Eric Chenaux is one of Canada's most respected and long-standing experimental guitar players and songwriters, starting with legendary Toronto punk band Phleg Camp in the early 90s and tirelessly expanding his musical vocabulary and reach in countless improv, avant-folk, damaged jazz and contemporary music ensembles throughout the 2000s. Since 2006, Constellation has been home to Chenaux's more overtly song-based work, his clear voice and erudite lyricism guided by an utterly unique guitar technique and a deep immersion in pop and folk traditions from medieval to post-modern.
With this fourth album for the label, simply and aptly titled Guitar & Voice, Chenaux has made what in a literal sense can be called his first solo album, in that the recording features only his playing and singing; no guest or supporting musicians, minimal overdubs, and a rigorous structure that alternates back and forth between longform lyrical vocal-based songs and shorter, cacophonously harmonious bowed-guitar instrumentals.
Chenaux sees the entirety of Guitar & Voice as balladry. The album's four tunes with singing are clearly ballads, but filtered through Chenaux's uniquely distorted, refracted, genre-defying lens. Jazz, consort-music, free/improv, Scottish folk, psych/noise, medieval, baroque and pop influences do not so much compete as synthesise in various ways across these four songs. Heartbreaking lyrics delivered in Chenaux's strong but gentle lilt are set against an ever-shifting array of sounds and strategies elicited from acoustic nylon-string guitar (with the help of a small but expertly-deployed chain of wah-, freeze- and fuzz-pedals). Traditional song structure and lyrical arcs manage somehow to anchor themselves to constantly surprising, unpredictable and virtuosic contrapuntal guitar work, always playing at/with the threshold of sonic experimentation and improvisation. Chenaux's ballads sound like no other.
With the exception of "Sliabh Aughty" – a beautifully fried 8-minute Hendrixian workout (were Jimi searing an Irish piping tune rather than the American national anthem) – all the album's instrumentals are miniatures of a sort. Each is a a bowed guitar piece, recorded acoustically, re-amplified through Leslie speakers and re-recorded as installation pieces in the studio. Each of these short pieces shifts and slides along a stream of harmonic consonances and dissonances where melodic motifs are continually subject to slippage, and each is intended to frame and expand the sentiments (and sentimentalism) of balladry that inform the album as a whole. As Chenaux insists, "They are not interludes. They are ballads with the same interests as the 'songs'. They lilt similarly. They flirt from the margins into the romantic similarly. The imagined strangeness of the romantic, but through a psychedelic lens."
Guitar & Voice was beautifully recorded by Radwan Moumneh at Six Saint V, a small Montréal studio apartment provided by Constellation to visiting musicians. The sessions were then mixed at Hotel2Tango. "Put In Music" was treated and mixed by Chenaux's friend and labelmate Sandro Perri in Toronto.
Thanks for listening.
180gLP includes download code and screen-printed 12"x18" poster.
CD comes in a custom gatefold paperboard jacket with the disc in a printed paper dust sleeve.
Track 6 mixed by Sandro Perri.
Mastered by Harris Newman at Grey Market.