pitchfork review of All is Falling at this link: pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/14534-all-is-falling/
The ultra savant of 12-string mantra cycles expands further into cinematic, orchestral glory--an orgy of organic, deeply felt and exquisitely played pathways to the sublime.
All Is Falling features James Blackshaw's first foray into the realm of the electric 12-string guitar and stretches his intuitive compositional acumen to the max. The album is comprised of one slowly evolving, shifting piece of music in eight parts, replete with swirling string cycles and wind instruments augmenting his extended pointillist flurries with clouds of sound, sometimes adding delicate counter-melodies but just as often feeding the implicit waves of overtones until they cascade in an all-enveloping onslaught. Listeners willing to close their eyes and surrender will be rewarded with a pure stream of devotional, relentlessly searching sonic incantation. All is Falling features Blackshaw on electric 12-string guitar, piano, glockenspiel, voice, and percussion aided by Charlotte Glasson who contributes violin, flute, alto saxophone, and glockenspiel, Fran Bury providing violin and, voice and cellist Daniel Madav.
The seeds of this project were sown in the past few years while James was serving as guest guitarist with a friend’s group on tour. This was the first time he’d played electric guitar in nearly a decade. Blackshaw got unexpected pleasure and inspiration from the sheer volume involved, the way the different old valve amps he’d rent for each show would perform, and having to be more pro-active in his fretting; he noted that while a 12-string acoustic guitar “sings” or “plays itself,” that an electric guitar needs a lot more coaxing. James became curious as to how a 12-string electric guitar might sound in his own work and bought an Italia Rimini and a little Fender Superchamp.
The new album was recorded, mixed and mastered by John Hannon and James Blackshaw at No Recording Studio, December 2009 - January 2010 and is being release on Young God Records August 24.
The slimmer neck and the lighter string tension allowing him to play faster and to reach finger positions he’d previously found awkward. At the same time, James acquired a home-recording set up which allowed him to experiment with the arrangements for other instruments, and this became integral to how he wrote the piece with guitar taking a smaller role in the overall picture as a result. Both factors had a huge impact on the new music he was composing as well as the influence of post-No Wave maximalist guitar composers Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham.
James Blackshaw: electric 12-string guitar, piano, glockenspiel, voice, percussion Charlotte Glasson: violin, flute, alto saxophone, glockenspiel Fran Bury: violin, voice Daniel Madav: cello…
James Blackshaw, 'All Is Falling' (Young God)
A breathtaking maelstrom of string-swept virtuosity.
For his ninth LP of pastoral plucking, British guitarist James Blackshaw graduates from gifted fingerpicker to masterful composer, combining John Fahey's tender arpeggios and Terry Riley's cycling rhythms. Presented as a 45-minute suite, All Is Falling sweeps his electric 12-string into a tangle of keening cellos, dive-bombing violins, pinprick glockenspiels, and clacking percussion. It's essentially a chattering crescendo of melody and tension, with piano-based snowdrifts giving way to Morricone epics that ultimately unfold into a harrowing, nail-biting sonic swarm. - By Christopher R. Weingarten
James Blackshaw: "All Is Falling" - early review at Uncut (UK) online:
In some circles, it’ll be construed as heretical behaviour: James Blackshaw not touching an acoustic guitar for the duration of an entire album, favouring instead a 12-string electric. For someone who’s been proclaimed, not infrequently here, as some kind of saviour of folk guitar or whatever, it’s something of a shock.
Truth be told, though, Blackshaw’s latest album hardly measures up as a rock record. Instead, “All Is Falling” continues on the trajectory established by Blackshaw’s last two albums, “Litany Of Echoes” and “The Glass Bead Game”. Here, again, the virtuoso solo pieces that earmarked Blackshaw as a British relative of the New American Primitive movement are more or less subsumed into formal compositions, where Blackshaw’s guitar takes equal space as the violins and cellos. Still, though, it feels very much like a logical progression from his earliest records like “Sunshrine”: the instrumentation may vary and become richer, but the melodic quirks, the balance between sacred minimalism and romantic expressiveness, remain constant.
“All Is Falling” is ostensibly one long piece, divided into eight tracks. “Part One” finds Blackshaw sketching out the themes on overlapping Reichian pianos, before “Part Two” establishes the major thrust of the overall piece; courtly, delicate electric guitar lines threaded through the sort of string arrangements that were showcased at the ensemble show at the Vortex last year. “Cross” from “The Glass Bead Game” is a useful reference point, as perhaps are “Actaeon’s Fall” from the last Six Organs Of Admittance album, “Luminous Night”, and some of Robbie Basho’s “Venus In Cancer”.
It’s around “Part Four” and “Part Five”, however, that Blackshaw really starts flying. I sometimes wonder whether he can be a little self-conscious about his own soloing skills, and consequently organises his music in an increasingly self-effacing and controlled way. But when he lets go, as here, it’s quite wonderful. It seems churlish to criticise an album as crafted and satisfying as “All Is Falling”, but I do hope that at some point in what will undoubtedly be an exploratory future, Blackshaw returns to a solo, at least partially improvising model.
The pleasures of “All Is Formal”, of course, are more formal. But that’s not to say it’s unrelentingly prettified: by the end of “Part Seven” – another expansive exercise in Glass/Reich-style systems – the violins are wailing like sirens. And the closing “Part Eight” is a distinct departure: a lunar drone piece of shaped guitar feedback, which codifies the devotional intensity of Blackshaw’s music in a new form.
ANOTHER EARLY REVIEW:
James Blackshaw – All Is Falling
Posted by Martin Skivington, Wed 28 Jul 2010
Drawing influences from classical, Indian and minimalist music amongst others, All Is Falling sees virtuosic guitar player-composer James Blackshaw delve further into the realm of hypnotic, quasi-spiritual compositions that his last eight studio releases have explored and chartered very well. Part One sets the album's mystical tone, as mesmerising piano riffs orbit over a constant bass ostinato.
This is followed by Part Two – a stoic, desert raga, fused with strings. Elsewhere, Blackshaw's use of a twanging electric guitar in place of his usual acoustic 12-string, lends the album a darker feel than previous outings. The paced fretwork of Parts Four and Five, and subdued metallic drones of Part Eight, illustrate this newfound aesthetic sublimely. Although Blackshaw is primarily a guitarist, this is not simply a 'guitar record' – it's as much indebted to the devotional jazz of Alice Coltrane as to fellow stringsmiths like Kaki King or John Fahey. Blissful listening. [Martin Skivington]
Press excerpts for The Glass Bead Game include:
“Blackshaw's music is simply and strikingly hypnotic. “ – Brainwashed.com
“..transporting, meditative, almost sacred…” Guitar Magazine
"For someone as technically brilliant as Blackshaw, it is a feat to be so evocative on record. Now that he has mastered piano and guitar and now that the actual playing is no longer something he has to think about, Blackshaw is working to pull feeling out of his sound. It's not so much about wowing us with the speed of his playing as it is putting that speed to use to create a world that is emotional and confused, beautiful and staggeringly big. Blackshaw can't help but pull us all in it...." --Popmatters.com
"... deceptively simple compositions and performances... dreamlike, ever-unfolding pieces of spiderweb intricacy with a spacious quality heightened by the ethereal chime of his 12-string." --Acoustic Guitar Magazine
"... unique and a delight, whether you're into brilliant, rich guitar work, complex yet meditational atmospheres, or modern composition...." --fRoots Magazine
…But for his eighth record, Blackshaw moves beyond those confines, melding his mesmeric, masterful technique with cello and violin contributions from members of experiment folk group Current 93 and setting the wordless vocals of Trembling Bells’ Lavinia Blackwall to the driving, haunting opener “Cross.” Then at the piano bench for the poignant ballad “Fix” and the stunning, assured finale “Arc,” Blackshaw makes you forget all about his guitar and your earthly cares. Andy Beta/Spin
… but his newer material, especially the recent The Glass Bead Game, moves more into classical and experimental territory with noticeable tips of the hat to minimalism using drones, piano, and strings. Shawn Bosler/Village Voice
On his transfixing acoustic albums, Blackshaw builds meditative cathedrals of sound, full of modal figures and hypnotic repetitions that call to mind Steve Reich and Terry Riley as much as John Fahey and Robbie Basho. On last year's mesmerizing The Glass Bead Game, Blackshaw broadened his palette with the wordless, angelic vocals of Lavinia Blackwall, with violin, clarinet and flute, and with his own piano and harmonium. He'll be solo at this show, but his 12-string conjures a world unto itself. - Steve Klinge/Philadelphia Inquirer
James used to be in punk bands in England, but then he started listening to people like John Fahey, Robbie Basho etc, and soon locked himself in a room for 12 hours a day for several years and just played his guitar constantly. It takes intense discipline and a religious commitment to get to the place where he's at with his instrument - his soulful and kaleidoscopic ever-shifting mantra cycles are incredibly beautiful. It takes a rare and single-minded courage and commitment to make music with such a powerfully positive force at its heart, especially in these troubled times.