumentalist whose credits on the album run to acoustic six & twelve string guitar, electric guitar, pedal steel, drums, upright bass, violin, field recordings and synthesizers. The only other player listed is his elder brother Jesse who takes over the pedal steel duties on Arkansas River (track 2). The album is described as being ‘recorded, mixed and mastered by Dylan G. Aycock in Tulsa, OK 2012-2016’, so this is no rushed project…and it shows. It doesn’t say if it was recorded at The Church Studio, Tulsa but somehow I wouldn’t be surprised if the title Church of Level Track were not a studio/railway pun.
Regardless of individual titles, I just see trains on about half of the tracks which make up Church of Level Track, maybe it’s the title, maybe the rhythm, maybe the pedal steel but even in Arkansas River the water seems to be running on steel rails and a track bed. The album changes after Red Oak Black (track 3), the compositions tending towards a, perhaps, less defined structure. Something akin to the difference between figurative and impressionist art.
Lord it Over, the opening track begins with typical John Fahey picking and progression then at about fifteen seconds the pedal steel comes in followed, at around 01:45, by the drums. It’s rapidly apparent that we’re going somewhere different on the fingerstyle map.
To me the whole track is full of trains leaving, trains travelling, trains arriving, trains in the distance and the sounds one hears on at a railway terminus…
There will be, almost but not quite, no other references to John Fahey et al. or American Primitive throughout the rest of this review. Here’s why:-
‘As far as the American Primitive thing goes, everyone wants to shun the title, because no one wants to be pigeonholed and I understand that, but there’s no avoiding it if you play instrumental acoustic guitar in open tunings, unless you’re Michael Hedges. You can’t be upset if listeners are drawing comparisons to Fahey, Basho and so on. I say just accept it and further the genre: it’s not like there’s a ton of people carrying the torch anyways.’ Dylan Golden Aycock during an interview North Country Primitive 05/05/2015
Arkansas River (track 2) is initially a slide piece. A slow, meditative opening then around the two-minute mark Aycock’s Weissenborn is joined by pedal steel. The pace quickens and my head is back in the land of lonesome trains crossing the prairies. The different voices of the steel guitars held together by straight fingerpicking. Towards the end, the pedal steel seems to be linked with found sounds which both suggest the wind, space, a touch of melancholy.
Oddly enough after Arkansas River and all those trains running around my head, Red Oak Black (track 3) has a meandering water feel. Maybe the fact that Red Oak Brewery in North Carolina brews a ‘Black Oak’ is a coincidence…maybe not.
Throughout Hurry Autumn (track 4) it is easy to see windblown leaves, clouds scudding…it’s that sort of pace. Subtle pedal steel suggesting wind and somehow cold. The piece slows, something coming to an end, Summer, Autumn… something undefined?
The following track Golden Bough presents electric guitar set back in the mix against a continuo. At 02:45 by far the shortest piece on the album and perhaps the most enigmatic. A sort of coda to Hurry Autumn?
Red Bud Valley II (track 6) offers a relatively stripped down, gentle piece driven by Fahey influenced picking around which an electric guitar circles playing around with the central theme. A place or a beer reference, who knows…it matters not.
The long closer, Scratch the Chisel, coming in at 10:31 is a 12 string driven piece which also encompasses keyboard pads, keyboard voices (flute, pipe organ and probably others I missed), Flamenco influenced strumming and sitar-like runs. From the subjective prairies of the earlier tracks we seem to move seamlessly, via the home of Flamenco to the land of the raga …oops, I nearly mentioned Mr Basho there, but I think I got away with it.
Summing up, I can only say that I loved this album, and probably will for as long I can imagine. On Church Of Level Track you can find virtuoso playing, imaginative composition, wonderful arranging and a sense of ‘I’m taking this music where I want it to go, without forgetting the roots of its being.’ What more could you ever want?
Church of Level Track is Out Now on Scissor Tail Records