The first in a new series compiling and celebrating the work of Bill Frisell is an easy thing to review. Two words will sum up anything the exemplary guitarist has turned his hand to: 'very good'. But when it comes to his explorations in Americana as on this collection, it's very very good. If you don't already own most of these tracks, beware. Because when you do hear them you'll have to go out and buy all the parent albums that they're culled from.
Frisell's career began as house guitarist for ECM, filling the shoes of Pat Metheny. From there, through his New York/John Zorn/Joey Baron days he proved himself to be adept at shred as well as tasteful fretwork. His polymath session man status assured, it was his move to Seattle (and the Nonesuch label) that saw him turn his hand to something gentler but also purer. Bypassing his first more eccentric album for the label (Before You Were Born) Folk Songs, as the title implies, cherry picks his lighter acoustic moments, shaded with delicate electrics and dusted with the most tasteful of reverb.
While a country purist might sniff at his haltingly meditative adaptation of, say, Hank William's I'm so Lonesome I Could Cry (from 2000's Ghost Town) he still draws in the cream of Nashville's and, indeed, America's musicians. His Nashville album (1997) was made with Union Station's Jerry Douglas and Alison Krauss' brother, Victor. Dobro genius Douglas paid tribute to Frisell by not only covering his Lookout For Hope but also naming the whole album after Frisell's own.
In fact one look at the roster shows how much respect Bill has garnered amongst his peers, from sleeve notes by Elvis Costello to names like Ry Cooder, Jim Keltner, Greg Leisz, Kenny Wollesen and, of course Joey Baron. This is music made by musicians who could care less for purism. And that's what makes Frisell's work so timeless and quintessentially American. It combines bluegrass, jazz, folk, and, yes huge dollops of country. Add to this the fact that it matters not whether he's covering a standard like Shenandoah (from Good Dog, Happy Man), A P Carter's Wildwood Flower or one of his own compositions, they all sound like they were born in wide open spaces and are as much a part of the landscape as the mountains and streams. But heed the warning at the start of this review. Once acquired, Bill's a hard habit to break. --Chris Jones
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