Fans of Luke Gullickson’s music are accustomed to verbosity. His blog posts stretch thousands of words; his tweets explode the 140-character limit, his ideas and love of language flooding over the banks. As a songwriter he rarely lets a chorus return without changing the lyrics. His verses expand into luminescent prose.
The compositions of Nine Songs, assembled in a well-lit bedroom in New Mexico in February 2015, are a stark contrast. Inspired by the artless realism of songwriters like Mark Kozelek and Will Oldham, Gullickson set out to see how little he could say and still make it a song, how insubstantial a memory could yield a droplet of lyrical insight. These songs, all named for places and times, recall events and moments from the songwriter’s past. Their truncated forms offer just enough detail to reveal those memories’ round edges, with plenty of space and shadow for the listener to fill in the gaps.
For the first time on any Golconda release since 2011’s Book of Rain, Gullickson enlisted guest musicians to enliven his skeletal textures. Saxophonist Chris Jonas, a veteran of the avant-jazz groups of luminaries Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, and Butch Morris, unfolds melodic waves over Gullickson’s half-spoken baritone. Bassist David Menestres is known for his free-improvising work with the collective Polyorchard, where he’s as likely to play his instrument with a chopstick, paintbrush, or pencil eraser as his bow or fingers. Here his playing is subdued, thoughtfully building out from Gullickson’s guitar picking. Recorded at Santa Fe's iconic Frogville Studio, the result is an understated new vision of the singer-songwriter format.