Wednesday, February 17, 1999

Taking the bull by the strings

Posted By on Wed, Feb 17, 1999 at 12:00 AM

OK all you open-minded guitar freaks with a penchant for acoustic eclecticism and obscure innovations, here’s a chance to make up for lost time. Culled from three albums recorded during the early ’60s – with one cut from the early ’70s – Re-Inventions is a marvelous exhibition of the artistry of Sandy Bull. Playing acoustic and electric guitars as well as the oud, five-string banjo and electric bass, Bull was an undisputed master of stringed instrumentation. He was also something of a visionary world music-fusion artist well before most people even knew there was such a thing. On this collection, he plays songs such as "Memphis, Tennessee" (a retitling of Chuck Berry’s "Memphis"), a Brazilian bossa nova number, a gospel tune written by Pops Staples, Carl Orff’s "Carmina Burana Fantasy" – a famous German classical composition – and some other neat stuff.

As a solo performer, Bull was an exciting improviser whose music transcended traditional boundaries. The opening cut, "Blend," is a lengthy, droning acoustic guitar excursion that displays East Indian-Arabic influences at work. Bull referred to this style as "new guitar raga," but critics at the time dubbed his music "psychedelic folk." While Bull’s world music influences were pervasive, his rural rock ’n’ roll roots were never too far behind. On "Memphis, Tennessee," Bull plugs in his electric Stratocaster guitar for 10 minutes of truly authentic American music. While you may be familiar with similar recordings by folk guitar stylists like John Fahey, Re-Inventions is an excellent introduction to the instrumental world of Sandy Bull.

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