1. Bristol Stairwell Ramble (For Dr. Ragtime) (17:22)
2. Ziggy's Theme (18:46)
It has been my experience that great players are rarely great writers, and that great writers are rarely great players. It’s no mystery: time demands that you choose, early on, to hone one or the other. Historically, this situation has yielded many mutually beneficial musical partnerships ranging from George and Ira to Hunter and Garcia to Snoop and Dre. Popular music, as a result, has rarely been the province of the rugged individualist. The list of even prestigious artists who can claim equal facility in both writing and performing their own music is short (Prince, Joni, Macca, Richard Thompson). It is tempting to envy and even resent these doubly-blessed auteurs who are fortunate enough to be able to serve two demanding masters.
My friend Keith Wood is such a person. His unstinting devotion to songcraft has never ebbed even when being tapped to fill out the ranks of such bands as Current 93, Six Organs of Admittance, Sunburned Hand Of The Man, and Thurston Moore’s Chelsea Light Moving. Keith is a guy who you image spends his days learning new chord voicings and obscure tunings, taking breaks only to memorize Lorca poems. But this would be incorrect, because, while he has certainly spent time doing these things, I have seldom witnessed such activities. No, Keith is what some people would call a “natural,” the guy who can be handed an instrument he has never seen before and say “What’s this? A medieval lute?” and proceed to play the damn thing as though he’d been born with one in his hands. You almost wanna punch the guy.
Keith’s new recordings reflect both his mercurial personality and wide ranging musical interests (I believe he loves John Phillips as much as he loves Keiji Haino), and the cassette is an ideal format on which Keith can really “stretch out,” to use the lingo. His tone is unmistakable; his touch is neither light nor heavy, but varies according to what is required by the song. He can out-fingerpick most of the fake Faheys you can name and then provide a searing solo you’d swear was flown in from High Rise’s Psychedelic Speed Freaks. This versatility is why Keith is in such high demand, and this same mutable approach informs his own work.
“Bristol Stairway Ramble” is introduced with full, open chords on the 12 string before the tune’s melodic motif—think a more country blues-damaged Leo Kottke—begins, thick reverb shadowing each note. Eventually, Keith’s wordless, ethereal moans are foregrounded, overtaking the placid vibes– we’re peaking now. A harmonized glissando passage recalls My Bloody Valentine’s “When You Sleep” while also conjuring scenes of some Polynesian portal to hell.
The B-side finally introduces “Ziggy’s Theme.” Tightly pinched chords blend with the sound of a large room as Keith states and restates the theme, which captures some of the melancholic intimacy of Dylan’s soundtrack to Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid. Despite the fog of echo, it is obvious that these are spatial, not artificial, effects, as the overtones of the open E chord in the large room invite a sort of hypnosis. As the tune progresses, the thematic variations grow breezier, like a music box, or a lullaby. This Ziggy, he’s a complicated character.
And this Keith. This prodigious bastard. He makes great music. And you’ll mention to him how much you enjoyed it, how much it meant to you, and he’ll only vaguely remember creating it. Because he’s that way. Some guys have all the luck.