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Raoul Eden
Incarnation Tom Bolton , March 26th, 2024 08:53

American 'primitivist' fingerstyle playing meets spirited Moroccan guembri playing on the second album from the virtuosic French guitarist

The sound of Incarnation is intense, layered and full of atmosphere, and the work of one man playing unaccompanied guitar, or rather guitars. Raoul Eden’s work is expansive and untethered by genre. He is French, but his finger-picked style is much more familiar from a line of primitive US guitarists, from John Fahey through to Jack Rose. Eden’s second release combines composition and improvisation, expressed through an arsenal of instruments, some familiar and some less so. As well as the six and 12-string guitars you might expect, Eden plays the dobro, an acoustic lap steel guitar, where all the volume comes from the power in the musician’s hands. He also plays the guembri, a three-stringed bass lute from Morocco.

The latter indicates the cross-cultural nature of Eden’s playing. What is ostensibly straightforward music becomes highly compelling as multiple musical influences wash through each piece. Opening track ‘Red Sun of a Moonless Morning’ sounds like a raga piece, while hovering in the background are the Sufi sounds of the Gnawa people and the Sahel diaspora, and the Qawwali music of South Asia. Underpinning it all is what Eden describes, accurately, as “dark primitive psychedelic blues”. The common factor is the effect on the mind of free music, channeled through the enchanted fingers of the maestro, opening up its own path.

Eden’s playing is stunning. He is a wild virtuoso, driving his strings harder and further than it is reasonable to expect. The expressiveness of his playing, notes whirring with the vibrating scrap of fingers on steel strings, and pulsing with luminous oscillation, is captivating. Some tracks have a deep psychedelic intensity based around repetition, reminiscent of Moon Duo. Elsewhere, on ‘Beat Your Head with Glorious Songs’, he dials it back and lets the beauty of his playing speak for itself. Nevertheless, Raoul Eden in dialled-back mode is more committed than almost any musician, deeply immersed in the music. ‘The Ghost Hound’, meanwhile, is a blues that starts in super-slow motion, like Ennio Morricone at the wrong speed, and cranks up in a galloping, moonlit desert odyssey.

Incarnation is a powerful album, a journey of the mind rather than a set of songs. Recorded in the Massif Central mountains of central France, it works on a symbolic level, tapping into our inner being. It speaks of trials by fire, long nights of the soul, the blues as the only music we need, rather than want. Eden’s playing is on a par with the best, and his tracks explode out of the speakers like a plume of mind-altering gas, filling our heads and commanding our senses.