Hellbound Train – Absolute Sound Review

The Absolute Sound · December 2022

Steve Tibbetts: Hellbound Train: An Anthology. ECM (2 CDs).

Steve Tibbetts is less famous than some other guitarists in the ECM catalog, such as Ralph Towner, Terje Rypdal, Pat Metheny, and Bill Frisell. This 2-CD retrospective shows why he deserves equal attention. As obsessive in his sequencing as he is in layering his compositions, Tibbetts sampled the endings and beginnings of 28 pieces and programmed the songs into a non-chronological narrative flow. The first CD emphasizes Tibbetts’ molten, heavily amped electric guitar sounds, entwined with Marc Anderson’s congas, percussion, and gongs. Various guests added bass, synthesizer, tabla, and voice. The second disc focuses on the guitarist’s 6-and-12-string acoustic playing, solo and in tandem with Anderson’s percussion. Tibbetts also plays percussion, dobro, piano, and kalimba, with additional musicians augmenting a few tracks. Melodies burble up from the stream of thumping and percolating rhythms or whisper like breezes through an aspen grove, all informed by Tibbetts’ travels to Nepal and Bali. In its bombastic, post-Hendrix squalls and chamber-folk minimalism (there’s a brilliant interpretation of Jimmy Page’s “Black Mountain Side”), the music prioritizes texture and flow in vast ambient spaces, inviting the listener’s full immersion and surrender.

-Derk Richardson