But the good humor--coupled with great taste--keeps Cline in check. On Coward, the centrifugal force of the guitarist's many interests never seems haphazard or unmotivated. There's a bit more ECM to the overall mix than I might have expected, evoking Ralph Towner and Egberto Gismonti in their halcyon days; unlike ECM, though, the sound is never unnecessarily bathed in reverb. Cline doubles acoustic guitar notes with multitracked "autoharp/zither things" on the epic 18-and-a-half minutes of "Rod Poole's Gradual Ascent To Heaven," producing a density of string textures and shimmering just-off-pitch harmonies pierced by brilliant single-note runs. With her recent string fixation, PJ Harvey should consider deploying Cline.
Some pieces, like the slide-intensive "The Nomad's Home," have a more song-like organization. Elswhere, there are more ambient, droning excursions, including the bookends that open and end the disc ("Epiphyllum" and "Cymbidium"), while the episodic "Onan Suite;" (there's the self-deprecating sense of humor) sports some vent-like, thwacking noise passages, mixed with radiant strumming and '60s psych and progressive rock (Pink Floyd looms large in the dreadnought chording), and a hilarious, ripping finale that begs to be heard. On the post-Branca electric romp "Thurston County," Cline nods at Thurston Moore with chiming strums beyond the nut, crystalline slide and a great anthemic jam that might be the bed for a vintage Sonic Youth song. -John Corbett --Downbeat