Conrado Isasa, trading as Isasa, is a guitarist/composer from Madrid playing fingerstyle on a standard six string and also lap slide on a Weissenborn style guitar. While his work is heavily influenced by John Fahey, he is no simple copyist of Fahey’s style. His work manages to sound simple when, in reality, it generally comprises a complex layering of either arpeggio or tremolo on the top strings and both a melodic pattern and a rhythmic bass controlled by the thumb. Looking at some videos, and his Facebook cover photo reveals that his technique appears to be clawhammer with metal fingerpicks (probably Pro-Piks) on the first two fingers. His little finger remains anchored on the soundboard, and it is uncertain if the ring finger comes into play, if it does not then the complexity of his arrangements seems all the more impressive. Either way, Isasa has a great right hand.
Videos reveal a man totally intent upon his playing and his music which is not surprising given the nature of the majority of his compositions as presented in his second solo album Los Días (Days). The work seems intensely personal, the guitar providing his means of expression. The album’s liner notes, read after first listening, include comments from Glenn Jones which perhaps sum up this view:-
‘This is inner music —more for Sunday morning than Saturday night— born of solitude, of a love of the sheer sound of the guitar as a means of personal expression and exploration. I’m impressed by how unforced Los Días feels, how willing Conrado is to let his music take him —and us— where it will. It’s a captivating voyage, one I hope you’ll relish as much as I do.’
Los Días comprises nine tracks offering six straight fingerstyle tracks, two lap slide and one banjo piece. The album opens with Aina which is probably the most immediately accessible track full of very Fahey-like patterns and nice slow, quick, slow changes of pace. This fairly bouncy piece is followed by El Cielo Mediador (The Heaven that Mediates) which starts with harmonics and develops into a six-minute meditation on…? However, the track is delightful and seems to offer the perfect illustration of what Glenn Jones is saying in the liner notes.
The third track Luces blancas vienen, luces rojas se van (White Lights Come, Red Lights Go) introduces Isasa’s slide playing. A slow, evocative piece which, given its title, cannot help but create images of night time traffic moving unhurriedly towards its destination. I would love to find that the title is a quotation from my all-time favourite book, Red Shift by Alan Garner, where it appears on the closing page…but it’s probably just a coincidence. To follow this with a perky, old-timey banjo piece called Gorrión (Sparrow) seems illustrative of Isasa’s independence of thought, something much to be valued.
The second half of Los Días includes two compositions driven by Isasa’s view of his home city Madrid, track seven Ronda de Segovia, one of streets that follow the route of Felipe IV’s city wall, and Ribera del Manzanares, a street running alongside the river Manzanares. The latter piece is particularly interesting in that it appears to be played on an electric and, to me, both the playing and the production suggest something of Ali Farke Toure. Sandwiched between these is the second slide track La Bien Pagá, an arrangement of a Spanish folk song.
Summing up, Los Días is a fine album which is probably not intended for, or appreciated by, those with a short attention span. As Glenn Jones puts it, ‘this is inner music’ and as such deserves the listener’s full attention…several times.
Los Dias is out on November 25th via La Castanya