Sarah Louise: Nighttime Birds And Morning Stars (Thrill Jockey)

The new set by the revered US guitarist is an outstanding, innovative tapestry of guitar sounds

Released Jan 25th, 2019 via Thrill Jockey / By Norman Miller
Sarah Louise: Nighttime Birds And Morning Stars (Thrill Jockey) North Carolina guitarist Sarah Louise has carved out a very special niche in guitar music – both electric and acoustic, through previous albums like 2016's 12-string acoustic VDSQ Solo Acoustic Vol 12 album and her 2018 outing Deeper Woods.

Very much self-taught both technically and in influences she absorbed, Sarah Louise's early musical input mixed African tribal sounds and Stravinsky, before moving onto early 20th century blues and then Appalachian folk.

But while solo acoustic guitar has big names like Bert Jansch and John Fahey, the joy of this eight-track album is that Sarah Louise makes guitar music like nothing you've ever heard before. How about Leo Kottke crossed with Steve Hillage in a place of vaguely trippy ambient wonder? Whatever, it's a fascinating and inspiring melange.

All the tracks offer plenty to ponder and enjoy, though perhaps none more than Ancient Intelligence – moving from skittering strings and plucked notes into a hypnotic folky ambience unified by slow bowed notes.

Several tracks begin with a minute or so of contrasting, inventive textures before settling into hypnotic slow guitar-and-drone grooves. Rime kicks off like a sonorous bass hurdy-gurdy before conjuring up a whisper of an upbeat folk motif deep in its mix, while Swarming At The Threshold moves from high-pitched delicacy through jagged little flurries into an ambient haze.

Sarah Louise gives voice on several tracks too, adding a beautiful melancholy croon to tracks like Daybreak and the gorgeous hymnal Late Night Healing Choir.

Throughout, guitar sounds are warped into wonderful textures. There are plucked notes and bowed notes, while speed and tone are varied then mixed in with drones and what sounds like toy keyboards – nowhere better than the title track that ends the album with interlocking textures that go nowhere with utter beauty. Stunning and original. 5/5