Rural Life is composer and guitar virtuoso Pat Kirtleys third solo album, following Kentucky Guitar and Irish Guitar. Eleven tunes are his own compositions. The tunings range from Standard through DADGAD and EADEAE, and encompass a broad range of styles including modern Appalachian (Earl Scruggs), Kentucky ( Merle Travis), country blues, and sensitive ballads based on traditional folk themes.
The tunes are short, rarely going much over three minutes, very clearly structured in verses, often quatrains, clustered at the ends of a short bridge. Kirtley usually goes three choruses, building his variations during the second and third, coming back to the main melody in the closing bars.
This album, like precious-metal ore, rocks and sparkles.
Pats show in Toronto, Saturday November 20, sponsored by the Toronto Fingerstyle Guitar Association, Randy Finney, Pres., was generous in many ways. Pat played two long sets and gave a display of the many guitar styles hes mastered, including Irish and Brazilian. A generous portion of the audience were guitarists, many of whom had attended Pats workshop earlier in the day, so the room was ripe with attention, appreciation, and with camaraderie during the breaks. But what I particularly want to share are some of Pats stories around tunes, because knowing them adds resonance to the music.
Pat gets told often that his instrumentals suggest lyrics, as I myself noted above, and people send him lyrics. This is how he replies to such offers:
lyrics fix a tune. Instrumentals let you have your own choice of words.
Fiddlers Last words, was conceived on the day Randy Howard died, aged 38, by which time he had won over 300 fiddle competitions. The whole composition came up spontaneously, but Pat took all that day to play it over and over till he was sure he knew it.
Daisy Goes Dancing came out of an actual vision Pat had of a 9-year-old girl dressed in the fashion of 100 years ago. Whenever he worked on the tune, she was present. When he stopped, shed vanish. Pat believes he was part of a time warp in which the girl was imagining some guitar player in the future writing a tune about her.
Arnolds Coming Home is about the sounds of a guitar player coming across the fields to his family after a visit to New Orleans where hed been learning musical ideas of early jazz and ragtime. The player was Arnold Shultz, an unrecorded black man who developed the Kentucky thumbpicking guitar style that eventually came down to Merle Travis and Chet Atkins.
Last night, Arnold came walking across the fields of time to Toronto, perhaps in a time warp, sending ahead of himself sounds of the South, the Midwest, Ireland and Brazil through the medium of Pat Kirtleys guitar.
You can almost always imagine you are hearing lyrics behind the melody lines. This is perfectly vivid in my favourites, Dance with Me, Gone Fishin and Its Raining. Pat's thumb and fingerpicking make complex textures that resolve easily into simple lyricism and symmetrical structures so that you always know where you are when listening to him play, even when you cant imagine how he does it.