The Hovering Glass Angel of Susan Alcorn's Guitar

I guess that it’s pretty well known by now that Baltimore has a lot of good zonked rock and experimental music happening. Arthur’s pages have, in the past couple years, sung the praises of Celebration, Dan Higgs, Beach House, Dan Deacon & Jimmy Joe Roche, Teeth Mountain, Wzt Hearts and Trockeneis, and there are Needle Gun, the Lexie Mountain Boys, Jana Hunter, Lo Moda, Jason Willett, Arboretum, Zomes, Nautical Almanac, DJ Dogdick, , Sejayno, Bonnie Jones, Dan Conrad, the Wham City , MT6 and High Zero crews and much more. Not bad for a crumbling, podunk backwater best known as a case study in the doomed drug war.

But in the unlikely event that anyone ever holds a gun to my head and demands to know, “who is your favorite musician in the city?” I’ve got my answer all ready: Susan Alcorn.

Alcorn is a Texas native who plays the pedal steel guitar. The journey from playing country and bluegrass and straight jazz to her mature style has aided by advice from Muddy Waters and Paul Bley. The wide-open ears, keen intellect, emotional sensitivity and rigorously-honed skill as a player that she has developed has brought her into collaborations with Pauline Oliveros, Peter Kowald, Eugene Chadbourne and Jandek among many others. But it’s her solo work as a composer, improviser and interpreter of songs, which are more aching sequences and clusters of crystaline sounds than tunes, that always blows me away.

With clarity and precision and a gift for invoking sweeping landscapes, Alcorn is able to perform arrangements of Curtis Mayfield or Olivier Messiaen highlighting both their structural and spiritual aspects simultaneously and then attacking the strings zen-slap-loud or hovering stained-glass mobiles of sound-clouds. Dreamy stuff, full of emotion and one of the more Universalist twists on Americana.

The way to introduce yourself to her work is to see her live and solo, if possible, or to track down a copy of her utterly superlative LP And I Await the Resurrection of the Pedal Steel Guitar, released by Olde English Spelling Bee a couple years ago (or, if you can, her Curandera CDR). But until she and her work are more readily available to more households, this short group of video excerpts from a solo concert in Baltimore earlier this month where she presented a musical autobiography will act as a sampler of her sound palate, if not the emotional arc, of her performances.

Susan Alcorn at the Los Solos series, Baltimore

One thought on “The Hovering Glass Angel of Susan Alcorn's Guitar

  1. Ian- thanks for the link to the Susan Alcorn video. I’d never seen her play (kept showing up late and missing her!) and only heard bits and pieces of her recorded music, but seeing the video I realized what an amazing talent she is. She seems to have a fluid command of the entire lexicon of Western recorded music(particularly American, and whatever that implies), and is able to draw from any of its various instances at will to create something truly spellbinding. Wow.

    Also thanks for the reference to my band.

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