Pierre Bensusan – Nice Feeling
by J. Barrett
The sound is friendly: big echoing strings that turn gently down older paths. A familiar sound, even of the name isn’t: Pierre’s early recordings influenced folks like William Ackerman and Michael Hedges, and their efforts on Windham Hill helped launch the New Acoustic phenomenon. That was twenty years ago, and Pierre moves on: the sound is now stronger, picking up styles on the way. This anthology (covering his first six albums on Rounder) is a feast: spirited folk, classical moods, and sunny hillsides. A lot of feelings, and all of them nice.
Listen in chronological order, and you hear him bloom. “The Abesses’s Lake”, from 1975, has a sharp metallic sound, almost like a dulcimer. The low string snaps a bassline as the other fingers weave a new tune that speaks of the past. “Merrily Kissed the Quaker” is traditional, played simpler but the mood is still there. The thumb drones, and the high strings get a ring like a tin whistle! Pierre was 17 at the time, and already world-class. But wait – it gets better.
The second album, from 1977, shows a fuller sound, and more emphasis on the lower strings. The bass parts are more involved, and the lines shimmer with quiet power. A strength is starting to form, which you really hear on the Musiques album. “Heman Dubh” gets percussive snaps from the low strings, light clicks at intervals, and a dubbed electric twanging some blues. “Voyage for Ireland” (another original with an ancient feel) goes delicate, with less metal than the past efforts. The theme brings resigned sadness, reinforced by a wordless vocal. Two Pierres chant moodily while the strings sound like bells. The style is now earthy, and gently intense. The stage is now set for the present.
By far, the most space is given to the last three albums, from 1981 to 1994. “Nice Feeling” brings the structure of a pop song, and resumes the metallic ring of his early days. “Santa Monica” brings an electric, and stinging notes reminding me of Larry Coryell. He starts a chorded rhythm part, splashes big echoes, and gets his closest to a rock tone. “Flemish Suite” has the low mood of Musiques, but adds a smooth sax. For his solo, Pierre springs some wiry notes and a wiry tone. The folk essence is still there – with a more commercial sound.
“Arched Back Woman”, from 1987, starts folksy, a waltz played with muscle. He then snakes a bit and bounces some modern flashes. “Last Pint” is back to the cottage and the old ways – but there’s a strength unthinkable a few years before. The style had refined yet again: now it was more folkish and more modern, all at once. Another change in Pierre, and you expect it.
The most tracks come from Wu Wei, his last for Rounder. “Wu Wei” starts simple, a glowing theme and a bright snap. He then twangs broad; a rock solo. “Lord Hook” is in smooth countryL blissful theme and high creamy sax. Simple next to the others, but it has its charms – hooks, indeed. “80 Worlds” starts with nature sounds, then rolls sweetly – not folk but certainly not pop. He’s more active in this style – credit a heightened technique. “Falafel” has droning strings and a low pulse, a style from years before. He then goes sitar-like, joined by tablas and moments of voice. The intensity builds, and so does the joy. Muzzein shouts, deep oud tones – and calm once more. And “4 A.M.” takes us to the start – bright echoes and simple lines, now on electric. A full circle, and a feeling you are very accustomed to.
Rating: *** ¾. Great retrospective with lovely moods. Hear a folk artist turn mainstream, while keeping his spirit intact. The guitars flow, dance, even scream – but they always shine. This appeals to your gentle side, and your brain as well.
Songs: Nice Feeling; Santa Monica; Wu Wei; The Abbesses’s Lake; Flemish Suite with Apples; The Arched Back Woman; Alimatou; The Last Pint; Heman Dubh; The Capricorne’s Dance; Voyage for Ireland; Lord Hook of Cumbria; The Day After the Feast; Bamboule; Around the Day in 80 Worlds; Gigues: Merrily Kissed the Quaker/Cunla; Falafel; 4 A.M.
Musicians: Pierre Bensusan (guitars, vocals), plus, on various tracks: Didier Malherbe (sopranino and soprano saxes); Robert Thomas Jr. (hand drums, percussion).
For more info, contact: Zebra Accoustic