Folk and Roots

Planet Solitaire – A native of Wyoming and acknowledged wizard of the intricacies of the fingerstyle guitar, Walter’s also a 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. Like his debut CD Pulling Shadows, which very much impressed me on its appearance back in the spring of 2009, Planet Solitaire is an astoundingly eclectic collection that at its best delicately stuns with its breathtaking solo virtuosity (no other musicians appear on the record) and enchants with its supple imagery.

I don’t necessarily warm to all Walter’s solitary planetary excursions (I find The Salamander mildly pretentious), but at its most inventive and listenable (which is the vast majority of the time) Walter’s music recalls that of Brooks Williams, perhaps with a more pronounced African influence but without quite the same degree of espousal of his blues heritage. Walter’s own melodies tend to ramble in what often seems more random tonal progressions, but generally to potent effect, as in the Native-American-inspired homage Ishi. This time round, the album contains six instrumental cuts (including one brief reprise) and just five vocal numbers: one of the former is a creative, raga-rippling non-vocal rendition of George Harrison’s Within You Without You, and finely realised though that is, perhaps the most intriguing of the instrumental cuts is Gypsydish, which intermingles inspirations from Spanish guitar tradition and the funky cross-rhythms typical of Malian harp music played on the kamal’ngoni; not far behind in the satisfaction stakes, though, is Walter’s exploration of the traditional kora song Soutoukou, learnt from the great kora master Mamadou Diabate (with whom he’s toured in a duo). Among the songs, the most curveball of Walter’s choices is an abridged resurrection-cum-reworking of the lesser-known Woody Guthrie number The Great Historical Bum, while Walter also shows a keen response to the gentle poetics and tricky, windswept harmonic changes of fellow-songwriter Andy Rinehart’s Weather Rule. Another vocal highlight comes with Walter’s own composition Blessed Sunday, a masterly reflection on the lives and inner stories of several men of his father’s generation whose choices led them to a solitary life. Planet Solitaire is definitely one of those few-and-far-between genuinely satisfying and wholly stimulating solo records where the listener really doesn’t miss the presence of supporting musicians in any way. – David Kidman