The Nels Cline Singers
Draw Breath (Cryptogramophone)
It’s safe to say Nels Cline has never been more famous than he is now. Long a critics’ favorite for his genre destruction in bands like the Geraldine Fibbers and among jazzers like Charlie Haden, his lead guitar in Wilco’s current lineup has ratcheted up both his and that band’s fame. But rather than rest on recognition, Cline is using his newfound visibility to make some of the most exciting art of his career.
The third record by his jaw-dropping trio, the Nels Cline Singers, keeps the non-rock tear of his Wilco years going. Drummer Scott Amendola (responsible for hooking Cline up with local guitarist Jeff Parker at last year’s Pitchfork set) and bassist Devin Hoff share Cline’s uniquely SoCal dedication to rock minimalism and jazz virtuosity. Throughout, Cline plays with the cocaine speed and wide-eyed enthusiasm of one discovering the electric guitar’s endless sonic possibilities for the first time. John Fahey’s finger-picked folk seeps in on the somber opener “Caved-In Heart Blues.” Elsewhere, Wilco’s Glenn Kotche lends glockenspiel and bit of percussion to the jungle ambience of “Squirrel of God” and on “Confection,” Cline wails like Hendrix’s guitar-on-fire, all squealing and shrieking.
On New Monastery (Cryptogramophone), last year’s wonderful Andrew Hill tribute (which wasn’t a cash-in as it was recorded before Hill died), the Singers and guests reimagined the pianistic, Debussyesque splendor of Hill’s oeuvre for the six-string. Whom do we thank for this Cline-ian resurgence? At the very least, hate or love Tweedy and Co., they’ve helped an already great musician reach full bloom.—Matthew Lurie