Ryan Francesconi played a major role in one of the defining folk records of recent years: Joanna Newsom’s epic 2010 triple album Have One On Me. Francesconi provided the complex yet spacious arrangements, as well as playing dextrous guitar; Newsom called him “one of the most awe-inspiring musicians I’ve known.” He released a solo instrumental album, Parables, last year and for its follow-up duets with his partner – and fellow member of Newsom’s band – the Australian violinist Mirabai Peart.
As on Have One On Me, the pair meander away from a verse-chorus-verse format and instead build up longer instrumental sections that swell like hills along a coastline. Using lulling repetition, reminiscent of James Blackshaw, they plough tumbling acoustic passages again and again, creating an obscure but tangible sense of narrative. Their playing isn’t showy, but patterned with exquisite, filigree intricacy.
The album was inspired by a trip to the Greek island of Lesvos, and you can hear influence of Mediterranean and Balkan folk music here. But there are other flavours too: Middle Eastern melancholy, Indian mysticism and Celtic drama. As the pair shift between slow, pensive moments and passages of hoe-down intensity, it sounds like folk music from a place that’s far more mysterious than the picture-postcard album cover suggests.