Nate Chinen reviews Solo, Volume I in the New York Times
Ryan Blotnick, a guitarist approaching 30, has maintained a slippery self-containment in enough sociable settings — with the saxophonists Michael Blake, Pete Robbins and Bill McHenry; the Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble; and a range of musicians from Copenhagen, where he earned a graduate degree — that he’s a strong candidate for a solo album. He’s not afraid of starkness or silence, and he knows how to spin a good yarn. He’s a natural.
Which isn’t to say that he skimps on preparation. “Solo, Volume I,” available as a pay-what-you-wish download at ryanblotnick.bandcamp.com, is a product of several summers in his home state, Maine, spent working in hotels, restaurants and other for-hire settings. (On one wedding-services Web site, his customer rating is a perfect 5.0.) The album clocks in under 35 minutes and gives the sense of an intensely thoughtful design.
Mr. Blotnick clearly knows the tradition he’s drawing on here. “Lenny’s Ghost,” the album’s longest track, is his nod to Lenny Breau; elsewhere he touches on the stark lyricism of John Fahey and the intricate fingerpicking technique of Leo Kottke. “Dreams of Chloe,” a wakening ballad processed with light distortion, and “Hymn for Steph,” a sober country waltz, evoke the recent solo guitar recordings of Marc Ribot. “The Ballad of Josh Barton” suggests a close study of some early acoustic Neil Young.
Every track but one was recorded with a 1959 Martin guitar — an acoustic model, but one with a pickup and volume and tone controls built in — and no overdubs or other studio manipulations. The sound, mixed and mastered by Marc Bartholomew, is pristine enough that you hear Mr. Blotnick’s fingertips lightly scudding across the strings. And the atmosphere is such that every liberty registers as both audacious and reasonable.
What’s missing from the album is any palpable impression of danger, a feeling that Mr. Blotnick is reaching beyond his carefully honed capacities. That’s acceptable on an album so defined by intelligent restraint. And it raises certain expectations: by titling the album “Solo, Volume I,” Mr. Blotnick implies that there’s more of this to come. NATE CHINEN