Working as a sideman for years really opened guitarist Scott Barkan’s eyes as to some of the difficulties involved with keeping a touring band together.
So when he started to focus on his own music, Barkan performed sans support.
“I could take any gig,” he recalls. “I didn’t have to check scheduling or worry about how I was going to pay everyone.”
But Barkan says those early solo acoustic gigs opened his eyes to something else: “a lot of holes in my playing.”
“Without the support of a band behind me keeping the rhythm down and filling in a lot of the space, there were a lot of things I wanted to be doing but couldn’t,” the New York-based Barkan adds. “So I needed to find another way. I didn’t want to be one of these songwriters who just strums the chords and sings on top, and that’s it. The guitar is a very important aspect of what I do, and I wanted that to also be important in the solo performance.”
Barkan started checking out various acoustic guitarists who possessed the skills he wanted: to simultaneously play bass lines and melody lines, to play chordal solos “and other things to keep the time going.” More specifically, he delved into Travis-style picking (where notes are plucked by the thumb, index and middle fingers) and the work of Tommy Emmanuel and Kelly Joe Phelps.
It took Barkan about two years before he could play a gig using the techniques he learned “without stumbling through them.” His deft style can be heard on his second solo album, Flightless Bird. Barkan spent a full day recording its basic tracks with a three-piece band in Brooklyn, N.Y., then about two weeks later, he recorded vocals and other overdubs over the course of two days in Charlottesville, Va., with engineer Stewart Myers, who mixed the album’s nine songs.
The excellent title song not only features distinct acoustic and electric guitar parts by Barkan; there’s a memorable vocal melody, too, and very detailed words.
“I’d say it was almost a songwriting exercise — this concept of using a flightless bird as a metaphor for my personal struggles, then fleshing it out into a song,” he says. “That’s not always how I operate. ‘Flightless Bird’ is something I sat and worked on in a very literary way, trying to make each line and each verse have a particular take on that concept.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Scott Barkan on tour (schedule subject to change):
* Jan. 22: Freddy’s Bar — Brooklyn, N.Y.
* Jan. 24: The Other Farm Brewing Company — Boyertown, Pa.
* Jan. 25: Byers Street Bistro — Staunton, Va.
* Jan. 27: Good Stuff Grocery — Marshall, N.C.
* Jan. 28: The One Stop — Asheville, N.C.
* Jan. 29: O’Mainnin’s — Bristol, Tenn.
* Jan. 30: Terrapin Brewing Company — Athens, Ga.
* Jan. 31: Mystery Brewing Public House — Hillsborough, N.C.
* Feb. 1: Boulevard Tavern — Charleston, W.Va.
* Feb. 2: Tree House Lodge — Washington, D.C.
* Feb. 6: Triumph Brewing Company — New Hope, Pa.
* Feb. 8: Homegrown Music Café — Port Jefferson, N.Y.
Photo by Nicole Graph