A solo record from guitarist Bill Frisell, who recently celebrated his 67th birthday, is also a reminder of how poetic his songwriting skills are. Some of the tunes on his album are re-recordings of former, older pieces from earlier albums. Some of them have become popular in the Frisell oeuvre, like “Rambler” for example, which comes in two versions here. And it is a welcome return to form after the disappointing “When You Wish Upon A Star” (2016). But this is a pretty ambivalent affair for my ears. I remember the first time I listened to the album a couple of weeks ago and really digging the intimate, intense and thoughtful variations. My second listen was pretty mixed. The bluesy character of pieces like “Winslow Homer” is not resonating, the experimentations with loops and music boxes don’t always make room for openness and ingenuity. And some childlike melodies and fragments as in “Change In The Air”, one of the new pieces by Mr. Frisell, fall short.
Still, there is a lot to enjoy. I have almost liked him best when he mingled the different genres, when folk meets jazz, country meets blues, even pop meets americana. “What Do You Want?” is one of those beautiful little excursions into this area, as is “Thankful” with its die-hard melancholy which seems to be deeply inherited in his playing. I’m also very much into his new version of “Ron Carter” which first appeared on his 2001 album “Blues Dream”. But then again, it is difficult to keep the momentum. Pieces like the 1-minute “Think About It” are just unnecessary dead weight.
“Rambler” is still rambling and has lost none of its spirit and “The Pioneers”, originally from one of my favorite Frisell albums, the 1999 “Good Dog, Happy Man” (no, not because of Gina – she came into our lives much later), exudes wide open spaces, freedom, liberty and somehow the urge to just leave your comfort zone and explore the world. There are moments of a slight exhaustion here and there, maybe because of the sequence of the tracks, but putting “Monica Jane” right after “The Pioneers” was not the right choice if you ask me. But that’s just top-level wailing. Just saying. “Miss You” is extremely low-key and floats along just nicely in the process. A little more suspense maybe? I don’t know what exactly it is but usually I dig albums which stay in a certain mood and atmosphere for most of the time, but after “Miss You”, I was thinking about giving up. But wait, there is “Made To Shine” which actually sounds like the epitome of americana, a small hymn, an ode to everything that’s free and possible. A typical Bill Frisell tune.