Daniel Bachman is an intriguing young artist. At 22 years old he is the torchbearer for American Primitivism, a little-known genre started by John Fahey in the late 50’s which is derived from the country blues and string band music of the 20’s and 30’s. Just to clarify, no real torches will be carried. Fahey named it “American Primitivism” after the French primitive painters, whose art championed a return to basic living. Bachman, however, is anything but basic in the finger-picking style. With nothing but an acoustic guitar, the Fredericksburg native sets fire to Seven Pines.
The album was written and recorded in Philadelphia, which may explain its homesick feel. (Like the late Jack Rose, another Fredericksburg fingerstylist and perhaps Bachman’s greatest influence, Daniel chose to make The City of Brotherly Love his second home.) It begins with Copperhead, which—at eight minutes and forty three seconds—is the longest song on the record. Bachman utilizes the time to expose us to the craggy terrain of Northern Virginia. He leads us to an old white church with paint peeling off the sides, where such religious hokum as snake handling still exists. He points out the warning of eternal damnation on its freestanding signage and ushers us onward, whizzing through town, past the general store and post office and police station, all quiet as kept. Finally, he pauses to catch his breath and wipe his brow on the banks of Rappahannock. He picks up a stone and skips it across the river, where concentric circles of varied size bloom in its glimmering wake.
Next up is Seven Pines, which was the site of a Civil War battle in 1862. The Battle of Seven Pines produced almost an equal number of causalities for Union and Confederate forces. It was so close that both sides claimed victory. I offer this brief history lesson only to say the title track buzzes with strange tension. It begins slowly and wistfully, but soon after builds into a furious medley where opposing sounds seem to come at one another, creating a clash of sorts. Bachman is masterful in creating a highly textured piece of music with only one instrument. How he does it I’ll never fully understand.
While Copperhead and Seven Pines are the main attractions, there are some other enjoyable rides. Sun Over Old Rag is a surging ballad, which—unlike Seven Pines—blossoms almost immediately and flourishes with pastoral beauty throughout. And Long Nights I, as one might assume by title, is its counterpart. On the fourth track Bachman toys with empty space to create a dreamlike expanse.
In listening to the music of Daniel Bachman we place our hands firmly back into the earth. The soil is soft and cool. Earthworms as fat as blood sausages wiggle through our fingers. We feel the sun beat gently upon our brows. Birds chirp overhead. A light breeze kisses our cheeks. He returns us to a place most of us have long since forgotten. His anachronistic sound is an argument against all those who bemoan a lack of feeling in modern music. Bachman is all feeling. He didn’t get his recording deal with Tompkins Square through some celebrity hosted television contest. And to be the future of American Primitivism brings all the hoopla of being the first kicker selected in the CFL draft. He exists somewhere off the grid. However, none of this seems to bother Daniel. Even if it did, it’s doubtful you’d hear a word about it from him. He lets his guitar do the talking, which is something we should all be grateful for.