Brad Barr - The Fall Apartment: Instrumental Guitar [Tompkins Square - 2008]Brad Barr is best known as the guitarist and vocalist for the the Slip, who began as a jam band, and later transformed into an indie rock band. The Fall Apartment: Instrumental Guitar presents a different side of Barr to folks accustomed to his electric guitar riffing. The fact that this is on the highly esteemed Tompkins Square label gives you a hint that this is an acoustic guitar album, since that is what they deal in pretty much exclusively. And considering the breadth of different musicians on the label, there's a consistence quality-wise which sits well above the bar.
The standard name check for comparison to virtually any acoustic guitar player these days is, first, John Fahey and second, Robbie Basho, in that order. Two guitarists worth their weight in gold, no doubt, but comparing anyone to them is akin to likening any blues-rock band to the Stones, or any melodic rock band to the Beatles; it's often a gross misapprehension, based on lack of insight. And though I'm sure Fahey references have already been disseminated with reckless abandon in regard to this album, it would be both unfair and inaccurate to tag this as an exercise in nostalgia.
Barr has his own voice, and his approach is very much akin to the grainy cover photo which graces this disc. Though Barr plays crisp, finger-picked guitar, he surreptitiously clouds the proceedings with oblique interchanges to otherwise straight-forward, melodic refrains. These recordings were, as the title suggests, recorded at various apartments and the unhurried casual atmosphere is undoubtedly apparent. The impromptu nature of the home recording brings with it an honesty not found in the technical confines of the studio. Barr's unaffected approach wears well over the coarse of the disc, and in fact the only misstep ocurrs when he tackles Nirvana's Heart Shaped Box. His slowed down version feels a bit weighed down by convention and a bit too carefully inside the lines, considering the unselfconscious mode of the rest of the album. Aside from that, The Fall Apartment... supplies ample evidence that Barr is a talent worth watching, in his own right. Erwin Michelfelder