photo by Courtney Chappell
In a career defined by breakthroughs, “Liverpool” finds masterful guitarist Shane Parish at a natural culmination point. Following years of intensive self-directed musical study and teaching, as well as a move to Athens, GA, Parish set out to continue his work arranging traditional folk music for solo guitar with bursts of improvisation ala his 2016 album “Undertaker, Please Drive Slow” (Tzadik 4016), or 2019’s “Way Haul Away: A Collection of Fireside Songs” (Dear Life 005); this time exploring sea shanties as source material. By repurposing nautical worksong melodies and “lover-lost-at-sea” ballads, Parish provides a unique window into their universal evocativeness and ever-fluid evolution. Parish hypothesizes that “These old melodies are timeless due to their physiological power to vibrate the human nervous system in just the right way, they are the code to resonance within the body, and thus a fantastic and magical part of our evolution.”
Parish’s source material for making guitar arrangements of folkloric music is always the human voice, rather than the accompanying guitar or banjo playing one might hear on archival recordings. He transcribes the vocal melody first, then builds his own unique arrangements, allowing the contour of the tune to dictate the harmony, embellishments, and tunings that best resonate and give expression to the song. His process of giving primacy to the human voice naturally jives with the sea shanty repertoire because it is traditionally a choral music, sung a cappella. His passion for deeply feeling music has always drawn him to the minor contours and hypnotic longing of Irish music, and the spirituality, phrasing and harmonic tension within old blues music. The primary influences of Sea Shanty music are Irish and African-American, thus a truly world fusion music that predates recording and broadcasting.
After months of developing elaborate acoustic guitar versions of the songs for what he at first intended to be a solo acoustic guitar album, a burst of inspiration hit and he rearranged the music for electric guitar, where he has long been at home with his two decades of work as composer and bandleader for morphing avant-prog outfit Ahleuchatistas. What Parish ended up with are arrangements in his intuitive, intense, and intimate style, more directly aligned with his flagship electric band. While acoustic guitar produces resonance through tactile manipulation, the electric guitar harnesses the flow of electricity, allowing Parish to cut a more urgent and colorful slice through our historical moment with these haunting melodies which were first formed under the most ruthless of working conditions, defiantly affirming the creative human spirit’s ability to burst forth from any circumstances.
The journey of “Liverpool” itself takes center stage as Parish displays the best of grounded, rigorous musicality and process-as-product experimentalism, reveling both in earned spontaneity and purposeful discovery. Shane has looked deeply enough into the source material to feel the bone chill of the foreboding depths that gave them utterance, and manages to channel the scale of the void into clarified, delightful momentum, barreling towards the journey’s reward.
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