Andy McLeod: Forge the Valley
Forge the Valley impresses in a number of different ways, though it might be Andy McLeod's versatility that stands out most of all. On this eclectic collection of folk drones and raw American Primitivism, McLeod, who apparently toils as a seasonal farm hand when he's not making music or creating artwork, draws inspiration from the hills and valleys of Chester County and the playing of Jack Rose, John Fahey, and Robbie Basho, among others. The album emphasizes in some pieces a blues-country style rooted in long-standing traditions but also makes room for a slightly more experimental approach associated with drones and folk psychedelia.
In opening the set with “The Hop,” McLeod convincingly establishes his status as a card-carrying member of the fingerpicking fraternity. For this promising scene-setter, the guitarist rolls out one intricate acoustic pattern after another, building them effortlessly into three minutes of breezy uplift. In the nine settings that follow, Forge the Valley guides the listener on a scenic tour of ever-changing landscapes. With McLeod on banjo and washboard and Lindsay Stiem on vocals and Christina Klaproth on autoharp, the dancehall swing of “Wildwood Flower” (originally written and recorded by The Carter Family) presents the recording's pure country side. Elsewhere, Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen waxes philosophical in her spoken contribution to “Luminous,” an experimental setting that sees McLeod dishing out aquatic textures amidst bird chirps and nature reverberations, while the two sides come together during “Down Darby Creek” in the Eastern folk-drone voicings of McLeod's banjo playing.Forge the Valley ascends to a majestic height during “Morning Raga,” as stirring a folk drone-meditation as one would expect from a piece so titled, and plunges deeply into visionary territory on “Song for Basho.” Those whose taste runs to the more experimental end of the spectrum will likely select those two as favourites, whereas listeners with a preference for traditional fare will be drawn to songs such as “Wildwood Flower” and “Delaware County.” Regardless of one's preferences, the thirty-seven-minute set (issued in a limited-edition run of sixty-one CD-Rs) flatters the guitarist in documenting the ease with which he tackles a number of different yet still complementary styles.