Modern music would not exist without the guitar. And while the guitar seems to be the perfect amalgam of violin and piano (capable of playing melodies like the similarly-shaped violin, but also very useful for its ability to play more than one note at once, like a piano), the history of the guitar likely predates both of those other instruments.

Any fool can play a guitar. And that's a good thing. The relative ease with which a novice can produce pleasing sounds is why the guitar is central to today's highly democratized modern music scene. But there are a few folks who are radically understating the facts when they say, "I play a little."

Daniel Bachman
Jesus, I'm a Sinner
(Tomkins Square)

Tom Griesgraber and Bert Lams
Unnamed Lands

I've been following Daniel Bachman for a couple of years. Seven Pines, released in 2012, was a revelation filled with stunning guitar fugues. He created great walls of sound just by playing an acoustic guitar. It was a singular effort. The one drawback is that the songs pretty much stuck to that fugual state. After a while, the listener either had to surrender or run away. And while I'm at my happiest when I give up and melt into the music, I can understand those who might resist.

Jesus, I'm a Sinner is a more accessible effort. For starters, Bachman brings in Sally Anne Morgan on fiddle for a couple songs. Morgan and Charlie Devine (banjo) sit in on "Chattanooga." Bachman even switches to banjo on "Goose Chase." While still an exquisitely structured and mannered album, this set flows more freely than Pines.

While his style is very much in the mid-Atlantic folk guitar tradition of John Fahey, Bachman is able to do things on a guitar that pretty much no one else can. And he's still quite young. He's proven he's an adept. What next? Prove that he's an artist. That's always the trickiest step for young geniuses.

Sinner does just that. Bachman still works his way in and out of the fugue, but this album is much more emotionally varied and open than Pines. The ebb and flow makes this set flash by almost instantly. It's wonderful to hear a young player mature into a true artist. Bachman has recorded four albums, but he's just beginning.

Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber have been around for almost forever, it seems. Lams trained in his native Belgium, and Griesgraber snatched a degree from Berklee. Lams is best known for his work with the California Guitar Trio, but he's worked and performed with a long list classical, jazz and rock artists and ensembles. Griesgraber was originally a guitarist as well, but he started working with the Chapman stick (which has both bass and guitar strings) in 1997. Like Lams, Griesgraber tends to make music across all genres.

This latest Griesgraber/Lams effort, Unnamed Lands, tells the story of one person on a wagon train headed west. The particulars aren't important; it's the journey that matters.

There are times when this sounds like Pat Metheny playing the songs of Dirty Three. Most often, however, it's even better. The songs tend to be conversational, as if the fictional traveler is relating his story to the listener. The sound is open, which certainly suggests the wide spaces of the American prairie and how amazing those vistas must have seemed to someone more familiar with urban America in 1840.

Griesgraber and Lams are classically-trained, and they have technical chops to burn. But instead of turning this into some sort of mellow shredfest, they use their skills to create a world out of sound. I've long appreciated Lams ability to create a wide variety of emotions within his precise playing style. He has his own language, and he uses it exceptionally well. Griesgraber uses the stick for both atmospherics and exposition. I can't even begin to comprehend the difficulty of making that thing work, but Griesgraber seems to do so effortlessly. The range of the instrument in his hands is amazing.

The story itself isn't revelatory in terms of plot. But the idea of focusing on the inner thoughts of someone making a journey of outward exploration is wonderful. The execution here is simply stunning. The sound is inviting from the start, and once a listener has hitched on there's no looking back. Like the pioneers, there is only one way to move: Forward.

Bachmann, Lamm and Griesgraber aren't the future of guitar. They are examples of some of the finest playing done on the instrument (or one of its variants) today. Sometimes the best players don't know how to translate their technical prowess into ideas that mortals can comprehend. These guys have done that and more, creating albums that amaze and, more importantly, inspire. Wonder knows no bounds.

Jon Worley

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