Did you ever sleep in the desert with only the stars for company and nothing for entertainment except chirping crickets and yowling coyotes? No? Me neither. And we don’t have to, when we can simply press play and listen to Neil Warden‘s instrumental dreamscape, Adventures in Weissenbornland. This five track musical sojourn into mythical America consist of four tunes that showcase Warden on Hawaiian lap steel guitar and one no-nonsense bit of rollin’ and tumblin’ with vocalist Gary Martin. The result is a much more mixed affair than the focus on Warden’s iconic Weissonborn style guitar would suggest, with synthesizers creating aural pictures and, tribal sound providing cross-cultural references.
The Weissenborn of the title refers to a brand of lap slide guitar manufactured by Hermann Weissenborn in Los Angeles in the 1920’s and 30’s, originals of which are now very rare. These instruments, now highly sought after, provided the template for most non-resonator acoustic lap steel guitars currently produced. The signature feature of Weissenborn guitars is the hollow neck, effectively a highly adapted body chamber that runs the entire length of the body, and creates an especially warm and full sound. The Weissenborn moniker commonly refers to reproduction instruments, and it’s now probably associated more with western swing and blues lap slide players like Ben Harper than the Honolulu Playboys.
Neil Warden, is an Edinburgh-based guitarist who’s known as a jazz player who likes to cross over into areas that others might consider risky. He works closely with classical pianist and composer Stuart Mitchell, and their last recording together The Silent Sky prompted much nodding of heads and murmurings of approval here at 1320Radio.
Adventures in Weissenbornland is a much more outgoing musical excursion into territories previously staked out by Ry Cooder, David Lindley and even Steve Howe. If you still feel a wee thrill at the opening bars of Cooder’s famous Paris Texas leitmotif, then you’ll love Warden’s knowing nod on Mojave. He’s added aural enhancements to suggest that you’ve driven a long way off the highway and into a fascinating and slightly disturbing landscape with only a harmonica for company. Enchantment picks up that thread with Warden playing a reflective melody that suggests, on closer inspection that the the desert doesn’t necessarily mean desolate.
The Alchemist, featuring Dave Heath on flute, is prefaced by an introduction that implies something mysterious is about to be revealed, but in fact, the core of this instrumental is Warden’s lovely melody that unfolds more like a flower than a secret. It’s the kind of melodic thinking that, like Stuart Mitchell’s approach, is generously abundant in his work and ought not to be taken for granted.
Hats off as well, to Gary Martin for matching Warden’s energetic slide playing with a wonderfully measured British bluesman vocal on Bad Dog, which will give people of a certain age a whiff of nostalgia. I’ll be featuring a track from the EP on the forthcoming Breakfast in Bed show, and adding the music to our Eclectic Selected playlists. In the meantime, here’s a link to Adventures in Weissenbornland. Have a listen there while I nip up into the loft and see if I can still find my old John Mayall albums.