Boomkat Product Review:
Quite rightly hailed as one of the best solo guitar albums of all time, 1974's 'Guitar Solos' is a celebration of tone and texture that subverts any traditional preconceptions of the instrument. Revolutionary stuff.
When Fred Frith wrote 'Guitar Solos' he was still a member of legendary Cambridge-based anti-rock band Henry Cow, and was convinced the Virgin label was trying to make him into some kind of superstar. So instead of putting together an album of flashy solos and virtuosic pouting, he spent four days in a studio improvising with the instrument to devise a contradictory statement. And despite that antagonistic approach, 'Guitar Solos' is surprisingly listenable; Derek Bailey's own 'Solo Guitar' was released only a few years earlier and despite some similarities, Frith's album has a peaceable quality that's hard to overlook. His tonal experiments are meditative at times, and while his playing is deliberately oblique, it's not to provoke revulsion - rather to inspire intrigue.
Frith morphs his instrument into a dulcimer, a gamelan orchestra, a room full of broken machinery, a fiddle and a reverb-drenched synthesizer, periodically stopping to remind us that he cut his teeth playing on the folk circuit. On 'Glass c/w Steel' he taps the strings to create oddly-tuned phrases over blood-curdling, horror movie dissonance, and on 'Ghosts' lets those gentle taps and slides languish in silence, like the titular spirits. Somewhere in the background there's the gasp of something broadly more traditional, just to let us know the instrument's roots - but within seconds it's inevitably lost in the ether. The lengthy 'Out of their Heads (on Locoweed)' is particularly vivacious, an orchestra of quickly hammered sequences that sounds like percussionists going head-to-head with a set of psalteries before it crackles into roiling, distorted noise.
The flipside gives us an initial fake-out with 'Not Forgotten', a musty fusion of classical guitar and folk tropes assembled with the poise of jazz, but on 'Hollow Music' he's back with a wry smile, cutting ringing harmonics with powerful strums. And the entire album feels like a slow, purposeful build to the towering 'No Birds', one of the most moving compositions Frith has ever penned and undoubtedly the track that caught Brian Eno's attention (Frith played on a couple of Eno's albums following this release). Bowing his strings into fictile sustained tones and harmonizing with himself, Frith leans into the instrument's most ambient possibilities, pre-empting post-rock and fashioning a mini epic that resonates with Gavin Bryars' 'Sinking of the Titanic' and Sonic Youth's 'The Diamond Sea'. A milestone, no doubt.