William Tyler – Goes West

Album Review | Merge Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 5/5

William Tyler is a gifted but unclassifiable guitarist and GOES WEST, his first since 2016’s stunning Modern Country, manages to show another aspect of his writing and playing. Desert Canyon originally released as Paper Hats in 2009, then reissued in 2015 credited to Tyler is four sides of beautiful raga like solo guitar and ambience, Beyond the Spirit released on Tompkins Square in 2010 ran with the atmospheric eerie acoustic of Leo Kottke and John Fahey. Impossible Truth from 2013 mixed the desert acoustic with dense electric guitar and some wonderfully spiky playing that recalled 69 Richard Thompson. Modern Country in 2016 was another game changer, anyone expecting another acoustic jewel, might have been disappointed, but, if like me you embraced his Bill Frisell meets Daniel Lanois ambience and tense atmosphere then it was a seminal album and a masterpiece. While the guitars on Goes West are recognisably Tyler, he does what he does best, which is, veer sideways to deliver something unexpected and different.

“Alpine Star” and “Fail Safe” start with exquisite picked guitar motifs that are all pastoral John Renbourn, but add James Wallace’s and Bradley Cook’s electronics and finally some delicate electric from Meg Duffy, layering around the original guitar part. William’s guitar parts chime and everyone else dances along. “Not In Our Stars” and “Eventual Surrender” have something of the previous albums shimmering ambience. Tyler’s guitar is an exercise in jazz like restraint, conjuring visions of endless highways and landscapes. “Eventual Surrender” has moments where it just might be about to break into Led Zeppelin’s “Bron-Yr-Aur”, that nimble fingered ode to Welsh rural isolation. Play them back to back for proof of how well William Tyler holds his own against the atmospheric fret gods of the 70’s. “Call Me When I Breathing Again”, for all of its dramatic title, contains some of the most delicate and perfectly poised playing on the album. “Rebecca” has the fleet fingered acoustic of Beyond the Spirit, but made majestic and expansive by the gentle keys and guitars played underneath. “Venus In Aquarius” sets William’s dancing guitar alongside 70s Tangerine Dream electronics and that big pulsing drum and bass beat that was so integral to MODERN Country. “Virginia Is For Loners” is ambience and atmosphere, there is a beautiful acoustic and an electric laying down a Grant Green GROOVE. “Man In A Hurry”, paradoxically starts with some of the most languid guitar on the album, till Meg’s electric just sizzles and burns. Like the rest of the album a groove and a mood is quickly established. “Our Lady Of The Desert” is a simply stunning duet, with accompaniment, between the guitars of William Tyler and Bill Frisell. Bill Frisell, a man so beyond genres he made his own. The two roll around each other so effortlessly in a delightful groove, the only problem is that it has to stop.

Maybe a response, as the title suggests, to relocating from Nashville to the West, this is an album of relaxed grooves, swirling guitars and atmospheres. Not as immediately arresting as Modern Country, it reveals itself as a slow burner of hidden gems when you find yourself leaving it on repeat and playing it over and over again.