Despite plague, lockdown, transportation issues, and touring revenue loss, a surprising number of artists managed to release new material last year. Current modern guitar legends, Eivind Aarset, Stian Westerhus, and Nels Cline all make appearances. Legends in the making Ádám Mészáros, Tim Motzer, Nick Milevoi, and Eyal Maoz’s chime in as well. On a sad note, rumor has it that the Rare Noise label is folding. They are going out with a bang though, contributing three records to this year’s list. I hope I am misinformed.
You say you are interested in finding some modern guitar music that you haven’t yet heard? Just head on over to The Modern Guitar Show segment at Jack Sonni Guitar Radio any Saturday and Sunday night at 11pm Eastern Standard Time.
Curators Michael Ross and Joel Harrison will endeavor to open your ears to new sounds from an old instrument. The options for doing so are multiple. You can download the Jack Sonni Guitar Radio app for the Apple or Google Store, you can go to the Jack Sonni Radio website, the iHeart Radio site, or the Live 365 site.
Pedal steel guitarists operate on another level. In addition to coordinating two hands, they must operate pitch-changing pedals with one foot, a volume pedal with the other, and levers with their knees. They also might be operating over 12 strings, with octaves that are nowhere near each other. To all that, Susan Alcorn adds tunings that are unusual even for pedal steel, and a propensity, not just for music that is outside the usual country fare, but outside in general. She is one of the rare steel players who is exploring the unique potential of the instrument beyond the normal roots and pop boundaries. Her latest record, Perdernal [Relative Pitch], made my top 10 list for 2020. On it she is joined by guitarist Mary Halvorson and violinist Mark Feldman, two other players who push the limits of their instruments. We talk about Pedernal, as well as The Heart Sutra, a record of her compositions arranged by Janel Leppin, on which she doesn’t appear. Even if you don’t play pedal steel you will enjoy this conversation.
If anyone were to be into pedals it would be the modern guitarist. Granted there are a few who play only acoustic, and even fewer who exclusively play plugged straight into the amplifier, but the majority of modern guitarists are to some extent looking to find new sounds in the electric realm and pedals help them go there. The firmament of modern guitar heaven is filled with gods who use a plethora of stompboxes in their quest for sonic freshness. Adrian Belew, Nels Cline, Eivind Aarset, Stian Westerhus, David Torn, Nick Reinhardt, and others employ effect pedals as an essential part of their artistry.
For them, and guitarists of all stripes, this year has seen the release of, not one, but two books (actually three) devoted to these playable, collectable, fetish-encouraging devices.