Photo by Ben Corrigan.
Ryan Francesconi‘s wonderful music has been lilting around the edges of my life since 1995 when I briefly worked together with him and Dan Cantrell in the Toids, an experimental folk group that riffed off various Eastern European idioms in tandem with Francesconi and Cantrell’s eclectic compositional styles. Back then, Francesconi was one seriously intimidating guitar/tambura/bouzouki shredder! He reveled in playing faster, smarter, better than anybody. He’s a shredder still, and no one can approximate his style… but over the years, wisdom seems to have smoothed over some of the sharper, more Malmsteinish edges of his virtuosity. Lately, the music he makes has deepened into an expression of something more present, and pure.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on a quietly stunning record Francesconi released earlier this year, called Parables. A series of songs for solo acoustic guitar, it reflects his interest in American bluegrass, Bulgarian folk, jazz improvisation and Baroque lute music. Recorded live (no overdubs!), the music is graceful and green with nods of kinship to everyone and everything from Nick Drake to Herman Hesse to the forests of the Pacific Northwest– which is where Francesconi lives when he’s not trotting the globe.
Speaking of– if you’re a fan of Joanna Newsom, the name Ryan Francesconi is probably already familiar to you, since he’s been one of her key players for several years, leading her live touring performers in the Ys Street Band and arranging/playing on just about every song on her new triple album, Have One On Me. They’re kicking off their summer West Coast tour of the States tonight in San Diego, California. Newsom had this to say about Parables:
“Ryan Francesconi is one of the most awe-inspiring musicians I’ve known. On “Parables,” he distills his many realms of artistry [...] into a beautifully minimalist, poetic, intricate, emotionally realized study of themes, variations, organic counterpoint, and such devastating forays into fractal-metric out-lands that it is nearly impossible to believe he’s picking those strings with just one hand. This is solo music that sounds like an ensemble, an ecstatic and measured reconciliation of West African / Balkan / Baroque / bluegrass influences, which ultimately resembles nothing I know.”