To The Meddle Edition: Adam Kurtz, Luke Schneider, Mute Duo And Chuck Johnson & Golden Retriever

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Adam Kurtz: Storms Of Steel

Let’s start off the second half of the year zeroing in on one of my favorite instruments, and maybe yours, the pedal steel guitar. Before I get into this week’s picks, I’d like to recommend this great article about the pedal steel’s current renaissance, by friend of the column, Jesse Jarnow. Hopefully can show you the various angles the instrument can take, I’ll go from the most straightforward to the most avant garde. That has me starting with Adam Kurtz who is a go-to Nashville player/sideman of the more traditional style. His latest solo effort, Storms Of Steel, takes you straight to the honky tonk, when the lead vocalist takes off and the band, led by a very talented steel player, takes the room for a spin. It’s sweet and rollicking and you should give it a spin.

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Luke Schneider: Altar of Harmony

Like Kurtz, Luke Schneider is currently based in Nashville and made a living largely playing in other people’s bands, the first time I saw him was impressively backing Margo Price. But on Altar Of Harmony, he moves out on his own, literally and figuratively, leaving most semblance of country music behind and using his pedal steel, as the title of the record implies, something a little more spiritual. The music is cosmic and beautifully ambient, long otherworldly chords that will take you right up into the sky. Check it out, if you haven’t already, I think you’ll dig it.

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Mute Duo: Lapse In Passage

Leaving Nashville altogether, we take things a step further. Mute Duo is a Chicago two-piece, largely pedal steel and drums, and their music is a distinctive, slow-moving, sometimes very slow-moving, expansive instrumental thing. Their latest release, Lapse In Passage, is, as the kids say, “a mood.” Like the passage of time itself, it often feels like it’s barely moving, the imperceptible progress of an hour hand, but then you stop thinking about it for a moment and before you realize it, you’re in a completely new place from where you started. How did you get there? Super vibey, beautiful and engaging, pedal steel finding new ways to enchant.

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Chuck Johnson & Golden Retriever: Rain Shadow

We’ll finish up with perhaps the maestro of making modern day experimental music with the pedal steel guitar, Chuck Johnson. While Johnson’s talents and artistry extend beyond the pedal steel and his Bandcamp page is a constantly updated wonderment of new ideas, he also makes some serious, out-of-this-world magic with the pedal steel. There’s plenty to discover, but today I’m highlighting, Rain Shadow, his four-track collaboration with Golden Retriever. This one is ambient gold, Johnson’s steel drone mixing with bass clarinet and synthesizer to create delightfully glacial, absolutely zen soundscapes. Put this one on when you need the world to slow down for just a few moments, you won’t regret it. Always open to new recs, especially those with a pedal steel guitar, so don’t hesitate to drop your best ones on me and I’ll be back with other new music next week.

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