Guitarist George Bedard is a pure local treasure. The unveiling of his new all-instrumental album, Pickin' Apart the Past, at Top of the Park on July 10 ought to be accorded local holiday status, but he'll be happy if you just show up and share the moment with a remarkable musician who has developed his craft in local barrooms over the past few decades, unsupported by any institution or critical apparatus. It's an occasion for giving the man proper respect.
Variety and craft, more than blinding speed (although he's capable of that, too) have always been the hallmarks of Bedard's style, and both are abundant on Pickin' Apart the Past. His music is rooted in what might by now be called traditional rock 'n' roll, and in his quest for the memorable riff, he's an heir of the Chicago blues players who inspired the great rock guitarists and whom he heard in the clubs and at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival as a teen. But his artistry extends to many of the mainstreams of twentieth-century music: to straight country, pop (the new album contains a spot-on version of the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), and a remarkable amount of jazz in which he artfully reduces ensemble arrangements to the dimensions of a small rock band. He's a guitar polymath.
Bedard's new album of instrumentals is a more personal statement than most of his other recordings and performances with the various bands of which he's been part. He performs with longtime associates, including bassist Randy Tessier and drummer Rich Dishman, but mostly in trios or quartets, with the focus on his own guitar. In the booklet notes for Pickin' on the Past he discusses the processes, some of them years or decades long, by which he mastered individual pieces; with luck he'll talk more about these homages during his Top of the Park show.
But really it's we Ann Arborites who should be paying homage. George Bedard is a craftsman in a music whose primary aesthetic has been do-it-yourself, a local hero in a business where most people split for the big city, and a thinker who has worked out styles to their depths instead of pursuing the shock of the new. Every note in his solos is considered, every texture related to the harmony. The end result is music that gets into your bones.
[Originally published in July, 2011.]
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