Well, that’s certainly a relief. Yesterday’s run-through of Chet Atkins’ treacly From Nashville With Love had me worried about my ability to appreciate the guitar-playing legend. I worry every now and then that my dislike of a record or a performer is based more on my own ignorance than on the music itself–that most of the things I dislike I only dislike because I don’t possess and believe in some scrap of knowledge through which I might hear the record the way everybody else does. Which isn’t entirely untrue, of course. Examples abound, but it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t have given From Nashville With Love the time of day had I not known about Atkins’ influence. But when a record that people I trust doesn’t hit me in the way it hits them, I assume that my listening is in some way deficient. You can’t really hear and process and articulate the meaning of every moment on every album you own, particularly not on the first spin, but as a critic, this is nevertheless what I’m tempted to do, lest my reviews become quickly outdated. (This is another vanity, though, because when I say that I don’t want my reviews to become outdated, what I mean is that I don’t want to be the sole fool whose red review darkens the score of some instant classic. Like I’ve said before, I started paying attention to music in order to keep up, and old mindsets die harder than old habits.) This neurosis, repeated hundreds of times over hundreds of records over the past seven or eight years, has actually made me a terrible listener, and the fatigue of such maudlin close listening has ground my ear into the ground, where I think I can hear some kind of deeper pulse, the core message being pumped out by the record’s heart.
On second thought, From Nashville With Love is a truly boring record.
The Other Chet Atkins isn’t. It turns out that the eponymous “other” Chet is a fan of classical guitar, a flamenco-flecked picker who layers jagged parts over the smooth bop of appropriated Latin rhythms. The Reinhardt influence I glimpsed yesterday through the fog of violas is front and center here. Atkins, like Reinhardt and, later, like Willie Nelson, is a master of rhythm, starting and stopping his complicated runs in a kind of conversation with his backing band. He’ll fingerpick in double-time, like a sower tossing out irresponsible amounts of seed as he walks down his row, then hold a single note for as long as it’ll sustain.
He also dresses himself well. The Other‘s backing tracks hold no truck with the Welkian glop Atkins would pour over his guitar work eight years later. The songs here are lean–another acoustic guitar, some clopping percussion, the rattle of castanets, maybe–and they keep to themselves, serving as nothing more than a particularly tasteful frame to Atkins’ playing. The group’s trot through standard “Begin the Beguine” is kept afloat by what sounds like a metal comb being brushed over a chair’s thin corduroy arm.
The Other Chet Atkins is also notable (in my collection, at least) for having been sprayed with something called 317X, which the sleeve touts as a “revolutionary new antistatic ingredient” that was supposed to discharge the album’s shock, repel dust, and reduce surface noise. It apparently does not hold up as well as the music it was engineered to protect. The sleeve is beautiful, though–I love the arrows that squiggle out of the speaker cones on the front cover, a period-perfect representation of the way stereo sound must have felt when the first records started coming out. The typography is phenomenal, too, and, coupled with the dramatic cover painting, makes Latin guitar as hep and cool as the jazz labels Atkins no doubt adored.
And with that, we’ve made it through the first letter of the alphabet. The Bs will be take considerably longer, but we’ve got plenty of time. If you dig the album’s mod design, check out the excellently named 317X, which collects such things.