Guitar Portraits

Disfarmer is Bill Frisell’s Pictures At An Exhibition, a series of 26 short, impressionistic pieces inspired by the photos of Mike Disfarmer (1884-1959), an Arkansas photographer who captured both place and time in his starkly-lit portraits.  Disfarmer’s revealing black-and-white portraits of country and small-town folk, posed without background, are perfectly reflected in the Frisell quartet’s fuzz and twang. Much like the timeless statements made by Disfarmer’s  70-some-year-old photos, Frisell’s music sounds both period and contemporary.

The Rabbit has previously compared Frisell’s brand of plugged-in Americana to the rolling impressionism of  Grant Wood’s paintings and that sound is played to maximum effect here.  The sound is reminiscent of Frisell’s Music For the Films of Buster Keaton done some 15 years ago, with horse-and-buggy rhythms sharing space with country waltzes and laments. Not only does Frisell’s own compositions mirror the moods and faces in the portraits, he’s chosen a handful of classics that fit the bill: Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love with You)” and a giddy-up version of Arthur Crudup‘s “That’s Alright, Mama.” Greg Leisz ‘ steel guitars and mandolin color the music with backwoods sweetness,  and the omnipresent Jenny Scheinman makes both melancholy and whoopie with her violin. Who know what it was like to live in rural Arkansas in the 1930 and ’40s? Disfarmers photos–and Frisell’s music–gives us a dusty sense of hardscrabble life and small joys. —Cabbage Rabbit

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