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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Wendy Eisenberg and Shane Parish - Nervous Systems (Verses Records, 2020) ***½

By Jack McKeon

Nervous Systems, a duo guitar album of works by Wendy Eisenberg with Shane Parish, offers the listener a joyful and organic collaboration from musicians who seem familiar with one another’s style. Eisenberg and Parish work well together, as they seem to share a fondness for ornate legato lines and hard-plucked strings. Across Nervous Systems, you can’t help but notice the sense of play that exists in these musicians. Eisenberg and Parish are bent on exciting and surprising each other, and their happiness is infectious.

Listening to Nervous Systems feels as intimate as sitting in on close friends passing guitars around. The album has the spirit of a home jam and the chops of two fabulously talented people. Like the home jam, however, the album lacks a sense of direction. Not wanting to be tied down in experimental abandon or deliver a composed duet, Eisenberg and Parish are at times stranded between two shores. “Fresh Bust,” the album’s opener, moves towards climaxes with poorly constructed tensions, causing the point of resolution to feel a bit hollow. The blame may lay in the length of the tracks. The average track on Nervous Systems clocks in between five or six minutes, not giving the players ample time to lean into their experiments. “Playing the Long Game,” correctly named given its length at eleven minutes (which feels eternal in the atmosphere of the rest of the album), shows that the duo are capable of producing affecting longer work. In the latter half of “Long Game,” one player lays a sonic ground floor with subdued yet agile tremolo picking. With this hypnotizing drone in place, the other player travels across the fretboard to the upper register to play a series of peregrinations, all to quietly resolve back in the bass.

These moments of support abound on Nervous Systems, but you may be left wanting. If they would let the tape run just a bit more, this album could truly astound. That being said, Eisenberg and Parish have produced an album that is rough-hewn in the best sense of the words. Laughter can be heard at the close of tracks, and the sound of guitar picks colliding with the body of the guitar after a particularly emphatic riff conjures an organic, playful mood more interested in showcasing a collaborative experiment than in achieving technical perfection. In that spirit, Nervous Systems pairs well with a cup of tea and a sunny afternoon with friends. Pleasant but not complacent, it is a sound worth sharing.