Folk and Roots (UK)

Pulling Shadows – A native of Wyoming and almost incidental wizard of the fingerstyle guitar, Walter’s also a singer-songwriter who drags rootsy Americana from the open spaces of the Midwest out into the far reaches of the globe. In the past, he’s worked with musicians from West Africa to Australia to Finland, weaving together seemingly disparate musical strands and disciplines into a surprisingly seamless whole. The ten tracks on this, his debut CD, comprise eight songs and just two instrumental cuts. Taking the latter first, one (Dustdevil) is a plain astounding piece, a whirling, spinning mass of kora textures (on which Mamadou Diabate guests, no less), whereas Spinner’s Cascade is also aptly named, being a tumbling solo acoustic guitar painting on which Walter demonstrates his consummate mastery of the instrument in a pastoral, neo-folk-baroque context (think acoustic Led Zepp perhaps). The vocal items, all songs of Walter’s own composition, are also exceedingly satisfying, indeed tasty, and embrace a variety of roots idioms, from the tenderly soulful Latin-inflected Time, Peace And Honey through the deep-throated horn-bedecked The Beast and the contemplative Like Water.

Walter’s gently soulful, smoky, sometimes dreamlike vocal tones suit each song so well, whether he’s framed by edgy Beefheartian rhythms (Love Puddle), funky percussive picking (In The Stone) or a yearning pedal steel (as on Blue Horizon and Spring Song) or carrying the expressive heart while kora and guitar cascade meaningfully around him. Walter’s chosen his guest musicians well – they include Rich DePaolo, Bob Carlucci, Ken Laroche and Bill King – and Walter’s keen incorporation of the African influences in particular leads to some creative and stimulating musical adventures, wholly naturally blending the rippling rhythmic patterns into his own inventions. Pulling Shadows was recorded a couple of years ago at least, yet it sounds bang up to the minute, and a followup is due this year sometime, maybe (I hope) to coincide with a short UK tour starting May 2009; this guy’ll certainly be worth seeing. www.walterstrauss.com – David Kidman