Doug Martsch

Record Review

Phases and Stages

Doug Martsch

Now You Know (Warner Bros.)

When a guitarist like Doug Martsch, the man behind indie rock institution Built to Spill, starts messing around with a musical form as distinct as Southern blues, something's bound to happen. What's happened is Now You Know, his first solo album, a collection of tunes inspired by a fleeting obsession with blues legends like Mississippi Fred McDowell and John Lee Hooker. This isn't to say that Martsch has made a blues albums. That would be stupid. No, this is all Doug Martsch, some songs unadorned acoustic numbers played slide-style with vocals (the grim opener "Offer"), some songs with minimal percussive accompaniment (the wistful "Gone"), and some songs that would be perfectly at home on a Built to Spill release (the cello-flavored anthem "Impossible"). Through the hands and mind of a rock guitarist and songwriter who's established his own unique style and sound, experiments with slide acoustic have yielded a strange and fascinating turn from the wailing Stratocaster dialogues that usually pour from his strings. Sometimes delicate picking numbers, sometimes wild flurries of sliding notes, once even a damn-near-bluegrass stomp ("Window"), Now You Know is most definitely a departure, but the source is completely, wonderfully recognizable. (Doug Martsch plays the Mercury, Tuesday, Oct. 22.)

***  

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