RICHARD DURRANT – Stringhenge (Own Label, TheBurningDeck003CD)

StringhengeJS Bach’s elaborate baroque isn’t necessarily folk’s obvious partner, but for guitarist Richard Durrant they are simply links in a lengthy musical chain. In his new album, Stringhenge, landscape and music are tightly bound, including in his instruments: a guitar made from 5000-year-old bog oak and a tenor guitar decorated with a silver Uffington Horse.

A Sussex classical guitarist trained at the Royal College of Music, Durrant embraces other styles and traditions joyously, with a playing style that wears its intricate skill with light ease. What’s quickly obvious from Stringhenge is his attention to detail, taking pleasure in tiny adjustments to resonance or plectrum, just as much as key or rhythm.

This is Durrant’s first double album, with the first CD recorded on Shoreham Beach (unless it’s also the name of a super-hip studio?). It largely features JS Bach pieces re-imagined for guitar, and occasional ukulele (he reserves one just for playing Bach). He’s creative with style and mood, adding classical Spanish touches to ‘Anaerobic Prelude’ which perfectly suits Bach’s bubbling, tumbling-over-themselves motifs. ‘Under Downham’ is unabashed English pastorale, and there’s even a harpsichord-like resonance on the strings in ‘The Reefknot Gavotte’. A swingy jazziness pervades ‘The Deep Dark Woods’, with touches of syncopation chopping into the rhythm. However, shorn of its cello mood-swings, the much-loved ‘Prelude In G’ lacks power.

Among the Bach nestle traditional tunes, with the jaunty light baroque frolic of ‘Speed The Plough’ linking them. ‘The Skye Boat Song’ pits two distinct key moods against a bagpipe-drone strum, while ‘Sorton’s Hornpipe’ (aka ‘Jacky Tarr’) slowly builds up the rhythm but remains oddly melancholic. ‘A Brief History Of Wood’, Durrant’s original composition, is strong and punchy, with sliding falls and hard picking.

The studio-recorded CD two is surprisingly different. It’s a funny, strange, slightly hallucinogenic experience, like rediscovering an obscure folk-rock concept album from the late 1960s/early 1970s. ‘Kenneth The Hedge’ has more than a hint of early Pink Floyd about it and ‘Frank Bough’s Allemande’ is amusingly odd. Elgar-derived ‘Edward The Good Angel’ is a slightly sinister 1960s caper movie theme that overindulges on a Greek holiday and passes out while listening to a beautiful blackbird. Bang on trend with the current birdsong vogue, then. Two minutes of joyous skylark song rounds off the disturbing ‘Morris Dreams’, which frequently teeters on parody’s cliff edge. Suddenly, we’re safely harvest home and, like looking back across a landscape, we can contemplate the distance travelled.

Su O’Brien

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‘My Lady Jane’ – official video: