We all have that friend who can name-drop genius guitarists, long-ignored in favor of heavy riffers like Slash and Pete Townshend. This guy has a collection of John Fahey, Roy Harper and Leo Kottke albums and preaches the brilliance of Phil Keaggy. It’s likely that friend has heard the name Loren Connors, but considering the dearth of Connors’ early output and the small labels Connors has embraced in releasing his work, it’s fair to assume you now have your chance to become part of your friend’s conversations.
Indianapolis’ own Family Vineyard has been playing host to Loren Connors releases for nearly a decade. Connors’ history reads like the plot of Good Will Hunting, even including a stint as a janitor for his earliest champion (who did not know Connors was the office janitor). Connors is well-versed in Delta blues. This is evident on his first new work in five years, Red Mars, where he uses the haunting sounds of Mississippi to evoke the ghosts of the blues via his guitar.
Despite being broken into five tracks, Red Mars is a fluid composition. Connors’ minimalist approach, which is a calling card of much of his work, mimics the isolation of his subject matter. Wordless and windy, Red Mars buzzes with nothing but the solar breeze of carefully curated plucks and strums. The tone is deliberate and haunting. This is none more so prevalent than during the 10-minute “Red Mars II,” where deep bass thuds and discordant notes ratchet up the tension as our make-believe space explorer is engulfed by space madness; Connors’ docile timbre transformed into paranoid echoes and Martian machinery.
More than 30 years of recording has gilded Connors into a brilliant guitarist, always exploring the outer reaches of the instrument in whatever incarnation it takes. Red Mars, much like the graveyard-recorded The Curse of Midnight Mary, delves into the psyche of fight-or-flight reflexes. When we stand up to our fears, we are gifted a steely resolve; when we stand up to our knowledgeable friends, we give the gift of Loren Connors.