Plainly Mistaken PARADISE OF BACHELORS 8/10 North Carolinian unpacks a fresh box of wonders
MUCH like his late friend Jack Rose, Bowles has devoted his creative life to expanding the dialogue between modernist drone and old-time mountain music. It’s something he’s approached from a number of angles over the past decade, be it with Appalachian folk devotees the Black Twig Pickers, improv ensemble Pelt or his own solo career.
Plainly Mistaken is another scintillating addition to his CV. As a prime illustration of what Bowles is all about, the album includes “Ruby”, initially recorded in 1946 by Cousin Emmy And Her Kinfolk. Essentially a bluegrass classic later made famous by The Osborne Brothers and Buck Owens, Bowles messes with the formula by taking his cue from the highly percussive Silver Apples version of the late ’60s. It’s an inspired moment, imbued with a frisky sense of carte blanche.
The major point of difference between Plainly Mistaken and his previous solo work is that he’s not alone. Ten-minute instrumental “The Road Remembered” finds him leading a band for the first time, namely double bassist Casey Toll (last heard with Jake Xerxes Fussell) and Cave drummer, Rex McMurry. Bowles’ nimble banjo skirts around the heart of this riveting epic, which slows and quickens against circular drum patterns and a low drone. In true folk tradition, the trio also set about reclaiming Bowles’ own rendition of Ernie Carpenter’s “Elk River Blues” – initially included on 2012’s A Bottle, A Buckeye – as a high-stepping reel. This is in sharp contrast to “In Kind II”, a humming sound painting that serves to display the trio’s more avant-garde leanings.
There are times, too, when Bowles reverts to his default solo position. “Girih Tiles”, for instance, employs a mellowtone, a kind of banjo/bazouki hybrid, on a piece that aligns him to John Fahey’s American Primitive aesthetic. And the lovely “Umbra” is so sparse that it feels like a private meditation. Whatever the setting, Bowles’ music is rarely less than seductive, the product of both a gifted multi-instrumentalist and restless cultural forager.