Bill Frisell Disfarmer Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

A subtle, but moving experience.

Colin Buttimer 2009

First impressions of Disfarmer are of gentle sweet nothings, but familiarity breeds respect and affection as Frisell's small group performance resolves itself into something quietly impressive. Over 71 minutes and 21 tracks, the American guitarist's latest project explores the silhouette of a curmudgeonly, small-town photographer.

Mike Disfarmer was a small town eccentric and misanthrope. Born Michael Meyer in 1884 he changed his name to distance himself from his family and the community in which he grew up. He even claimed that he'd been deposited into the family home by a tornado. After his death in the 1950s his portraits of the townspeople of Heber Springs, Arkansas were discovered and eventually became widely feted. Such a subject is a gift for Frisell, musical explorer of the byways of American culture over the last 20 years. In fragments, shards and sketches he assembles a composite portrait worthy of Disfarmer himself.

Brooding undercurrents of bluegrass and the blues itself ebb and flow like wind on cornfields. Throughout there's a feeling of being an outsider and a sense of watchful loneliness that's pervasive. The music was written to accompany a touring show that married music to large projections of Disfarmer's photographs and is played by Greg Leisz on lap steel guitar, violinist Jenny Scheinman and Victor Krauss on bass.

Focus begins with a Philip Glass-like arpeggio pattern that's overlaid with a forlorn and mournfully pretty melody. The group also play two covers: Arthur Crudup’s That’s Alright Mama and Hank Williams Sr’s I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You). The former is the most sprightly music here, but it fits snugly alongside its peers due to the shared instrumentation. Disfarmer is a patchwork quilt sewn with empathy, warmth and a sense of weary pathos. The result is a subtle, but moving experience.

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