(LP/CD Drag City, 2007)
Cross My Palm With Silver 4:02
Hecate's Dream 3:21
Elysium Number Five 2:02
Rub' Al Khali 4:05
Free Masonic Guitar 4:58
Cemetery Games 1:53
Quiescent Return 2:48
Tennessee Porch Swing 1:57
Canned Goods & Firearms 5:15
Ecstasies in The Open Air 4:13
As I hear Polytheistic Fragments, Sir Richard Bishop operates the guitar in a way so as to make present the god of each fragment; fragments understood as representing essences. Should you happen to be an adept of any of these, this record no doubt would be of practical use. The hearer however needn't know the articles of any of these faiths to appreciate what is at stake not only musically but in the theistic sense adverted to, if the latter only virtually. That is because psychophysical states in relation to the musical effects are phenomenally identical for almost everyone.
- Mayo Thompson (Red Krayola)
He played around the world with the Sun City Girls for 26 years, and has released six solo albums in the last decade, but Polytheistic Fragments still feels like guitarist Sir Richard Bishop's international debut. It's his first record on Drag City, but more importantly, it's his widest-ranging one yet, a joyful trip through his many styles, influences, and obsessions. Most of Bishop's previous albums have had a stricter range, be it the improvised acoustics of Improvika, the electronic atmospheres of Elektronika Demonika, or the long-form experiments of While My Guitar Violently Bleeds, released earlier this year.
But Fragments is a spectacular showcase of Bishop's multi-dimensional talents. Here we get fast-picked folk, Django Reinhardt-worthy gypsy tunes, Chet Atkins-style ditties, Hindi-influenced melodies, and a lode of other, less classifiable stuff. Interestingly, this catholic approach is closest in tone to Bishop's actual solo debut, 1998's Salvador Kali, which also freely rolled his polygonal sonic dice. But even compared to that stellar release, Fragments is remarkably kaleidoscopic.
It's also Bishop's most ear-catching work so far. His playing is still open and exploratory, but nearly every track is also hummable. Opener "Cross My Palm With Silver" begins with typical Reinhardt-ish sketches, but halfway in coalesces into a sneaky rolling hook. "Elysium Number Five" matches that with a snake-like lead line, and "Free Masonic Guitar", made almost solely of ringing strums, builds melody from sheer momentum. Bishop has always been a stunning player, picking through blinding runs in a flash. But here his ability to think fast and play even faster is employed solely in service of songcraft. The album's centerpiece, the ten-minute piano meditation "Saraswati", might seem like an exception to Fragments' melodicism, with its searching tones and chilly drone. But as writer Grayson Currin recently pointed out, listen closely and the track seems to nick the melody from the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows", stretching it into revelatory slow motion.
One would imagine that "Saraswati" would be too daunting an achievement to follow, but in fact, Polytheistic Fragments' three final tracksare the album's best. "Tennessee Porch Swing" is an unabashed country-road stroll, while "Canned Goods & Firearms" channels the bounce of Chet Atkins. And "Ecstasies in the Open Air" is the record's ultimate charmer, a denouement whose halting acoustics melt perfectly into a soaring flute line. It's probably the softest, dreamiest thing you'll ever hear Bishop play, but like the rest of Polytheistic Fragments, its gentle bliss fits perfectly inside this sound-painter's rainbow palette.
- Marc Masters, October 01, 2007