Hallock Hill: The Union and A Hem of Evening
MIE Music

A veritable feast for guitar aficionados, the double vinyl release The Union and A Hem of Evening pairs Tom Lecky's acclaimed debut album as Hallock Hill, The Union (originally issued on CD by Hundred Acre Recordings in 2011), with the musician's more recent A Hem of Evening. Weighing in at approximately eighty-eight minutes, the fifteen settings find Lecky layering acoustic, electric, and lap steel guitars into dense, ultra-rich meditations that unfold with a natural grace. Though spontaneously made, they hardly feel directionless when the guitarist's clear-headed sensibility carves out clearly focused paths through dense thickets, and they breathe with the natural air of pieces brought into being on the back porch of a woodland cabin rather than some sterile studio environment. It's no coincidence that Lecky's moniker is Hallock Hill, given that it refers to the rural locale of his upstate New York birthplace.

From the outset, Lecky sounds as if he's surrendering to wherever his muse might take him rather than trying to consciously impose direction upon it. The material often creates the illusion of an intimate improv session involving two or even three guitarists, each telepathically attuned to the other in allowing their expressions to unfold as they will. On The Union, the sleight-of-hand generated through that multi-layered approach is exemplified especially in “Ausable” where the guitars indulge in a freeform kind of call-and-response, with one soloist eliciting a blues-soaked reply from another, and “Marked,” where reflective flights-of-fancy emerge simultaneously rather than in controlled sequence. Clocking in at more than ten minutes, “Pencil Spin” affords Lecky ample opportunity to cast a dark spell, which he does by weaving long electric tendrils into a sometimes bruising dirge-drone where abrupt blasts and reverb-laden peals shatter the relative quietude. The Union's closing track, “On Sundays When I Wake Up,” hints at the style pursued on A Hem Of Evening in presenting a slightly pared-down setting of soothing splendour. Regardless of the changes in style, Lecky adjusts his attack to the individual piece, such that sometimes it's delicate and elsewhere aggressive.

In one sense, A Hem of Evening expands upon the other set's approach in allowing its pieces to unfold with an even greater sense of liberation. But it also adopts a slightly more restrained approach with respect to density as Lecky allows more space to filter into the arrangements. Throughout the set's six settings, clusters and fragments of acoustic picking cohere into cumulative wholes, their definition gradually coming into focus as the minutes pass. In “The Sheets,” for example, a huge number of individual statements organize themselves into a drifting mass of fluctuating tempo. A perhaps more plaintive tone characterizes the material, too, such that a representative piece like “Downstairs, Up Hearing” conveys an elegiac, even sad, mood. Texturally rich in the extreme, Lecky's pieces are like woodlands one plunges into, eager to embrace the opportunity to lose oneself within their sprawl and experience the exhilaration that such liberation, rare as it unfortunately is, bestows. And though, as stated, the collection does offer a feast for six-string devotees, it's important to emphasize that Lecky's no self-indulgent soloist, but rather someone who uses his instrument to realize and give voice to a state of being. In one sense, there's zero soloing on offer; on the other hand, the argument could be made that there's never anything but soloing in play, given that every moment of the recording documents Lecky's spontaneous expression. In that regard, his approach to music-making recalls Ornette Coleman's harmolodic concept as applied to group interaction, the critical difference being that Leckey accomplishes the feat by himself using multi-tracking—a remarkable feat indeed.

September 2012