Return of the King
Fingerstylist Kaki King steups up her game on the Dazzling ‘Glow’.
By Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers; Photos by Emily Wilson
An evening of solo guitar is definitely not a typical show at Syracuse, New York’s Westcott Theater. Normally a tour stop for jam bands, indie rockers, and electronic music artists, the former movie theater had all the seats stripped out for the crowds milling around and dancing to high-decibel grooves. So it’s a little startling on this early winter night to see Kaki King stride onto the big stage, sit down inside a semicircle of acoustic guitars, and begin to play for a dead-quiet audience seated on folding chairs.
What follows is definitely not a typical solo guitar concert either. King in turn taps and slaps rocking rhythms on her Ovation guitars, picks gorgeously shimmering Celtic-inspired tunes on a mini 12-string, digs deep into the bass register on a nylon seven-string with fan frets, and plays otherworldly string bends on a lap-style koto guitar created from a parlor guitar with an extra bridge at the 16th fret. The range of sound and expression is extraordinary, redefining conventional notions of what one guitar can do.
Pushing the boundaries of solo guitar is nothing new for King, who burst on the scene a decade ago with her debut album, Everybody Loves You, and its kinetic acoustic guitar instrumentals. Then in her early 20s, King had clearly absorbed the techniques and tunings of Michael Hedges, Alex de Grassi, Preston Reed, and other masters of fingerstyle guitar, but was just as clearly on her own trajectory. The passion and precision of King’s music quickly attracted a diverse global following, and Hollywood gigs such as contributing music to the movies August Rush (in which she also was the hand double for the guitar-playing scenes) and Into the Wild. Starting with her 2006 album . . . Until We Felt Red, King increasingly electrified her music, added vocals, and worked with a band. That foray into indie-rock territory culminated in her 2010 band album, Junior, produced by Malcolm Burn, and an accompanying world tour.
Now comes King’s sixth album, Glow, an all-instrumental project centered again on her guitar work, complemented by layers of her own percussion, a few collaborations with the string quartet Ethel, and even bagpipes on one tune. The result is hypnotically beautiful and showcases King’s best compositions to date, which, as recent concerts prove, she can deliver in complete fashion with nothing but a battery of guitars and the occasional thump of a box beneath her feet. After soundcheck at the Syracuse show, King talked with me about the inspirations, instruments, and techniques behind her latest adventures with the guitar.
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Courtesy of Acoustic Guitar.