Adrian Legg: High Strung Tall Tales (1994)

I had the great benefit and privilege to be surrounded by a lot of diverse music growing up.  In high school my two closest friends were a pair of brothers who grew up playing classical piano and jazz guitar.  But their hearts were always also in rock and roll, and it was there I developed the bug for guitar after listening to everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Yngwie J. Malmsteen to Jim Hall, Andre Segovia, and Adrian Legg, whose High Strung Tall Tales provides possibly the best overall document to introduce someone to one of the greatest guitar players I’ve ever heard.

He may be unassuming to look at, but Legg is one of the best fingerpicked in the world.  His style of playing covers jazz, folk, classical, and even early rock and roll, but it’s played in such a dextrous manner and with a warmth few players can bring to bear.  This is coupled by Legg’s folksy storytelling cadence, which has a wry, droll British manner that is instantly inviting.  Which is what makes High String Tall Tales a great overview: there’s a mix of studio tracks, live tracks, and stories to accompany them.

This was huge to me in college, the way you discover something no one else knows about (although I “discovered” it from my friends.  The above clips have one of the stories followed by its accompanying songs, but there’s acoustic delight to be had everywhere on the album, from the stately march of “The Crockett Waltz” to the multi-part “Hugh Strung Suite” which features all manner of brilliant passages, including Legg’s signature style of instantly changing the tuning mid song by minute twists of the tuning pegs.

Coming back upon it now (it’s probably been about 10 years since I last listened) it has a calming influence.  As a guitar player I can appreciate it while understanding I’ll never be able to replicate it, and am fine with the fact that I don’t really want to.  As a listener I can appreciate the studio stuff for the flawless playing it has, but my heart goes to the live storytelling, where everything comes completely together and makes me want to sit and listen with a nice bourbon and a warm fire on a cold night.

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