"Unnamed Lands" CD - Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber
Tom Griesgraber: Grand Stick, synths
Bert Lams: acoustic guitar
Unnamed Lands, the debut studio release by the Stick and guitar duo of Tom Griesgraber (Agent 22) and Bert Lams (California Guitar Trio), takes us on a settlers' journey through the Old West, an epic tale often told in legend and song, but now re-imagined by Tom and Bert through the lens of contemporary sounds, rhythms, harmony and instrumentation.
Thematically, Bert and Tom connect more traditional sounds and styles with the hopeful point of view of settler protagonists. From an anthemic "Don't Look Back", to a bucolic "Prairie Suite", a nostalgic "A Letter Home" and a sentimental "Rebecca", all these songs are quite "acoustic" in their character. Tom's clean, minimally processed Stick bass sounds at times like a lower extension of Bert's guitar strings, one register blending nicely with the other to complete an orchestra of plucked and tapped strings.
Mysterious, aggressive, cacophonous, atonal and polyrhythmic elements represent the myriad threats faced by settlers including the unknown landscape ("Where the Trail Divides"), the hostile natural world ("Insects","A Red Glow Against the Sky", "Lumbering Prowlers"), and the Native American inhabitants ("Smoke Signals", "War Dance", "Unearthly Screams/Scattered"). Each piece has a distinct identity, with shifting keys, tempos and tonalities propelling the listener further Westward.
A beautifully designed and illustrated 12-page booklet (by Milk Graphic Design's Jack and Laurent Durieux) spins the settlers' tale through brief vignettes written by Tom, one for each track. The period-inspired drawings and graphics complete the look and guide us on our journey.
As a duo, these two virtuoso instrumentalists have a chemistry that can't be faked in the studio, but only comes through extensive touring and rehearsing. They are both accomplished rhythm players and soloists, trading these roles as needed, one always complementing the other in thoughtful dialogue. The arrangements have a spontaneity that belies the four years it took Tom and Bert to complete this project.
Unnamed Lands is spectacularly produced, with a clear and integrated sound throughout, as mixed by Tom and Howard Givens of Spotted Peccary Records. Though there are no drums present, the naturally percussive tones of the Stick and the acoustic guitar lay out the groove with driving precision. This sonic landscape is alive with wailing and abstract synths, distorted Stick and guitar polyrhythms and leads, and always that far-off horizon. Who knows what we will hear as we cross the next ridge on our way to the glorious Pacific?
Liver version of "War Dance"