Elkhorn has long traversed the valleys between fried cosmic psychedelia and American Primitive, particularly the latter style’s reverence to a wide range of folk and blues idioms ranging from County Records compilations to the Mississippi Sheiks. Elkhorn albums have confidently reconciled these influences, splitting the difference between Popol Vuh’s devotional drift and the outer reaches of deep-cut classic rock while constantly keeping one foot in the river of the Ever-Weird America; call it Six Degrees of Uncle Dave Macon.
Elkhorn are the true sonic dealio. Instrumental music doesn't get much better than this. As Capt. Beefheart once said, "If you got ears/You gotta listen!" We couldn't agree more.
photo by Sam Erickson
The dividing line between downhome roots and astral liberation has rarely seemed more permeable…. It sounds as if Sandy Bull has sneaked into a late '60s Grateful Dead session.
—John Mulvey, Mojo
Like Crazy Horse taking a Journey in Satchidananda.
Blending acoustic and electric guitar to startling effect, the core duo of Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner send Elkhorn off into deep space with a West Coast Psych sound that wanders, meanders, soars and glistens with a beauty that is hard to describe but easy to get lost in…. Modern music that is enchanted and timeless, a precious thing that needs cherishing in these times.
While each man contributes something very different to the music, they sound like they couldn’t trip each other up if they tried. Gardner casts fluent, burning lines into the beyond while Sheppard supplies both rhythmic propulsion and resonant aura so radiant that the solar panels on your roof will absorb its energy.
There’s a heavier sense of danger in the veins of Sun Cycle, feeling like the soundtrack to a dystopic Western, where the stakes are high and hardly anyone’s walking off into the sunset alive... To say there hasn’t been an LP of instrumental intensity on this level in quite a few years is no hasty statement. As a pair of LPs, there aren’t too many instances of someone stormbringing this hard with quality equaling quantity.
Elkhorn is just two guys with guitars — Jesse Sheppard on acoustic tweleve-string and Drew Gardner on electric — but the duo packs a lot of music into The Black River, an excellent new collection of six exploratory instrumentals. Takoma School fingerpicking, psych-ed out jams, brooding pieces that call to mind Neil’s Dead Man soundtrack, some hints of West African trance blues … Sheppard and Gardner seem to have absorbed it all (and more), emerging with a beautifully unclassifiable blend. Riskiest of all here is their cover of Coltrane’s masterpiece of mood, “Spiritual.” But it’s an unqualified success, matching the original’s deep heaviness, as Shephard holds down an immovable center for Gardner to dance around. This is a River you’ll want to follow wherever it flows.
A Robbie Basho-meets-Grateful Dead-and-Sonny Sharrock kind of hybrid with occasional dashes of krautrock and experimentalism mixed in for extra seasoning. Though drums and bass are absent, the tunes rock perfectly well when the guitarists are perfectly capable of kicking up dust on their lonesome… When the record's done, one again puzzles over why electric-acoustic recordings aren't more plentiful when the idea pays such rewarding dividends as it does here.
I look upon [the songs on this album] as symphonic vignettes, musical poetry… Pictures more than anything, laid out in musical form. Music that speaks to you.