Essential New Music: Powers/Rolin Duo’s “Powers/Rolin Duo”

The Powers/Rolin Duo messes with expectations in most delightful ways. Their instrumentation—hammered dulcimer and 12-string acoustic guitar—looks like something you’d see on a shady stage at a summertime art show or a farmers’ market. But this is the 21st century, and they’ve got some effects boxes. When the sounds on the Powers/Rolin Duo’s first proper LP hit your ears, what you hear is a swarm of string overtones that might bring to mind Laraaji/Eno’s ambient 1980 collaboration Day Of Radiance. In either case, the possibility of being ignored is built right in. But this Columbus, Ohio, twosome would rather have your complete attention, and they’ll handily reward you if you give it to them.

Matthew J. Rolin is an accomplished soloist who takes cues from Jim O’Rourke’s long-form acoustic-guitar music, John Fahey’s recordings for Takoma and Vanguard and, especially, the early output of James Blackshaw. He has a gift for merging melody and resonance into a force that grabs your ears, lifts your heart and makes you want to remember it while you go somewhere. While he often holds the foreground, it’s Jen Powers’ cascading dulcimer that frames and amplifies the prevailing sentiments of his playing. Musicians from Leo Kottke to Kraftwerk have already soundtracked your perfect road trip; Rolin and Powers supply the sounds to your dream of a perfect sunrise. 

—Bill Meyer