Review: James Blackshaw – All Is Falling

I have to confess that All Is Falling is the first James Blackshaw release I’ve listened to. I was aware that his name appears on the stellar roster over at Young God Records, and that he contributed guitar work to Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain and Baalstorm, Sing Omega by my cherished Current 93, but prior to hearing this record I was otherwise oblivious to Blackshaw and his work.

All Is Falling has left me keen to hear more. He’s clearly an accomplished guitar player, yet doesn’t come off as a pretentious virtuoso – relentless finger picking is used to craft and embellish gorgeous melodies born out of instinctive songwriting talent, and not as a vacuous technical demonstration. This is beautifully exhibited through the course of tracks three to six, which run seamlessly into eachother to form a single piece. It builds, morphs, drifts – gathering itself into pretty and intricate displays and then peeling everything away again, leaving the finger-picked guitar as the constant core. The climax that arrives in track six is the album highlight for me, with looped ostinatos flowing mercuriously over jerking percussive rhythm and buried voices counting out each bar. Fantastic stuff.

Tracks one and two lead pleasantly enough into this centre-piece. The first places piano at the forefront, occasionally teetering on the edge of overload as the layering increases, but this is neatly recovered in track two, in which Blackshaw’s more traditionally folk-inspired melodies meander into a gorgeous state of melancholy.

Unfortunately “Part 7” gets a bit carried away, trundling mindlessly into glossy melodrama of galloping string sections and feeling particularly unnecessary considering the rather modest nature of the build up between parts three and six. It’s only when the strings break away into a beautiful glissando cascade that the music finds it feet again, and the title of All Is Falling never sounds more appropriate than here.

“Part 8” is perfectly fine as an aimless drone aftermath, with the chorus of bright tones (possibly Ebow) buzzing on top of eachother. It feels like a palette-cleanser – an opportunity for the listener to distance themselves from the main body of All Is Falling and critique the experience properly. Personally, I enjoy it a lot, with my appreciation for it only increasing with every listen.