Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death
It’s hard to pick a favourite James Blackshaw album – beyond the one you’re listening to at that time. And so it is with his latest, Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death (billed as an EP but at 40 minutes it’s as long as other albums he’s released; certainly it says all it needs to and has that circular/complete feel that Blackshaw albums have).
Though I loved All Is Falling it almost felt like a side-project, Blackshaw had run out of things to say on his acoustic following the sublime Glass Bead Game (probably still my favourite, if I have to pick one) and so with All Is Falling it was to the electric 12-string for a series of pieces that felt like soundtrack work. I love the end result but it’s the sore thumb of his recorded output.
Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death returns Blackshaw to the earlier sound, pre-Glass Bead of predominantly acoustic 6- and 12-string guitars; to rounds that circle and flow, that fold in on themselves as folk pedigree makes way for parameter-redefining ambition. He causes that double head-shake/jaw-drop: one time for the technical fluidity and then again – or for the first time – for the deep emotional impact of his playing. That’s a rare skill right there. To do both.
Blackshaw never (quite) repeats himself. He has a way of just introducing enough of a new sound each time for it to be worth the while of keeping up with his prolific output. I’m not convinced by the vocal track on this album (Genevieve Beaulieu is the guest) – in fact it’s the first Blackshaw song (that I know of) to feature lyrics. Where he’s been able to conjure a celestial sound with choirs of angels singing wordless angles here it’s a throwback to the sort of execrable folk-pop shanty that’s given folk – as a whole – a rather bad name.
But I love Blackshaw’s piano playing. If he studied up on Bert Jansch and John Fahey and Leo Kottke for his primary instrument then his piano playing seems to come from non-players like Eno and Neil Young and Lindsey Buckingham; people who know how to wring emotion using space as the primary gift.
So that one iffy track does nothing to sway me, I’m deeply in love with this record – even if arriving at it a bit late. There’s something so timeless-seeming about Blackshaw’s records anyway, so no harm there. The opening title song and this album’s closer, The Snows Are Melted, The Snows Are Gone are among the finest things he’s committed to tape.
This gifted musician seems to have lifted himself from any perceived rut, he’s up and going again – almost in a new direction too. Already I look forward to what follows. And again I’m back going through all that he’s done before this too.