Archived Arts & Entertainment

Canvas stretchers

Yes, this is another of those pesky “music you may want to check out” articles. The “canvas stretcher” opening refers to a few artists that, in my opinion, took a relatively comfortable, recognizable form of music (the canvas, if you will) and pushed it (stretched) somewhere a bit further outside the standard boundaries.

And yeah, I know what canvas stretchers REALLY do, but hey, artistic license is cool — everybody’s doing it. I got mine when I was 16.

Bill Frisell: Nashville

Some people want to peg Bill Frisell as an “avant garde” jazzer, and to a degree they wouldn’t be too far off. Indeed, he can play traditional jazz, but has long eschewed the tendency toward standard jazz guitar tones (no muddy “blanket over the amplifier” tones) and accepted technique. Like Miles and Monk, Frisell simply plays what he hears. And that’s the real joy of listening to him: he hears the most amazing things.

So when he turned those ears towards the most traditional of American music, country and bluegrass, the result was 1997’s stunning Nashville. With a marvelous cast of players, including dobro monster Jerry Douglas, bassist Viktor Krauss and harp blower Pat Bergeson, Nashville is at once dreamy and earthy, surreal yet perfectly grounded. From a guitarist’s point of view, it’s Frisell’s uncannily delicate phrasing and absolute command and respect for melody that will make you reconsider what it really means to be “great.”

Many players can burn through an endless stream of notes, but how many can make every phrase, including the silence, a song unto itself?

Related Items

Gerry Leonard: Spooky Ghost

I’ve mentioned Gerry Leonard before, in reference to his inspiring performance with Duncan Sheik last year at the Grey Eagle. I was lucky (and wise) enough to pick up two of his solo albums while there, and Spooky Ghost has become a part of my regular “what to listen to when I don’t know what to play” CD collection.

It’s a solo record, it has quite a bit of acoustic guitar, some vocals and lots of great tunes- but it’s not a “singer/songwriter” album. Many parts have a lush, cinematic feel, and there’s a crackling electric element lurking in most of the dark corners. But for the most part, categorizing Spooky Ghost is a fruitless endeavor. Leonard’s creativity of tone and arrangement, as well as his fearless use of space and breathing room, allows him to perfectly meld the digital realm of sound sculpting technology with the simple beauty of the acoustic guitar and voice. Find a copy and leave your expectations at the door. And stop by his website for insightful gear tips as well as advice on preparing the perfect cup of tea.

Suzanne Vega: Nine Objects of Desire

Yes, she did that song about “Luka.” It’s time to move on.

This was one of those “sleeper” albums for me. Bought it years ago, kind of liked it- but it didn’t grab me initially. As time went by, however, it revealed its true identity: a mesmerizing, edgy album by a “singer/songwriter” that was tired of being pigeonholed as merely that.

With the production talents of Mitchell Froom prominently on display, this is a Suzanne Vega album that’s totally okay with ditching the strummy acoustic guitar in favor of garbage can lid drums and trippy tremolo on the baritone guitar. Some goober from the Allmusic Guide had the nerve to deride the production, fearing it would “keep the listener at a distance.” He went on to babble about “overly mannered, arty arrangements.” Nope. Sorry.

My guess is that now, a decade after its release, Nine Objects of Desire sounds even more relevant and fresh wholly because of those elements. The songs are smart, idiosyncratic and moody, and it’s by far one of her most forward thinking and consistent albums yet. An obvious step just outside of a stellar artist’s comfort zone, Nine Objects of Desire is a crisp set of tunes that need some time to sink in to the listener’s psyche, and when they do, it’s quite tough to dig them out.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.