Friday, February 20, 2009


Guitarist launches ambitious acoustic, electric project

Bryan Clark’s stellar playing and singing combine influences from numerous musical aspects. As a soloist, he’s equally soulful and ambitious, able to execute complex progressions or edgy chord flurries with the same care and dexterity he brings to sweet, soothing ballads.

Clark’s new double CD Gossip, Inspiration and Slander has both an electric and acoustic side, and has him displaying his fluency in bluegrass flatpicking, jazz and blues tunes, and his proficiency operating as either a leader or a rhythm contributor.

Clark, who’ll appear in a special acoustic concert Sunday at Artisan Guitars (The Factory) in Franklin, loves both the acoustic and electric, and says that each one poses special challenges for guitarists.

“On the acoustic, you can’t rely on anything other than your own voice and talent,” Clark said. “You don’t have the pedals or the amp or the effects or any of those other things that you can use on the electric to embellish your lines. But there’s a real beauty to improvising on the acoustic. I’ve been doing a lot of playing on acoustic with my fingers and it’s especially great for bluegrass and country songs.”

Because the electric does allow so much freedom as well as the chance to utilize all these extras, it requires real selectivity in your approach, he said.

“You can get so overwhelmed and in love with the technology that you sometimes ignore the song and get seduced by the extras,” Clark said. “Still, if you use them well, there are many wonderful things that can be created on the electric. They really are two very different instruments, and I enjoy playing them both. But I do a lot of writing on the acoustic, then kind of decide if I want to do some extra things with the guitar. I designed the songs on the CD so that anything that was played on electric could also fit the acoustic.”

Gossip, Inspiration & Slander features Clark working with many fabulous musicians on the acoustic portion, all of them handpicked for particular songs by both Clark and producer Erick Jaskowiak. The select list includes fiddler Casey Driessen, Chris Pandolfi on banjo, Matt Flinner on mandolin and acoustic bassist Bryn Bright among others.

“We wanted versatile, flexible players who were comfortable in any setting, including jazz and improvised numbers,” Clark said.

The songs often feature him doing traditional flat-picking pieces like “Blackberry Blossom,” plus other bluegrass and jazz-tinged pieces, while the electric set has material ranging from Texas swing to Motown. And, Clark displays smooth, mellow tenor voice on “Down In Flames” and “Bumper to Bumper.”

The varied material reflects the different things Clark has absorbed throughout his life. As a teen growing up in Dallas, he heard punk and new wave regularly while working in a mall record shop. Later would come a guitar camp at the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston, followed by years of study at the University of Southern California and University of Texas. Jazz, classical composition and electronic avant-garde sounds were just a few of the many areas he studied on his way to earning a bachelors, masters and doctorate. Yet, while studying all these other idioms, Clark was also fascinated by bluegrass, becoming a huge fan of Ricky Skaggs and eventually forming his own acoustic and bluegrass trio, Honeywagon, in 2002.

The three discs that Honeywagon cut included Green Day, Blue Grass, which peaked at No. 6 on Billboard’s Bluegrass charts in 2006.

That same year Clark tired of the pace in Los Angeles where he was living, so he relocated to Nashville, a decision he says helped re-energize him. Clark currently is an adjunct faculty member at Belmont University School of Music; he teaches jazz harmony, composition, and history of American song and arranging. He’s done five solo releases, performed behind artists from Bonnie Raitt to Larry Carlton and had songs placed on ESPN, VH1, Fox and Oxygen.

While generally upbeat on any subject, Clark admits to concern about some of what he sees and hears these days from some of his students.

“In terms of just sheer playing, they are phenomenal,” Clark said. “But what bothers me is the lack of historical knowledge and perspective — something that I think comes from the whole iPod culture. It’s a song of the moment thing, and they’re not into getting complete albums where you can read liner notes, see who played and wrote a song, or learn about where someone fits in a particular era.”

This lack of historical knowledge Clark sees in younger generations is not limited to one genre, he said.

“ I’ve had people interested in pop songwriting who don’t know about Tin Pan Alley or Cole Porter, jazz guitarists who haven’t heard of Les Paul or Wes Montgomery, rock players who haven’t heard of Eddie Van Halen,” Clark said. “I’m constantly telling them you’ve got to learn your craft and your history, because if you don’t, then you can’t really establish your own voice and sound. I hate to seem like the old guy berating the youth, but I don’t so much blame them as I do the general culture and the way things are today.

“It makes it a bit tougher for those of us in music education, but when you do introduce them to the classics in their field, they’re really appreciative and they do get into it and really learn it.”

What: Guitarist/composer Bryan Clark performs an acoustic show in celebration of his new CD Gossip, Inspiration and Slander
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Artisan Guitars, The Factory in Franklin, 230 Franklin Road, Suite 11-GG
Cost: $15
Info: 595-2544

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