Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from Buck Curran (Arborea / Obsolete Recordings), guitarist who weaves together psych, folk and ambience in a way that is quite unlike anyone else we’ve heard.
Guitarist Buck Curran, has woven his way deep into the folk and psych-folk worlds over the past decade. He’s best known for his work with Arborea, but just as instrumental is his organizing of the compilation Leaves of Life which included Devendra Banhart, Marissa Nadler and Alela Diane, and two Robbie Basho tributes that have helped to shed light on the vital artist in the past few years. He’s also given new life to live Basho recordings via his imprint Obsolete Recordings this year. – The Aphodion Theater
This acoustic guitar instrumental is an ode to British guitarist Davey Graham and the alternate guitar tuning DADGAD. Graham is credited with creating the tuning so that he could play along with North African Oud musicians. There is a live video from the mid-1960s of Davey performing ‘She Moves Through The Fair’. Halfway through the performance he departs from the Irish melody and segues into a progression using Middle Eastern-sounding intervals. DADGAD has been one of the primary tunings I’ve used for over 20 years and I know those intervals extremely well, having used them for years while playing with my duo Arborea.
The main melodic sections for Blue Raga came to mind suddenly, in a rush one afternoon when I was thinking about the sound of DADGAD. I recorded the version that opens the album at the end of January 2019. The instrumental came together so rapidly that by the time I started recording I hadn’t even completely figured out the entire progression from beginning to end…so some parts on that recording were improvised. Hoping to improve the recorded, I re-recorded Blue Raga in February 2020. Despite the technical flaws in the original recording…I end up preferring the feeling and atmosphere of the original recording, so that’s how the album begins.
There is also the addition of some tabla playing on the track by my friend from India Dipak Kumar Chakraborty. While he was on tour in Italy we managed to record him at my home studio in Bergamo. As well, there is a layer of EBow on the recording.
This song is a mix of memories of life past with the overtones of the supernatural. There are memories of the old house in Maine where my first two children were raised. I’d been thinking about how we’ve all moved on, but that house still exists upon that hill, without us. All the memories of our past lives there…perhaps all the energy from that life still exists, on some level, in the hallways and rooms…perhaps as ghostly echoes. There’s also a second story that is part of the inspiration for this song, and it involves the ghost of a woman who haunted me and Adele’s previous apartment in Bergamo. The chords, melody, and lyrics tumbled out and the song wrote itself in about 15 minutes. I use my EBow to enhance the surreal haunting atmosphere of the song.
This slow ominous melody came to mind one day. Without too much thought I decided to set up my microphone and start recording. Outside of the bluesy notes that I began with, the rest of the recording is composed of improvised layers and became the 7 minute and 42-second soundscape that you hear on the album. Slide and EBow are used to a great extent on this recording.
The poetic lyrics and melody for this song came out of the blue when I was thinking about how often I have to leave my lover to travel and perform. The song is about the burning desire to return home and return to love and it’s the most Irish-Appalachian sounding folk song on the album…though consciously produced to be a contemporary psych-folk song. My wife Adele accompanies me with backing vocals.
My grandmother Marie passed away in February of this year. She’s been a very important part of my life. The entire composition came together instantaneously one day when I was thinking about her. There is a section where I play this repeating figure (Hammer-on Pull-offs). That section brings to my mind the fluttering of dove’s wings. My father told me that when my grandmother passed away…doves were perched outside the window and then they flew off when she died.
This song is about transformation, unconditional love, and freedom of spirit. It begins with the image of letting go of fear and sadness after a long period of existing with unrequited love. The second body of verses reflect transformation, unconditional love, freedom, and beauty.
During the late Autumn/beginning of Winter in 2018, my wife Adele had been going through an extremely rough period in her life. At that time we were listening to a lot of classical music: Beethoven, Debussy, Satie. The mood and emotions of that period…the sadness I felt for her manifested into this dedication for her. It’s the most complex composition on the album and one which I have yet to perform live. Along with the emphasis on the tonal colors in this instrumental, I layered a track of EBow to enhance the emotion and mood of the recording.
In December of 2018 Adele and I invested in a piano for our home. The piano is an original German made Bechstein from the 1890s. The piano has an incredibly beautiful and resonant voice. I had never played piano before and the first week of having the instrument in the house was very inspirational. I wrote a lot of music while improvising on the keys and recorded this instrumental only 10 days after we got the piano. The piece is dedicated to my family cat Django who passed away in December of 2018. I had rescued Django from the streets in Maine in 2001…so he had lived a very long life. He was a very important part of my family.
This song began as a poem which I started writing in late Autumn of 2016 when I was ruminating on where things were headed with the reality and uncertainty of this new presidency, fears of technology (cell phones, etc) and also finding out that Adele was pregnant with our first child. Things felt quite scary at that time. The lyrics start with an actual event where the moon was hanging in the evening sky and in the distance there was lightning and a thunderstorm.
I was also looking at America from a new angle as it was my first Autumn and Winter living in Italy. I also like to think of this song as a contemporary equivalent to Bob Dylan’s song ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’. At the core of this recording are the lyrics, vocals and acoustic guitars…but for the studio recording, I decided to record tracks of electric guitar to add psychedelic elements to the recording.
This is the most experimental guitar piece I have ever composed. I’m modulating chromatically through all 12 keys. The title also reflects the idea of a Canticle (hymn or chant). Basically it’s a chromatic hymnal played on the guitar.
My friend Nicolo Melocchi (one of Adele’s oldest friends), who played Bansuri flute on ‘Bhairavi Rovelli’ (a track from my previous album ‘Morning Haikus, Afternoon Ragas’) spends most of Autumn and Winter living in India and studying with his legendary guru Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. Nico usually returns to Italy every Spring/Summer, so that’s when Adele and I get to spend time with him. As someone who has a deep love for Indian Classical music, I absolutely love talking about music with him.
In April of 2019 I decided to take a formal lesson with Nico. During that lesson he showed me the scale that corresponds to ‘Marwa’ the Raag for Sunset. The mood of the notes inspired some new explorations in DADGAD. One evening I turned on the microphone and started recording. I began with the intervals you hear at the beginning of the piece and at the end I used the notes from ‘Marwa’. After playing the opening intervals I cranked up the gain on my amp, kicked on my fuzz face, octave pedal, and started using my EBow.
With all that combined, I had managed to manifest this incredible sustained voice. I improvised throughout most of the recording with those intense tonal colors. During the recording, I was consciously thinking about creating an intense instrumental in the vein of ‘Machine Gun’ by Jimi Hendrix/Band of Gypsys’. So in a way, ‘War Behind The Sun’ is an ode to Jimi Hendrix. It’s also a dedication to my friend, the Italian poet Luca Buonaguidi.
This acoustic guitar instrumental in DADGAD is the sister song to ‘Blue Raga’ and almost entirely composed through improvisation. I used EBow sparingly on this recording for layers of counterpoint melodies. The name references the Latin word ‘Luce’ (light). This instrumental is dedicated to me and Adele’s daughter Lucia who we are expecting in August.