Daniel Bachman’s latest effort for Three Lobed Recordings, River, is very much an ode to his roots as a Virginian. The tracks on the album ebb and flow, not unlike the North Anna River of his home state pictured on the gatefold cover. Unlike the album cover, which features a dozen folks wading lazily and smiling at the camera, this work is the product of a singular vision. Bachman’s mark is inked heavily throughout the grooves of the album, the vision having become more focused and poignant since his earliest forays into the world of acoustic guitar music under the moniker “Sacred Harp.”
Opening the album with the at times playful, at times ominous “Won’t You Cross Over to That Other Shore,” Bachman spends the first half of the album carving out his vision of the rise and flow of Rappahannock River, which serves as the album’s namesake. The song is as much sculpture as it is songcraft; before long, the guitar’s frenetic arpeggios give way to sharp, humming drone and an almost march-like dirge of precise notes, before again blossoming into open chords and playful melody. The song curves and careens, its listener unsure of where the course ahead lays, but holding tight to hear it out to its end.
The album continues, as Bachman notes in his dedication, as a tribute and an homage to friends and family who have gone before him on the river. “Levee,” written by guitar soli legend Jack Rose, is given the lap-steel treatment here, each note given careful placement, each slide and slurry affected by feeling. “Farnham” is a meditation that could pass for a post-Civil War blues if not for the ethereal chords that Bachman quietly wrings out of the strings.
Excepting the epic bookending tracks, the centerpiece of River is the ambitious “Song for the Setting Sun,” parts I and II. Like the opener of “Won’t You Cross Over to That Other Shore,” “Setting Sun” ambles its way through movements and styles effortlessly. Unlike that track however, it refers constantly to the main theme throughout, never moving or really turning ominous or eerie. It’s a gorgeous piece, if somewhat redundant, which makes it clear that Bachman has no qualms about meditating on a theme to its fruition, patiently circling around an idea that in turn evokes an almost trance-like state, here steeped in Southern elegance.
River is a document of Bachman’s mastery over the course of years of study, playing, and friendship. It represents a unique space of comprehension, not only of the craft that Bachman has honed but also of the culture that surrounds his art. By the time the reprise of “Won’t You Cross Over” arrives, it feels as though the guitarist has indeed transcended and, from that far shore, is calling out for his listener to join him there. It’s a peaceful, yet thrilling place that welcomes fans of thoughtful music to venture to, again and again.