The young 12-string guitar master James Blackshaw is back, and his latest album, All Is Falling, exhibits another tremendous leap forward for him. For starters, he uses an electric 12-string for the first time on record, rather than his traditional acoustic. He has also brought in a host of other instruments including violin cello, flute and alto saxophone. These are all used as accents on his playing, which remains at the forefront.
Each of the individual tracks on All Is Falling stand alone as instrumental pieces. But the disc is clearly meant to be listened to as a whole as they are numbered parts one through eight. It certainly makes the most sense to play the disc straight through, as it was designed to represent a journey of some sort.
“Part 1” begins with an understated piano melody, which gives way to some roiling instrumentation, foreshadowing turbulence ahead. Although Blackshaw seems to be consciously working to distance himself from the John Fahey style of playing he originally favored, it is still very much a part of him. “2” and “3” bear this out, although the prominent use of violin and cello certainly distance him from Fahey’s trademark style.
Blackshaw has other influences also, and former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett seems to be one of them. From the midpoint of “4” on, he plays in a style not unlike that of Hackett on Nursery Cryme or Foxtrot. Things begin to veer off the safe path noticeably on “6.” A voice is heard for the first time, and the music becomes ever more discordant.
The record veers off for unexplored regions permanently on the twelve-minute “Part 7.” Commencing with some minimalist guitar, cello, and violin, the melody slowly begins to unravel, and eventually breaks down into total anarchy. It is a tour de force of a song, and one not easily forgotten. The final track, “Part 8” is something of a requiem for this perilous trip. The heavy drone sound heard throughout suggests the very worst.
All Is Falling is a significant achievement for James Blackshaw, revealing his talent as a serious composer in addition to being such a tremendous player. I recommend it for fans of instrumental guitar music such as that of Fahey, or Bert Jansch. He is also someone to keep an eye on, because I think we will be hearing great things from James Blackshaw for a long time to come.