Ross Hammond is a genuine troubadour, seemingly spending his life on the road playing acoustic and electric guitars to anyone that has the sense to listen. His style on Upward will be familiar to those who appreciate the work of John Fahey and Ry Cooder, steel string picking on 12-string acoustic guitar with a strong folk and blues flavour. Here he is joined by long time collaborator, drummer and tabla player Sameer Gupta who sticks to the latter instruments throughout this eight track release. His playing here is more about feel than speed, it is clearly bedded in the classical Indian style but avoids its characteristic high speed solos, instead both musicians lay down a groove that doesn’t have a foreground beat but at the same time has a clear tempo. One of his comments regarding working with Hammond is “He goes in for a raw sound, something that’s outside of what are considered the conventional barriers.” He’s not wrong.
This combination of instruments has its forebears in the work of John McLaughlin (Shakti) and Ry Cooder (Meeting by the River with VM Bhatt) among others, but Hammond and Gupta have a more gritty, down to earth sound. It’s a simple recording with each artist given their own channel and surrounded by the natural reverb of the studio. The tracks vary in length from the title track’s 4’37” to the 11’39” of ‘For Chris Ferreira’, the latter is one of the stand outs on the album and remains interesting and engaging throughout thanks to both musicians’ improvisational skills. Hammond recorded duets with the late Ferreira which are beautiful pieces and available as part of a subscription deal he offers via bandcamp.com. For $20 or more you get four records [WAV or FLAC downloads] from his back catalogue and an exclusive music selection each month. If you like his music you’ll realise that this is a bargain and a half.
Hammond’s playing appeals because it is honest, open hearted balm for the soul. It’s not about virtuosity although he’s clearly a great player and there is no studio flim flam to give it a smokin’ sound, just the open, vibrant sound of the acoustic guitar. Which when combined with the dynamics of clearcut tabla makes for an absorbing musical experience. If you only try one track make it ‘Being and Becoming’, it is a solid gone beauty of the rarest kind.