BILL MACKAY, the Chicago-based guitarist, improviser of note and all-round scion of six strings, sure loves to enter into a two-way conversation with other artists with reliably beautiful results; witness the brace of albums he’s recorded with the freewheelin’ Ryley Walker, Land Of Plenty and Spiderbeetlebee.
There was 2019’s darker two-hander with cellist Katinka Klein, Stir, a more angular and experimental study for two instruments, at once bold and fragile; oh, others, many others.
But we’re excited as can be that he’s getting together with Appalachian folk and drone fellow traveller Nathan Bowles for a forthcoming record that will determinedly push beyond the simple, sterile categorisation, ‘guitar/banjo duets’.
Witness that announcing single drop we have here for you this very afternoon: a brilliant bluegrass call and response instrumental, “Joy Ride”, and a track well named; for it is a joyous ride through their instrumental chops, strong with understanding, harmony, melody; feeling, atmosphere. Yum.
Keys is actually the first time Bill and Nathan have stepped out together on record, although they first met a few years back now; it’s reported that after the first night they hung out, it felt as if they’d known each other for awhile already.
They’ve been sending sketches and ideas back and forth from Bill’s base in the Windy City and Nathan, out there in Durham, North Carolina, and played together a year after meeting at a festival under the grab-bag name Cropped Out, and that night went swingingly, serenely, even; they found a depth, a gestalt, more than the sum of their parts in concert with each other.
A few more shows on and there was an obvious next step: an album, Keys, which the good folks over at Drag City have ready for April. It comprises eight originals and a brace of songs “from other centuries”, and expect more than guitar and banjo in a creative pirouette; there’s organ, both electric and pump; joined voices; even a requinto, a smaller, higher pitched string instrument with Portuguese roots.
We’re promised Keys is made of “equal parts bluegrass, classical, country, gospel, improv and that ol’ innocence and experience to boot.”
William Tyler, Black Twig Pickers, Jack Rose fans; please come on over and pull up a pew.
Bill MacKay and Nathan Bowles’ Keys will be released by Drag City on April 9th digitally and on CD and vinyl; order your copy now at the label shop.