Primary Instrument: Guitar
When UK-native James Blackshaw plays his 12-string guitar, something spiritual takes place. Performing and recording since 2003, his name is frequently mentioned alongside the likes of Jack Rose, Steffen Basho-Junghans, Sir Richard Bishop and Glenn Jones as one of the most foremost modern pioneers of solo acoustic guitar music. Now at the age of 25, Blackshaw, an untrained musician born and still residing in the suburban environs of Greater London, draws as much inspiration from early religious music, South-Asian folk music and composers such as Arvo Part, Simeon Ten Holt, Steve Reich and Charlemagne Palestine as he does from John Fahey, Robbie Basho and the early Takoma Records roster, constantly breaking boundaries in what could be conceived as a somewhat limited medium. In his part improvised and part written songs, Blackshaw makes expert use of Eastern and Western scales, chord changes reminiscent of European classical music and incredibly intricate fingerpicking patterns to make a sound that is both challengingly minimalistic, yet warm and approachable to anybody who might hear it, with a rare sensitivity that conveys both immense beauty, hope and sadness.
Blackshaw has been featured in a range of magazines across the world including The Seattle Weekly, The Washington Post, Italy's Blow Up magazine and most recently in a one page article in the October 2006 issue of The Wire. His last album, O True Believers (Important Records/Bo'Weavil Recordings) also received enthusiastic reviews in Pitchfork, Fakejazz, Uncut, The Wire, Signal To Noise, The Observer (one of the UK's most highly-regarded national newspapers) and many other printed and online magazines.
After succesfully touring Japan, Europe, Scandanavia, US and UK in 2005 and 2006, playing with artists such as Sir Richard Bishop, Espers, Brightblack Morning Light, Feathers, Greg Davis, Jack Rose, Glenn Jones, Sharron Kraus, Simon Finn, Marissa Nadler, Alexander Tucker, Josephine Foster, Seiichi Yamamoto of The Boredoms (with whom he improvised with) and Christina Carter. James Blackshaw has been busy recording a new album, entitled The Cloud of Unknowing, which will be released by New York's Tompkins Square label in early 2007, alongside CD reissues of his earlier, out-of-print, limited edition albums.
In recent months, 24-year-old UK guitarist James Blackshaw has burst fully-formed onto the folk underground, his remarkable talents already seeming at peak maturity... Blackshaw has established himself as an instrumentalist of astonishing grace and delicacy, seeming as though he's gobbled and digested whole the primitive folk canons of Takoma and Vanguard. Relying primarily on 12-string guitar, Blackshaw's intricate creations web together Robbie Basho's wayfaring mysticism, Ben Chasny's soft-focused acid tongues, and the rustic fantasias of Sandy Bull... Blackshaw is able to differentiate himself through his exotic lyricism, stray pan-ethnic flourishes and pure unmasked virtuosity. - Pitchforkmedia.com
There's an indecent ease to James Blackshaw's guitar playing. His fingerpicking mantras are as melodic as a music box, gliding through dizzying tempos like clockwork. His raga-like instrumentals are not structured as much as woven, teasing out a single melodic strand to explore all it's textural possibilities. Such is the silky control he exherts over his instrument, Blackshaw often sounds more like a court harpist than a backwoods strummer. - Derek Walmsey, The Wire