A Guitarist's Compendium


One of the hardest working acoustic guitar players in Nashville, John Danley puts his musical history in order with a 25 track best of compilation entitled A Guitarist’s Compendium: 15 Years Of Acoustic Addiction. Filled with an infectious acoustic guitar groove that spans a wealth of musical genres—from folk to whimsical, spot-on acoustic jazz—the CD brings together 25 tracks of finger-style guitar music written and recorded by the guitarist between 1995 and 2010. Danley’s 2009 solo CD release, Acoustic Dimorphism was heralded as one of the top acoustic guitar albums of the decade, and A Guitarist’s Compendium offers yet another opportunity to glimpse the talent and technique Danley has brought to the guitar world over the past decade and a half. The cover painting by Lori Anne Parker is exquisite while liner notes by Danley touch upon highlights of his vital musical history—including the fact that the 25 track CD is not presented in any kind of chronological history yet, start to finish still sounds thoroughly connected.


MWE3: Would you say the 2011 CD release of A Guitarist's Compendium offers a good overview of your career to date and what did you want to set out to say with this collection?

JOHN DANLEY: As I alluded to in the liner notes, this compilation was put together in an attempt to represent a wide range of pieces similar to the variety of acoustic music performed during a live concert. What I really wanted to do was buffer a mid-life crisis while holding on to the last vestiges of my youth. In retrospect, I realized how many years were spent emotionally attached to the outcomes of a custom designed amalgam of premium wood grains. I suppose this recording could be considered an audio memoir of sorts—fifteen years of writing and performing obscure, noncommercial, instrumental guitar music. In some ways I feel as though I've lived vicariously through these tunes. There is a detached yet existential awareness that a great deal of my life has been spent documenting melodic patterns.

MWE3: In what ways has being an "eclectic" acoustic guitarist helped your career and how would you describe the term eclectic as you use it to describe your own music and guitar style as presented in the Compendium CD?

JD: Pathological diversity appears to work best in live performance scenarios. However, most individuals and critics prefer albums to be thematic with a sense of calculated flow. One of my favorite synonyms for “eclectic” is “multifarious.” Objectively speaking, I couldn’t help but notice how much I vacillate between traditional guitar music that sounds indigenous to the Southeast and ballads that have their roots in European traditions. The contrast of Southern geographical influence versus my proclivity for the cultural values of Europe has resulted in a schizophrenic musical juxtaposition. I would say that being eclectic has made it difficult to stylistically identify my playing.

MWE3: What were the parameters in choosing the tracks for the Compendium CD, as far as representing the different eras and times of your career and can you say something about a couple of your favorite recordings or albums featured on the collection?

JD: I have no brand loyalty concerning particular tunes. My selection for this compilation was based on a combination of audience requests, various anecdotes about my music from listeners, consistent reactions to particular pieces, etc. The irony remains that the compositions I have labored most intensely over are often overlooked in favor of songs that evolved via serendipitous accidents. This phenomenon has reminded me to pay closer attention to the nature of spontaneity while remembering not to dismiss ideas that come easily. One of the liabilities of musical experience is the tendency to over think details. As Bob Kaspar used to say about highly abstract music, “It looks better than it sounds.” Sometimes, in an attempt to please themselves, musicians abandon the principle of simplicity. In either direction there exists a law of diminishing return. Nonetheless, with a few exceptions, most of my music has maintained a mellifluous pattern structure (perfect authentic cadence) and this album focuses on the more accessible melodies. My favorite album, for personal reasons, is Drifting Into Oblivion.

MWE3: With the release of the Compendium CD describe how your sound and/or approach to recording / composing has changed or evolved since Postponing The Worm back in 1997 through to the CD release of your 2009 Acoustic Dimorphism album?

JD: A copious amount of my earlier work was coupled with a sense of urgency. Postponing The Worm was recorded on half inch inch reel-to-reel tape during a single weekend. Before the digital era was in full-swing, getting through a piece of music without making egregious errors was the best tactic for saving money. Consequently, my first two recordings sound rushed and intervals of silence, dynamics, and overall negative space were sacrificed for the sake of accuracy. Nonetheless, some prefer what I can only describe as “high-anxiety” guitar playing.

The emancipation resulted from learning how to produce home recordings a la Cemeteries, Missed Trains, & Blue Skies (2003). The initial learning curve was worth the effort in terms of being able to take time and create ambiance while respecting tempo. The real benefit of digital is being able to do multiple takes during a single sitting without rewinding tape. However, I treat digital the same way I would a 4-track recording—there is no cut and paste or post-production editing. Each melody is recorded separately from start to finish and chosen based on the best take. One could say I’m a digital purist, but the ironic humor of that statement would be too risible to defend.

I still write and record technically anxious, high-energy guitar music, but now the tempo is less relative. In addition, my ballads are much more “open” and nonlinear. Learning how to make high-quality home recordings, in my opinion, is the most important practical skill a musician can develop.

MWE3: How many different guitars are actually featured on the cross-section of tracks on the collection and how has your choice of guitars changed over the years? What guitars are you using most these days and how about strings and or new studio gear currently being used?

JD: Taylor guitars have always been a standby for me. I have used a variety of 512s and 714s in the studio. Other guitars include a Lowden 010 and the occasional nylon. The oddest instrument I’ve recorded with was a gourdalin, as featured on “Etude” from Drifting Into Oblivion. My current guitar is a limited edition Taylor 714—cedar top with grafted walnut back and sides. Regarding strings, Audio Electric Research produced a wonderful phosphor bronze string that has, unfortunately, been discontinued. In my opinion, Elixir is the only comparable brand that can withstand humidity and structural violence.

In terms of new studio gear, I have been simultaneously annoying and entertaining myself with an Electro-Harmonix POG2. It works surprisingly well on acoustic guitar—but moderation is a virtue.

MWE3: As we fully enter the second decade of the millennium do you have any hopes or aspirations as far as your music and/or the music world in general? What would you like to do next musically?

JD: Since I have lived in Nashville for over a decade, I feel justified when saying that the problem with today’s music “business” is not a supply-side issue—it’s a demand-side travesty. The economy of scarcity model that the industry has relied on for years seems to have dissipated to a large extent, but the democracy of the internet has demonstrated its own shortcomings via relativistic ubiquity. Hard copy CDs have been eschewed in favor of single digital downloads and YouTube reports over 35 hours of video being uploaded every minute. The term “artist” has completely lost context while the RIAA reports anywhere from 27,000 - 35,000 new releases every year, just in the United States! In addition, there appears to be no middle-class for working musicians. Economic outliers continue to exist, such as the fact that Kenny Chesney retains a higher pre-tax income per year than the combined revenue for the entire graduating class of Juilliard during the last decade. Music venues and ticket holders, spoiled by the exhibitionistic internet, have come to expect world-class performances and unrivaled entertainment value for minimal costs. If you synthesize these factors with a struggling economy, the visual becomes quite dispirited.

In lieu of all the aforementioned situational dynamics, an unsentimental realism can still be maintained while keeping the perspective that creating art of any medium should be immune to the fluctuations of social and economic circumstance. I have found that the visceral aesthetics of composing, recording, and performing never disappear, regardless of whether the value is purely recreational. As I mentioned in 2009, a forced sabbatical on touring has been endured but I hope to continue finding meaning in the compositional process. Likewise, my increased interest in improvisation and experimentation should provide endless frontiers on the musical landscape.

Thanks to John Danley @


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