Liam Grant - Amoskeag
Amoskeag, Liam Grant’s follow-up to his 2021 debut Swung Heavy: Gitarr for Fanatics, is, according to guitarist Rob Vaughn, ‘a fuckin’ important, much-needed beacon in the dark seas of overproduction, ephemera and watered down, easy-to-sell dullness of today.’ Damn straight; much promise was already shown by Liam on Swung Heavy, an ace homage of sorts to his favourite players that dedicated over half of its run time to cover versions of classic and well-respected guitar tunes. But even back then, Liam was mentioning an album of original material he was feeling excited about, and Amoskeag doesn’t disappoint.
As well as digital, the album is being released through Carbon and Feeding Tube record companies as a limited edition, beautifully designed vinyl album, each with a custom printed Riso ink sleeve. This commitment and attention to detail extends to the music.
Getting the name-dropping out of the way early, the presence of Jack Rose, especially his Raag Manifestos album, looms large here, but there is also a healthy dose of River-era Daniel Bachman present in places. However, what hits you first is the confidence in Liam’s approach to acoustic picking and his apparent ease of playing long, technical pieces and having them sound interesting and vital.
The title track is a case in point, a seven-minute raga-style piece that starts with a patient exploration down the fretboard. Liam carefully allows the piece to open up gradually, with some bent string notes (which I love) working with the space until the tune starts moving rhythmically after a couple of minutes. Things start motoring after three minutes, and Liam unleashes some fine, fast and accurate picking that never muddies before reigning things back in. The whole thing is an example of restraint and prowess working in harmony.
Similar in style is East of Canaan, a song that shifts between loosely structured and sturdily melodic and back throughout its seven-minute or so run time. The slower parts are beautifully peaceful, making the more frenetic stages quite thrilling.
The album is split into three solo pieces and three accompanied, the first being Kenduskaeg, a stunning, weird, cinematic, unnerving piece that brings in Ethan WL on second guitar and the Suncook Symphony providing droning and whining strings, giving the whole thing an otherworldly feel.
The final two songs feature Mike Gangloff and Grayson McGuire accompanying Liam on a host of Appalachian instruments. Last Night on Dead River, like Kenduskaeg, wouldn’t be out of place on a soundtrack to Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, so eerie and unsettling are the scrapes and scratches that surround Liam’s sparse slide guitar lines,
and the bowed banjo notes and drones add to an apprehensive atmosphere.
Final song, Androscoggin River Rag, lightens the mood considerably, with a fun and jaunty tune played at a relaxed pace by Liam while Grayson and Mike accompany on banjo and jaw harp. The upbeat nature of this one works sweetly alongside more challenging and abstract songs on here, as well as the denser guitar sections, giving the whole album balance and diversity. The whole thing is so well-played and highly creative that it’ll have you hooked. I’ll have to agree with Rob Vaughn, this is fuckin’ ace.