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Chuck Johnson Plays A Raga That Rages

Chuck Johnson.
Carly Hoopes
Courtesy of the artist
Chuck Johnson.

American Primitive music is flourishing right now. Electric and acoustic guitarists like William Tyler, Steve Gunn and Glenn Jones all have stellar releases out or on the way in 2013, and each digs different paths into this blues-based style. Tyler's Impossible Truth turns his Nashville home into a hypnotic oasis, Gunn's Time Off is a chooglin' good time and Jones' My Garden State is the unassuming and quiet picking-on-the-porch record that'll take you by surprise if you let it.

Like the work of his fellow pickers, Chuck Johnson's second album, Crows in the Basilica, somehow bests his already-impressive discography — which spans several film scores, as well as his work in different experimental groups. Joyful yet cerebral, the new record spirals melodic phrases in and out of the depths; it's like a gentle hurricane at sea. At eight minutes, the deceptively quiet "On a Slow Passing in Ghost Town" is a raga that rages moodily.

Johnson writes in his liner notes that "On a Slow Passing in Ghost Town" was inspired by Rich Osborn's improvisatory raga technique; Osborn is a Bay Area guitarist and former student of Robbie Basho. Unlike Glenn Jones, who builds around melodies, Johnson builds his work around patterns that ripple and rattle like the guitar strings themselves. Sink in, and it becomes a haunting prayer that unravels before your ears.

Crows in the Basilica comes out May 14 on Three Lobed Recordings.

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