FRANK BIRTWISTLE – Volumes 1-4 (own label)

Frank Birtwistle Volume 1Frank Birtwistle is a guitarist and composer based in Sheffield who has released a set of four EPs of solo pieces – twenty-eight tracks in all. Volume 1 is played on nylon strings although the opening track ‘Flight’ sounds rather robust. You can forget Pre-Raphaelite young ladies playing delicate little pastoral pieces. Closer listening reveals the softness of tone that you don’t get with a steel-strung instrument but the recording process gives his playing a real presence. I particularly like the lightness of ‘Dreamlands’ in this set while ‘Grasmere’ evokes for me not the summer sunshine but the mist on the hills surrounding the water.

Volume 2Volume 2 is recorded on steel strings with all the brightness and sustain they bring. The second track, ‘Gossamer’, explores the richness of the bass strings with a relatively simple melody over the top – rather hypnotic. ‘Komorebi’ is a slower and slow-building track, again with emphasis on the bass notes. In contrast, ‘Seasons’ opens with a distinctly spring-like motif – almost the sound of a bubbling stream – while ‘Regret’ has a lightness overlaying its implied melancholy. I particularly like ‘Midsummer Haze’ in this set.

Volume 3The third volume continues on steel strings with Frank making more use of his instrument’s natural sustain – and maybe a touch of reverb – to leave notes hanging in the air on the opening ‘Daybreak’. The final track is ‘Sunset’ and uses the same technique so I‘m sure you get the picture. ‘Songbird’ feels a bit too heavy for the image he’s trying to convey – it’s probably right in his mind if not mine – but ‘Standing Still’ has a suitable solidity about it while ‘Nowhere’ runs hither and yon.

Volume 4The last volume is also restricted to the steel-strung guitar and I sort of wish that Frank had mixed things up a bit. Not that there is anything wrong with it – the opening ‘Riversong’ is a lovely fast-flowing piece (sorry) – but I was hoping for a touch of bottle-neck resonator or maybe something on a baritone guitar. No, Frank Birtwistle sticks to what he does best and that is very good.

Dai Jeffries

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