Essential New Music: Isasa’s “Insilio”

The roads that lead to the style known as American Primitive guitar tend to wind, and the trips that practitioners take to get there tend to make their music more interesting. Conrado Isasa came up in the Spanish hardcore scene, and he got turned on to fingerstyle acoustic guitar by Geoff Farina’s performance of a Mississippi John Hurt song. Once on the path, he made his way to the source. He tips his hat to genre godfather John Fahey as well as Fahey’s forbears by opening “Arquitecto Tenista” (“Tennis Architect) with a quote from folk tune “John Henry,” and he directly tips his hat to the guy on “Copla Para John Fahey.” But most importantly, he has gotten the message of this musical discipline, which is that you have to have something of your own to say and make you music say it.

Insilio takes you on a personal journey through its maker’s heritage, his geographical perambulations and his internal states of mind. A sequence of tunes on side two dedicated to a Spanish church and a couple of Uruguayan cities embed sadness in their evocations of beauty, and even the mundanity of “Conversaciones En Un Supermercado” is shaded with an awareness of otherness. Isasa’s guitar isn’t quite alone; harmonium, electronics and percussion offer support and counterpoint. By expressing emotional complexity with musical elegance, Isasa has gotten to the heart of his chosen style and made it his own. 

—Bill Meyer