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Ken Hatfield: String Theory

A brilliant, classically influenced player, Hatfield returns to his Appalachian roots with this deeply personal multimovement solo recording that has him alternating between nylon-string acoustic guitar, mandolin and dobro. The opening three-piece movement dedicated to his 85-year-old father, “The Gospel According to Sam,” features Hatfield overdubbing dobro parts alongside his classical guitar work for a kind of intricate hillbilly fugue. The lengthy “Snowhill Variations,” consisting of 12 separate themes stitched together, is performed exclusively on classical guitar with no overdubs, revealing Hatfield’s absolute command of contrapuntal lines. He brings mandolin into the mix on the two-part Bach-flavored sonata, “String Theory,” and closes with a moving seven-part movement, “Borges & I,” which was inspired by a series of short stories by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges.

While there is little here that can be deemed jazz (with the possible exception of the jaunty “Mutaciones”), there is much for fans of great guitar playing–from Leo Kottke and Jerry Douglas to Chet Atkins and Charlie Byrd to Andres Segovia–to appreciate.

Originally Published