Sir Richard Bishop

Tangier Sessions

Since his time with legendary post-everything group Sun City Girls, Sir Richard Bishop has shown himself to be master of a dizzying array of guitar techniques and traditions from around the world. He’s knowledgeable and respectful regarding the history that feeds his music without being a twat about it (when I saw him open for Wolf Eyes last Halloween, he stopped a song midway to sardonically ask the crowd "is this racist?" before launching immediately back in, crumbling such questions into dust). He’s a remarkable guitar player, a virtuoso even, a guitar darling for underground weirdos from all points of the globe (and it’s a globe he’s trotted plenty, if his involvement with the Sublime Frequencies label are any indication).

That said, the conceit of Bishop’s new album, Tangier Sessions, is some serious guitar-dork lore that would make any bedroom noodler salivate. While in Switzerland last year, Bishop stumbled into a hole-in-the-wall luthier’s shop. Failing to find anything to suit his purposes, he went to leave, but he was stopped by the owner on his way out, who reached behind a cabinet and pulled out a very old, remarkable guitar of unknown provenance. The only distinguishing mark on the guitar was a tiny sticker inside which read "C. Bruno". Entranced by its sound and mystery, but intimidated by its price, Bishop came and went several times before finally caving and buying the guitar. Soon after this, he found himself holed up for a week at an apartment in Tangier, Morocco, playing the guitar furiously all day, improvising and recording at night. Tangier Sessions is the result of these frenzied efforts.

It’s a classic story, and the music suits it well. Tangier Sessions is a fine work of six-string craftsmanship, sturdy and true; the guitar does indeed have a unique quality (inasmuch as such things can be divined from hearing it on record), and Bishop’s playing is as strong as ever. The pieces are a complex stew with heavy dashes of Gypsy, Middle Eastern, and Indian influences, among others, but you wouldn’t mistake Bishop’s playing for just about anyone else’s.

Given that this record is as much about the specific guitar as Bishop, we aren’t blessed with any of the more third-eye-opening electric workouts that are common in his catalog and his live shows. It’s not too sorely missed, though: the guy has a lot of records. If he wants to dedicate one to an ancient acoustic guitar, more power to him.

At this point in his career, Bishop’s batting average on record is pretty strong. If you’re interested in the way he plays at all, you’re pretty much going to like his catalog, regardless of where you pick it up. It’s a consistency that practically makes the man a genre unto himself, regardless of his myriad traditional influences. Tangier Sessions has nothing to do with any current trends, but unlike the fuck-with-the-audience, trend-bucking mode of the Sun City Girls, this is more a reflection of dedication than defiance. Bishop would like people to care, I’m sure, but I have little doubt that he’d be playing this music with just as much furor if he were living in a ditch somewhere. Maybe more, actually.

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