Tag Archives: East of the Valley Blues

Steel Strings and Wood: A Guide to American Primitive Music

Gwenifer Raymond

Photo from Gwenifer Raymond’s You Never Were Much Of A Dancer

“It’s uncluttered music,” says concert promoter and WFMU DJ Jeff Conklin of the musical movement dubbed “American primitive.” And that’s probably as good a description as any.

Based on fingerstyle acoustic guitar playing, “American Primitive” got its name from the movement’s forefather, the underground guitar hero John Fahey. It’s the tag he invented for the sounds he started making with 1959’s flag on the moon, Blind Joe Death. As the ’60s wore on, the style came to include artists like Leo Kottke, Robbie Basho, Peter Walker, and Sandy Bull, some of whose careers Fahey kickstarted via his Takoma label.

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The Trancelike Guitar Improvisations of East of the Valley Blues

Patrick and Kevin Cahill from East Of The Valley Blues

Toronto musician Kevin Cahill has already amassed a dedicated following on the strength of his two cassette labels, Power Moves Label and Power Moves Library. The former focuses on pro dubbed editions, while the latter favours micro releases, dubbed at home by Cahill. Both labels favor expansive, experimental compositions heavy on mood and atmosphere. But it’s Cahill’s latest outing, as one half of an acoustic guitar duo with his identical twin brother Patrick, that may be his most musically adventurous and intriguing. As East Of The Valley Blues, the twins create the kind of stunning improvisations that are the result of intimate, intuitive musical communication. Somewhat indebted to the American Primitive tradition of guitarists like Fahey or Basho, they craft often unpredictable latticeworks of guitar, exploring every inch of fingerpicking’s myriad tonal and atonal possibilities.

Initially self-released, the album soon caught the attention of London-based label Death Is Not The End. Despite the fact that the label was largely focused on reissues of gospel records, their release of EOTVB makes a kind of intuitive sense. There’s a kind of stylistic overlap in the rambling, raga-like feel of the Cahills’ playing and that of early gospel performers like the Reverand Gary Davis. The entirely acoustic and (almost) entirely spontaneous guitar duets offer a beautifully simple vision of the way music works. We spoke with Kevin discussed about the origins of the project.

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