Drag City presents the second volume of Bill MacKay and Ryley Walker’s inspired collaboration. It’s been nearly two years since their much-admired 2015 debut, Land of Plenty (Whistler Records), and SpiderBeetleBee more than makes up for lost time with rich, resonant performances that elevate the sound of the guitar duo as they work with an ever-widening panorama of styles.
Their first album was developed over a month-long live residency at Chicago bar The Whistler, and reflected MacKay and Walker’s shared joy in a new relationship with a kindred spirit, in playing that might wordlessly finish a phrase or suggest a direction, as they spoke through their guitars. SpiderBeetleBee continues fluidly down the path of their initial psych-folk-blues-raga tandem, brewing further explorations in mixed-and-matched idioms, turning composed melodies inside-out via improvisation, and finding in the blend a shared Walker/MacKay pasture, serendipitously found somewhere between Appalachia and the Highlands.
SpiderBeetleBee radiates forth with equal parts austerity and whimsy, opening with an almost-baroque dance before giving way to a Celtic theme, both featuring MacKay and Walker’s acoustics in rambling conversation, picking through intricate passages as though they were exchanges, thoughts and afterthoughts. The second of these, Pretty Weeds Revisited is enhanced by sonorous statements from Dutch cellist Katinka Kleijn (a veteran of the CSO), showing a deep, instinctive feel for the Walker/MacKay sound. The album then takes an unexpected turn at midpoint, slowly melting down and drifting soulfully through the expansive space of Naturita. Side two picks up the tempo on I Heard Them Singing, with the aid of MacKay’s requinto (a kind of 5-string Mexican guitar), Walker’s rolling chords and the percolating tabla of Ryan Jewell, suggesting a hitherto unknown short-cut from Brazil to India. Drafts of slide guitar and bittersweet blues evocation illumine further fruitful travels before Dragonfly, also featuring Ms. Kleijn’s haunting cello, closes the cycle with a flourish.
Adorned with Bill MacKay’s colourful and wilfully primitive cover-art, SpiderBeetleBee wanders through styles, landmasses and hemispheres, capturing the further adventures of MacKay and Walker with spellbinding snapshots that only bloom larger the longer you take them in.
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