Spencer Bohren: Tempered Steel (Valve Records)

Spencer Bohren, Tempered Steel, album coverBuy on Amazon
When Spencer Bohren decided to form a group called the Whippersnappers with his son Andre, he took time out from his whirlwind schedule to review his recording career and was astonished by the depth of his catalog. The resourceful guitarist and singer-songwriter has a genius for album concepts and turns out new material in a variety of folk and blues contexts on a regular basis. One of the ideas he’s been encouraged to pursue over the years but never got around to until now is an album showcasing his dexterous and soulful lap steel guitar playing. Anyone who’s seen Spencer perform know how personal and intimate a sound he gets from the lap steel, which matches the plaintive, ethereal quality of his voice to the eerie, sonorous ambience of the steel guitar. This set is bookended by hushed performances of Bob Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells” and “Just Like a Woman,” and also includes compelling blues readings of “Money Blues” “No More Cane On the Brazos” and Blind Willie McTells’s “Broke Down Engine,” an instant classic in the genre. Bohren’s mastery of the microtonalities of the instrument conjures an oneiric presence on Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times,” the mournful folk melody of “Wayfaring Stranger” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Significantly, Bohren adds three originals to the mix: the formal instrumental “Suite Steel”; the beautiful, arching melody of “Down in Central Tennessee”; and the mournful “Bobby Jo.” Bohren is one of the world’s most expressive guitarists in part because he understands the value of not overplaying. Tempered Steel may be the best recorded example of the terse, stripped-down soul of his conception.