Ahimsa Creations LLC (label)
16 October 2020 (released)
24 January 2021
In many ways, the acoustic guitar had no greater heyday than the seventies. Its reputation has since been tarnished as the vehicle for atrocious four-chord nursery rhyme Billboard hits and the bane of a good party thanks to the amateur who thinks he's a master minstrel after a couple of beers. However, in the seventies there was a swell of incredible talent, using the unplugged six-string as a method for staggering musical expression. Pair this renaissance with the emergence of prog rock and you get an era unequalled to this day. Bands like Yes and Heart would merge the instrument into hard rocking juggernauts, California-obsessed soft rock outfits orchestrated intricate melodies, and even a band like Led Zeppelin renowned for their electric dynamism used acoustic instruments in extraordinary ways to create arguably some of their very finest work. In the decades since, the artistry of the instrument seems to have been lost. No longer used as the mystical adventure soundtrack it once was, now relegated to whiny breakup songs and cutesy car commercials.
Houston-based musician Shri Baratan under the moniker of his Nonviolenze project is helming a return of the acoustic guitar as a conduit for epic storytelling and cosmic reflection. His latest album Ghosts of War hones in on the concept of the universe reflecting back at us the energies which we put out, be they positive and courageous or negative and fearful. His virtuosic playing bathed in lush reverb is met with a theatrical vocal delivery very akin to Roger Waters' tone on late Pink Floyd records The Wall and The Final Cut. Together it makes for a conceptual record that is immediately reminiscent of that seventies pinnacle and a feature of the instrument which we rarely hear today.
A shining ringing mandolin jives with crisply picked acoustic guitar to open the album. Barartan's vocal delivery is theatrical and emotive. The clear, throw your arms open execution of an inspirational Broadway number. The rustle followed by a crash of falling timber precedes 'Tree'. Baratan often uses sound effects as lead-ins, acting as sonic touchstones to contextualize the themes he's about to dive into. Chromatically climbing and falling lines score this homage to the planet's lungs. Baratan's bellows hit with a sneer of cynicism that blooms the reverb exactly as Roger Waters does when he's making a concerted point on a track. Baratan also borrows the fluidity between lyrical and prose-like delivery from the Pink Floyd singer. This technique only becomes more prominent on 'Ghosts of War' and 'Matrix'. The single 'Mirror' emanates from the shing of pointedly plucked harmonics. Baratan translates our daily actions into grand gestures to the universe. The sounds of a storm echo alongside his passionate playing.
Ghosts of War recalls the seventies notion of prog-rock albeit with a decidedly soft rock veneer. Shri Baratan's theatricality really plays to the conceptual nature of the album. The shining standout of the record is his guitar playing which is pristine, serene, and uncompromising.