Review: James Blackshaw - Love Is the Plan, the Plan Is Death (2012)


jamesblackshaw_loveistheplantheplanisdeathartist: James Black­shaw
release: Love Is the Plan, the Plan Is Death
format: LP, CD
year of release: 2012
label: Import­ant
dur­a­tion: 38:49

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com

Some­times you lose an artist out of sight for a while. This happened to me with James Black­shaw. After a period of listen­ing, col­lect­ing, gig attend­ing, I took a break from Black­shaw and his mas­ter­ful long nails for the past two years, per­haps due to sat­ur­a­tion of some kind. Maybe I was pro­gress­ively less impressed by each album after The Cloud of Unknow­ing.

Whatever happened, with Love Is the Plan, the Plan Is Death, he’s def­in­itely got my atten­tion again. And this from the album’s first notes, because there is some­thing dif­fer­ent about the sound. Blackshaw’s long and speedy instru­mental com­pos­i­tions seemed insep­ar­able from his steel 12-string gui­tar for many years, but the sound of a clas­sical nylon 6-string on this album is unmis­tak­able. Accord­ingly, the over­all tim­bre of the music switches from bright, glor­i­ous, and ringing to some­thing warmer and more intim­ate, as if Black­shaw wanted to evoke the camp­fire atmo­sphere of the (beau­ti­ful) album cover. He can’t help being a vir­tu­oso, of course, so there’s noth­ing naïve or sim­ple about the new approach, and the switch is more in terms of sound than in com­pos­i­tion.

That said, there is a touch of the neo­folky and European in some of the tracks, and a step away from both the raga-inspired early days, and the min­imal music exper­i­ments that coursed through some of his recent works, though neither are wholly absent. It’s more like Black­shaw moves towards a new syn­thesis. The open­ing track is extremely strong, with a few mel­an­cholic turns, and a lovely inter­play between gui­tar and touches of organ, piano and marimba. As always, the feel­ing for rhythm and cadance is excel­lent in the gui­tar tracks, with the minus­cule flows of the indi­vidual notes blend­ing won­der­fully with the accen­ted beats. The biggest sur­prise is “And I Have Come Upon This Place by Lost Ways”, though. Now, Black­shaw has used voice as a sporadic instru­ment before, but never has any­one really sung on his albums. Geneviève Beau­l­ieau of Men­ace Ruine does just that how­ever, in a duet between his piano and her vocals. A big step in some ways from what he does solo, but it’s a won­der­ful track, and less out of place than you’d at first expect.

As if to com­pensate for any shock there might have been, Black­shaw launches into “A Moment­ary Taste of Being” next, a gor­geous show­case of what his music has been about since the start: fin­ger­picked odes with a sort of spir­itual beauty. Again that great pair­ing between gui­tar and organ, marimba, and some def­in­ite Celtic touches in the melody here and there. Simply won­der­ful. “We Who Stole the Dream” is darker, some­what Span­ish in sound, fea­tur­ing a typ­ical – for Black­shaw – slow-fast altern­a­tion. The short final track is another piano track, though without vocals this time. Here we can see his work with Jozef van Wis­sem and Cur­rent 93 rub­bing off in a min­im­al­istic pro­gres­sion of chords, a vague and mel­an­cholic echo of the latter’s “Whilst the Night Rejoices Pro­found and Still”.

Love Is the Plan is a great album, though you some­times have to look for the coher­ence between tracks. That said, this has been the case for most of Blackshaw’s albums. Where the true value lies, in my opin­ion, in that it adds at least two stun­ning tracks (the title track and the fourth, cer­tainly) to the grow­ing list of com­pos­i­tions that rank among my favour­ite tracks ever, like “Sun­shrine”, “Stained Glass Win­dows”, “Past Has Not Passed”, and “The Black Hourglass”. We’re not even two weeks into the new year, and I already regret miss­ing this one for the 2012 ret­ro­spect­ive. Oh well, we live and learn.

Reviewed by O.S.

Track­list:

1. Love Is the Plan, the Plan Is Death (8:02)
2. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (7:07)
3. And I Have Come Upon This Place by Lost Ways (5:08)
4. A Moment­ary Taste of Being (5:25)
5. We Who Stole the Dream (7:18)
6. The Snows Are Melted, the Snows Are Gone (5:49)