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For Do-it-yourself Songwriters
DIY Record Review by Jonathan Flax


Though he moonlights as the bassist for Boston-based pop trio Trikona, Gar Ragland’s solo debut is steeped in the Appalachia of his youth. The unadorned guitar and vocal arrangements make for a deeply intimate collection, reminiscent of haunting rural atmosphere and the melancholy of late afternoon. Pleading, emotive, yet sweetly resigned, his delivery recalls Nick Drake (if Nick Drake were raised in the hills of North Carolina) or a less kinetic Peter Case.

Ragland’s most effective tool, however, is a deeply restrained use of what is clearly a virtuoso guitar facility. Some of his intricate patterns and left-turn chord changes verge on the subversive, turning the gently evocative “Loneliness Leads to Madness” into an exercise in baroque-style counterpoint which lends conflict to an otherwise fragile vocal. This unabashed dispensing of formula and use of novel juxtapositions appears throughout Untethered, as the snaky shuffle of “Phineas Gage” and the driving “Antiques Made Daily” both employ a bevy of suspensions and percussive, delta-blues pick-work. The effect is often an utterly convincing, boogie-woogie simulation of New Orleans second-line swagger.

No further testament could be given this artist beyond what he himself provides on Untethered’s cover choices. His somber take on McCartney and Lennon’s “Blackbird,” as well as the slow-burn take on Billie Holiday’s “Left Alone” (which leaves the devastation totally intact), seem fully in context and serve to merely complement an already potent record.

May/June 2002


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