On his exquisite third solo album, Nathan Bowles (Steve Gunn, Pelt, Black Twig Pickers) again augments his mesmeric clawhammer banjo pieces with piano, percussion, and vocals. Instead of the programmatic place-based narratives of its predecessor Nansemond (PoB-16), Whole & Cloven offers a stoic meditation on absence, loss, and fragmentation, populating those experiential gaps - the weighty interstices and places in-between - with stillness and wonder. Straddling Appalachian string band music and avant-garde composition but beholden to neither idiom, Nathan proves himself heir to deconstructivist tradition-bearers like Henry Flynt and Jack Rose.
Whole & Cloven unfolds as a series of seven discrete, but interrelated chapters. The album is bookended symmetrically by the two recordings that bear the most immediately discernable, and brightest, shapes. Opener “Words Spoken Aloud” (wordless, naturally), with its buzzing percussion and crisp progressions, serves as an invocation, prefiguring the concluding “Burnt Ends Rag,” a post-ragtime number inspired by Bowles’ friend Jack Rose, Dr. Ragtime himself. The gorgeous piano instrumental “Chiaroscuro,” which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Terry Riley album, ripples with liquid ostinatos, showcasing Nathan’s facility on his first instrument. “Blank Range/Hog Jank II” and “Gadarene Fugue” each skitter along with dark urgency, gnawing and diving respectively, the former comprising two haptic halves sutured together, and the latter drawing obliquely from Moroccan Gnawa traditions.