Reed Turchi | I’ve Chosen Love | (independent)
3 1/2 Out of Four Stars
Reed Turchi | Creosote Flats | (independent)
Four out of Five Stars
Ambition is generally the driving force when any artist makes an album. So when an artist opts to release two efforts simultaneously, he or she can clearly be credited with going beyond the realms of what’s otherwise expected.
Take, for example, Nashville-based guitarist, singer and songwriter Reed Turchi. He not only accepted that challenge, but also found two very different and distinct dynamics in the process. I’ve Chosen Love finds Turchi delving into old school Stax-style blues and R&B, using words spoken by Martin Luther King as its inspiration. Indeed, it was King that famously declared that he always chose to “stick with love” because “hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Creosote Flats, on the other hand, originated from a far different set of circumstances. It’s a slightly ethereal set of songs that reflect the magic and mystique of the Sonoran Desert’s exotic and other-worldly environs. With offerings such as “Serpentine, “Coyote,” “Dams,” “Chicawa,” and the title track, Turchi’s fluid fretwork and languid vocals create a sprawling, somewhat surreal sensibility that’s well in keeping with the sweep of steppes, canyons and cliffs. Think of it as an archival album with the parchment tint found in the work of such distinctive, evocative and oftentimes unworldly guitarists as John Fahey or Sandy Bull. To fully complement the sensory experience, the album finds a visual component in a book of photos by Mark Klett, one that captures that Southwestern desert landscape in his stunning pictures and prints.
Given the diverse nature of the two projects, Turchi’s muse was clearly pulling him in different directions.
“Contrary to the relentless capitalist-commercialized drumbeat we so often march to, for me making music and completing albums has been based on the timeline and evolution of the art itself,” Turchi insists. “Creosote Flats and I’ve Chosen Love are very different as records, and yet I have been working on both for approximately the last half-decade, which means the same period of my life is infused in both.
“There are moments of overlap — for example, the outro vamp solo on the single ‘I’ve Chosen Love’ has a distinct desert-blues vibe (a la Creosote Flats), and there are a few overlapping musicians, too. Successful art must reflect the artist, the subject matter, and the contemporary moment of creation, and both albums do that, albeit in slightly different ways. To ‘delay’ or ‘hold back” for ‘commercial’ intentions would be to erect an artificial temporal barrier that serves no purpose other than a cynical cash-exploitation attempt. I’ve found those strategies are better left to the ‘professionals.’ Instead, I’m excited to send both of these albums into the world to find their own paths, clearing room to continue exploring new musical ideas and collaborations.”
That said, Turchi goes on to explain that the two albums have origins that go back several years. Originally conceived in 2014, Creosote Flats was inspired by time spent with Italian guitar virtuoso Adriano Viterbini while the two were touring together in North Africa, before finding a connection to the aura, ambiance and environs of a place Turchi has visited since his youth.
The songs that encompass I’ve Chosen Love were begun a year later and inspired by time he spent in Memphis music and sounds integrated into the modern musical lexicon by the likes of Al Green, Isaac Hayes, and Booker T. Jones. Once the pandemic took over, focus shifted to the intimacy, introspection and communal connections found in its wake. Certain songs — the swampy-sounding “Keep On Keepin’ On,” the churning “Cicada Rhythm,” the shuffling “All Night Long,” and the somewhat spacial title track in particular — alternately sound like loose jams, vintage classics and occasionally the Grateful Dead in nocturnal noodling mode.
In either case, Turchi is quick to credit the musicians, engineers and collaborators that helped see those sounds through to fruition
Nevertheless, the question becomes — how do these sounds find footing at a time when the trendiness of modern music defines pop’s parameters.
“I have no idea,” Turchi admits. “Maybe you can puzzle that one out. One half-thought I sometimes have is trying to bridge gaps. For example, I love the riffs and guitar licks of Hill Country Blues, but I want to push towards a full-ensemble, multi-vocalist sound instead of just guitar and drums. Creosote Flats feels like fresh territory, which is exciting, and collaborating with Mark Klett has helped reinforce the landscape element of that album, which is key. The idea is to evoke a particular place through a multi-sensory experience, and I think it’s come close. I’m not the guy with all the answers. I’m just trying to keep asking interesting questions, and chasing the clues they offer.”
Given the fact that Turchi’s music is often grounded in archival precepts, he manages to stay true to the tradition while still adding his own elements to the mix. It is, he admits, a somewhat tenuous proposition.
“Ah yes. Fine line, murky line, impossible line, whatever you want to call it,” he allows. “One thing holds true — you have to do what is true to you. This is a simple lesson, yet one I am forever learning and re-learning. What is my voice? What does it sound like? What is the way I personally play guitar? What is the way I shape and arrange sounds? Everything plays a factor. What is the shape of my larynx? Are my vocal cords smooth? Do I have a big mouth? What mood am I in? What is the shape of my fingers and how do I like to play particular chords? How does my guitar resonate with certain notes and frequencies? On and on and on.
“It’s easy enough to learn licks and insert them here or there, and there’s always an element of borrowing or outright stealing present, but what I’m working for is a version, or collage, that is distinctly my own. Every artist needs to keep picking at that scab, even if it’s uncomfortable, or not the most financially viable. As the poet Stephen Dobyns says, everything else is just ‘nice wallpaper.’ You have to get to the root of what you are trying to communicate, and it better be real, or there’s no point.”