It’s easy to forget that Daniel Bachman hasn’t been playing guitar all that long. On Jesus I’m a Sinner, his latest collection of acoustic picking, the quick tunes bustle with tidy determination, and the pensive ones bask in full and sumptuous tones. He grounds himself in the blues and folk basics relied on by his American primitive forbears, but he makes room for diverse embellishments — the fiddle that frolics on “Happy One Step,” the mystifying murmurs of “Under the Shade of the Trees.”
He’s 24 years old and has a boyish face that makes him look a good deal younger, but Bachman (who appears at The Mothlight on Wednesday, Jan. 22) plays with the assured grace of a time-tested veteran. His is the kind of proficiency that can only come from hours upon hours of practice and performance. He may be young, but he has most certainly paid his dues.
“It’s really, seriously all I do, man,” he laughs during a recent phone interview. “I just sit and practice all f**king day and email an absurd amount of people [about shows]. Never stop. Just keep pushing.”
His determination led him quickly from the banjo-based drones he explored as a teenager to the complex picking he now spends his days refining. It’s been Bachman’s obsession since he was introduced to the music of John Fahey at age 16, and he has pursued it relentlessly. Since 2011, he has released four solo albums along with an array of singles, cassettes and collaborative efforts. Last year, he played more than 200 shows, and though 2013 also saw his daunting schedule complicated by a move from Fredericksburg, Va., to Chapel Hill, he still found time to knock out another record before Thanksgiving. If all goes according to plan, it’ll come out this spring. True to his word, Bachman never stops.
Jesus benefits greatly from this quickly accrued experience. At once Bachman’s most diverse and cohesive outing, the album finds him fashioning varied ideas into tightly structured pieces that still form a unified collection. Take the opening duo of “Sarah Anne” and “Honeysuckle Reel.” The first song’s laid-back shuffle highlights the immersive rattle and hum of his rustic technique. “Honeysuckle Reel” is quicker and more severe, moving with steely vigor, but “Sarah Anne” primes listeners’ ears, encouraging them to enjoy the intricacy and warmth of Bachman’s plucks.
Where previous efforts, such as last year’s heady and high-strung Seven Pines, have focused almost exclusively on his speedier tunes, Jesus indulges in a broader approach, one that reflects the guitarist’s growing confidence. “I always wanted to slow things down a little bit, and I've finally been able to do that,” Bachman says. “I don't know why I've never been able to do that before. I think I'm just getting older and starting to feel it out a little bit more. I really wanted to have that room where it could start slow, build up, have low notes, and have a more crawling pace and build back up. I like records like that. I've been trying to do stuff like that for a while, and I'm just starting to tap into it. When I play live, I've been really trying to switch it up a lot, so it's not just an hour of driving you into the ground.”
To that end, Bachman’s next record will include a lot more lap steel, a change that should smooth out his often busy aesthetic. Last year, he toured and and shared bills with many other guitarists, some of whom, like Nashville’s William Tyler and Philadelphia’s Chris Forsyth, fill out their ideas with elaborate orchestrations and the bombast of full-on rock bands. But Bachman is still enamored with his acoustic tools. He strives to execute one style exceptionally well, and while his listeners might disagree, he still feels he has plenty of room for improvement.
“It's never stale, or at least that's how I feel,” he says. “There's some stuff that obviously will sound like previous songs or hooks that are like embellished on or whatever. Sticking with just one thing for me is what I have to do because there's a lot of stuff that I want to do that I haven't done yet and that I want to get better at. It's really all I want to do.”
who: Daniel Bachman with Stephen Molyneux
where: The Mothlight, themothlight.com
when: Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 8:30 p.m. $5