REVIEW: Ian C. Bouras — A Blind Painter’s Guide to Coloring Breath (LP)
I confess unfamiliarity with Ian Bouras and his music but his life story is difficult to forget. Bouras has continued writing songs and playing guitar in the face of the rare neurological disease Ataxia. It has demanded he approach his chosen instrument in a different way before but A Blind Painter’s Guide to Coloring Breath and his previous releases testify to his success discovering new ways of expressing himself.
The eight songs on this release are demos. Health issues hospitalized Bouras numerous times during 2020 in a variety of psychiatric units. He is now released but experienced a disconnect with the guitar and material alike after returning to it. “A Fleeting Life in a Square”, however, doesn’t sound like any demo to me. There’s little traditional about Bouras’ approach, but the recognizable elements present in his songwriting and playing alike shape this track into a powerful listening experience.
His talent for bringing emotion out through his music is unlike anyone else playing today. Bouras’ work has an improvised feel, but it likewise sounds like he begins each track with at least an initial melodic idea he wants to explore. “Murals of Moments at the Devil’s Tea Party” is an ideal example of this method in practice.
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It fills the same expanded canvas heard in many of Bouras’ other tracks. Bouras threads his instrumental performances together like a painter, each note a light and automated brush stroke deepening the color of that initial swipe. “Perspectives” is more herky-jerky at the outset, a deliberate feint for new listeners grown accustomed to Bouras’ working to his obvious strengths.
This isn’t the album’s only musical turn. “The Darkness That Clothed an Angel”, however, will be a favorite for many listeners. His boundary pushing reaches another level here but his gentleness does as well — it is a sensitively wrought arrangement that obviously means a great deal to Bouras.
“The Necessity of Continual Movement” is the final musical turn on this release. Far shorter than any other track, the condensed line of attack he takes during this song is a notable break with its predecessors. His music thrives in this economical model — his ideas are much more succinctly stated than earlier performances.
“Weeks Become Months, and Memories Become Melodies” returns listeners to the familiar ground of extended instrumentals but it suits this track. The thematic consistency underlying everything he does is a central strength of Ian Bouras’ work and few songs in his discography embody that better than this performance. Bouras may have never gotten the chance to refine and polish the performances on A Blind Poet’s Guide to Coloring Breath to the level he wanted, but it is nonetheless a thoroughly worthwhile release. He may always view this album as the one that got away but I hope not. There’s nothing to be worried or regretful about with this compelling collection of instrumental tracks; Ian Bouras has released one of the year’s finest musical efforts and it will likely stand for years to come as one of his best works.