By Reed Fischer
By Anna Gulbrandsen
By Jeff Gage
By Stacy Schwartz
By Natalie Gallagher
By Erik Thompson
By Jeff Gage
By Loren Green
Ghost Man on Second
Kevin Barker is a Brooklyn folk singer and instrumental polymath who, perhaps sensing that "Kevin Barker" isn't the most evocative moniker, sometimes records as the one-man band Currituck Co. The liner notes of Currituck Co.'s Ghost Man on Second explain that the two-disc set is "part two of a three-part lecture series" (2003's superb Ghost Man on First being the first). In this latest woolly discourse he's aided by Otto Hauser of the hookadelic neo-folk combo Espers.
I first knew Barker as the guitarist of the D.C. indie-pop band Aden, in which Barker would lay down exquisite country-rock licks on a "Clarence White" B-bender Telecaster. I filled in for him on the band's first tour, since he was still in college, too young to get into bars, and terminally bedridden with some mysterious affliction (he must have weighed about a hundred pounds). I couldn't fill the guy's shoes. I remember thinking, as he taught me the parts for the songs, Fuck, these are really tricky riffs for indie rock. The other guys told me that to relax Barker would watch TV on the couch and idly make up speed-metal solos on an unplugged Strat. I think I just barely had all the parts down by the time the tour ended.
In this latest Currituck outing, Barker's virtuosic acoustic work--heavily indebted to nylon-string knuckledusters like John Fahey, Skip James, and Bert Jansch--is relegated to the background, which is kind of a shame. Hauser's clunky and intrusive hand percussion on the opening track (the raga-like banjo tune "Embark") is no proxy for the kind of concise, unadorned fingerpicked meditations that graced the first Ghost Man. Later on, Barker's beautifully pensive timekeeping sense is diluted by the meandering free-jazz traps behind "Don't the Road Look Rough and Rocky."
Barker's music is more compelling, in a sense, than that of some of the folks he plays with as a sideman--Vetiver, Espers, and Devendra Banhart, to name a few. This is because at heart, Barker's a classicist and a keen conservationist. If you've felt the intimate glow of his spindly fretwork, you know it doesn't need dressing up with noodly organ drones (on the 21-minute-long "Space Cruisin'"), much less peasant blouses or hazy Arcadian myth. Despite some false steps, it's obvious that, like Fahey before him, Barker's edging closer to that elusive goal of making old idioms sound both modern and timeless. Till then, I'm content to take my formalism straight up, no chaser, so it burns long and slow.
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