“Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain,” Raymond’s staggering second album, leaves no doubt that she is among the most vital, dynamic voices within the still-teeming solo guitar orbit.”
“A fierce live performer”
Barefoot, wearing all black, a solitary guitarist sits on the stage, her face shrouded by a curtain of long hair, her hands a blur of motion. The sound she makes is so cavernous, evocative and frenetic it sounds as though at least two more guitarists are hiding somewhere in the wings. But they aren’t. Gwenifer Raymond, originally from Wales but now based in London, plays like a vengeful bluegrass musician conjuring up roiling fury, then dropping into languorous eddies, switching between paces with pin-sharp precision. She combines grace, depth, and emotion with awe-inducing clawhammer technique: the right hand, with thumb and fingers curled in like a claw, providing a rhythmic counterpoint to the singing, melodic storytelling work of the left.
The folk roots of Raymond’s music lie in faraway Appalachia and the acoustic blues of the American south. Her specific field of solo guitar is known as “American primitive,” a term coined by acoustic guitarist John Fahey in the late 50’s to describe his own music, intended to somehow convey an ineffable and ever-evolving amalgam of influences. Although the classification may seem odd for an artist who has a PhD in astrophysics and holds down a day job as a video-game coder, Raymond embraces the label. “Fahey himself invented the term because he couldn’t think of what it was he did, right?” Raymond asks. “So in and of itself, the moniker is kind of representative of the idea that I don’t really know what it is I do, I just play instrumental guitar that has some influences from American folk music – and then a bunch of other [stuff] thrown in there.” It’s a mesmeric, meditative form of playing that, with its open tunings and air of mystery, has as much in common with Indian ragas and drone-based music as it does US fingerpicking. In Gwenifer’s case, she has taken the form and also added an Old Country twist, conjuring up the haunts of vintage gothic horror films such as The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan’s Claw, along with a good dose of Welsh folkloric strangeness (make sure to check out her videos!). But she also admits to being heavily influenced by artists such as the Fall, Gang of Four, and especially Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, whose MTV Unplugged in New York proved particularly addictive. Whatever the description, it all comes together on her two long-players and in her live performances. So be prepared for a completely unique and spellbinding experience when Gwenifer Raymond takes the Cornerstone stage.