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William Tyler Tells Stories Without Words

April 17th, 2013

William Tyler – Mercury Lounge – April 16, 2013

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

Guitarists as good as William Tyler don’t come around often. With his long fingernails and rapid-fire guitar picking, he’s already earned comparisons to guitar god John Fahey. There have even been some murmurs of him being the greatest guitarist of this guitar style to come out of a generation. I don’t think this is overblown. And were you to ask any of the others fortunate enough to see him play at Mercury Lounge last night, they’d probably tell you the same. Few people can take to a stage with just a guitar and manufacture such a whirlwind of incredible sounds.

With his considerable guitar skills, Tyler forges two distinct worlds side by side, creating meditative songs that almost sound like Nashville country on a Hindu raga. Pastoral twang butts up against a monastic drone, leaving familiar folky sounds to fight off getting swallowed up whole by the haunting hum of his open strings. And although Tyler’s compositions are wordless, each tune carries an emotional heft that provides a sense of storytelling through its twists and turns. He’s a crafty storyteller with the spoken word as well, letting the audience in on the inspirations behind the songs off his latest release, the much-acclaimed Impossible Truth.

“Country of Illusion” was inspired in part by the film Heaven’s Gate and Tyler’s contemplations on the nature of nostalgia. “The Geography of Nowhere” was the result of his attempts to recreate a melody he heard on a train ride through Turkey emanating from the speaker of someone working in his train car. And “Hotel Catatonia” dates back to Tyler’s first job, at a TCBY, and the trauma he faced when his “sadistic elderly woman” boss accidentally (he’s not sure) locked him in the freezer, leaving him alone to hear nothing but the guitar solo from the Eagles’ “Hotel California” out of her desk radio. They’re interesting asides for sure, and they certainly help put into context how he’s able to pull inspiration out of the deep reservoirs of his subconscious mind. Anyone can play the guitar, but to have the instrument translate the wordless trappings of our minds this well really does take once-in-a-generation skill. —Dan Rickershauser