Written by: Dave Cantrell
At 35 years old, T. McWilliams is no fresh-faced phenom lighting up the message boards of the worldwide acoustic guitar community with the brilliance of his sudden, unforeseen emergence. He is, however, everything that foregoing sentence says minus the ‘fresh-faced’ bit and, possibly, the ‘message boards’ part but if the latter is true, well, give ’em time. This quietly mind-blowing, Whale Watch-released debut did, after all, just drop today and if the soli-based internet knows what’s good for it it will have fully absorbed the manifold wonders Assorted Orchids is humbly offering to the world by this time next week at the latest. Recorded last autumn by Bob Nash at his Wonka Sound in Lowell, Mass, what really stands out overall on this initial outing from McWilliams in his Assorted Orchids guise is the depth and wholeness of its sound. To some degree that’s a product of the guitarist using steel- and nylon-stringed instruments exclusively but that alone doesn’t sufficiently explain the delicate intensity of feel and authority that permeates. No, what’s likely most responsible for Ochids‘ gorgeous solidity is, as is so often the case, the rich and varied life experience that prefaced its making. Having spent the last seventeen years – in essence the whole of his adult life – living in locales flung far and near, from his native Boston to LA to NYC to Shanghai and Scotland and wherever else between those points the whims of fate took him, this first recorded effort was rather destined to possess a lived-in quality. What wasn’t guaranteed was exactly to what degree. As it happens, the results are more unassumingly stunning that could have been imagined.
Leaning far forward from the Basho- and Fahey-shaped shadows, pulling from profound influences that both pre-date and proceed from those two oft-cited colossi – the deft Delta picking of Mississippi John Hurt through the omnipresent solo acoustic stylings of Nick Drake, touches of Taussig, the drone acoustica of Donovan all the way up to Bon Iver echoing the eerie quiet of the winter-bound North Woods – the work here on Assorted Orchids unfolds across its ornate half hour with a kind of all-consuming subtlety, a brilliant awakening best echoed perhaps in McWilliams’ own lyric “I entered the garden of scarlet chrysanthemums opening wide” from “The Mighty Kingdom” (oh, did we fail to mention the stark beauty of the lyrics? Well, yeah, there’s that as well). In a way that’s redolent of its essential predecessors, the album is radiant with the straightforward complexity of its execution and thereby works a magic that is equal parts soothing and – if gently – jolting, which is to say there’s something fierce in its apparent quietude. More than anything though, for us, to listen to Assorted Orchids debut album is to feel grounded, a little on guard maybe but certain of our foothold. And lord knows we can all use a bit of that these days. [get Assorted Orchids on vinyl or digitally here]