Andrew Tuttle - Alexandra [Someone Good/Room40 - 2020]
There’s a lot to be said for listening to music in different ways, in different spaces, at different volumes. Alexandra is a case in point. On my first few listens through my stereo, I felt it was OK; it was pleasant, kind of pretty, but also perhaps bland and inoffensive. I think it took about a minute of headphone listening to reveal an entirely different and infinitely superior album. Alexandra has nine tracks, none of which wander too far from one other, focused around the guitar, banjo, and processing of Andrew Tuttle, and aided by several musicians on piano, trumpet, saxophone, cello, organ, fiddle, and pedal steel - including the wonderful Gwenifer Raymond on two pieces.
What initially sounded like twangy guitar and banjo with tasteful ambient processing - and at times even lightweight or anaemic - opens out into a genuine world of sound with headphones, full of detail and layers. (A lesson that I should ignore my neighbours and turn up the stereo volume!) Whilst essentially a solo project, Alexandra has a definite sense of ensemble playing, rather than a solo effort with further instruments thrown on top; Tuttle is undoubtedly centre stage, but the accompanying musicians are wrapped around his playing in a meaningful way, with equal weighting. The tone of Alexandra is warm and expansive, with only the short drone of Vienna Intersection approaching anything remotely dark - it’s more dusk than night, mind. At times, this expansiveness verges on a cosmic feel, with spiralling crescendos of blurred instrumentation; however, Tuttle’s processing (complimented by the use of field recordings) gives the album a clean, ’non-earthy’ feel - more akin to electroacoustics than psychedelia - and Alexandra benefits from this. It reminds me on an abstract level of the work of Daniel Lanois, and B. J. Cole, two artists I perhaps now need to revisit… All the track titles refer to places, and Alexandra evokes a sense of landscape, of sitting and watching the world go by. Though, whilst the album is often unhurried and drifting, at other times it is decidedly jaunty, often led by Tuttle’s impressive banjo work.
Alexandra is a very accomplished work, a warm, rich, and welcoming environment that is all-enveloping. In shorthand terms we could pigeonhole it as ‘cosmic Americana’ - except that it’s not truly cosmic, more genuinely expansive, and as Tuttle is Australian the Americana tag is quite wrong - but on the most simplistic level that indicates the territory. It’s an album that nods at tradition and folk musics, whilst also sympathetically incorporating modern ambient tropes, without tipping over into ambient music. It’s this middle path that makes Alexandra so fascinating, and plain good on the ear - and I say this as someone who prefers their banjos primitive and their electronics hardboiled. Expansive AustralianaMartin P