Some work takes a long time to pay off. Although fingerstyle guitarist Mark Fosson signed to the legendary John Fahey’s Takoma Records at the tail end of the ’70s, things went south for the label soon after and it folded before Fosson had the chance to put anything out. While there have been a few low-key releases since – including an archive release of those late ’70s sessions – the matter-of-factly titled ‘Solo Guitar’ marks Fosson’s first release of new material in a decade, and only the second album of non-archive material of his whole career; something of a surprise given that his latest effort unequivocally proves that he’s a guitarist that should, by rights, be mentioned in the same breath as genre-overlords like Fahey and Kottke.
When talking guitar work unaided by vocals or other instrumentation, it’s hard – if not impossible – not to take the unbridled technicality of such pieces into consideration when evaluating quite how well they stand up. While it’s often counter-productive to equate technicality with quality, there’s no denying that Fosson is a guitarist with the ability to stand up to the most celebrated in that style. There’s a flowing, natural cadence to his guitar work that oozes out of these pieces, a powerful and continuous reminder of the raw ability of his playing.
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While the sheer virtuosity of ‘Solo Guitar’ is certainly a large part of its charm, more important is Fosson’s ability to weave memorable and articulate melodies. Without a clear sense of direction, solo instrumentation can risk meandering somewhat – but not here. There’s a clear sense of focus throughout the album, Fosson casting a very particular spell with the moody atmospherics of ‘The Creeper’, ‘Noodlin On The East Fork’ likewise boasting a vibrant sense of forward-motion and energy.
It’s persuasive stuff and those enamoured by the niche, but bustling, world of instrumental fingerstyle guitar will find much to love here. Indeed, there’s really nothing to fault on ‘Solo Guitar’. Although a relatively pithy listen at half an hour, the brevity does lend the album a keen sense of impact and there’s a good sense of variety on the album, the record’s nine cuts all feeling distinct from one another. The cheery ragtime of the surprisingly titled ‘Wankomatic’ is far sprightlier than the no less affecting chimes of ‘Miss My Baby’ – just one example of the album’s varying moods. Tempos too are nice and varied, the record often flitting between contemplative pieces and then the chirpier soundscapes found in the faster tracks.
‘Solo Guitar’ is a really well crafted record – it’s well balanced and it never struggles to keep the attention of its listeners. It’s an album that confirms Mark Fosson to be technically equal to many of the genre’s biggest names and, likewise, he has no trouble in directing that ability into charming, well thought-out pieces which slot together to create a great album in ‘Solo Guitar’.