Alexander: The Elegant Melodies Shine Through

Album art doesn’t always offer the best insight into the music contained within, but the cover of David Shapiro’s 2017 full-length debut actually conveys something vital about what’s on the record. It is creamy white, with the single word, “Alexander” written across the middle in a controlled, elegant style of cursive calligraphy. Similarly, Shapiro’s solo acoustic-guitar music is confident, sturdy and gracefully pared down. (Alexander is Shapiro’s middle name and the one that he records and performs under.)

The musician is based in New Haven, Conn., where he also plays guitar backing the enigmatic and emotionally potent singer-songwriter Kath Bloom. After apprenticing with a luthier in Vermont several years ago, Shapiro built a few guitars, among them the main three that he currently plays and records with. That connection with the architecture, warmth and tone of the instrument extends into his original music, which possesses a clarity that is never severe in its austerity. There has been a renaissance of unaccompanied acoustic guitar music recently, building on the tradition established by John Fahey and Robbie Basho. “Probably the main thing that I do is I try to write fingerpicking tunes that are composed all the way through,” Shapiro says. In places, there’s a brooding chromaticism and dissonance to Shapiro’s playing, but the elegant melodies shine through. The music falls more on the pensive, monastic side of things than the buzzing, scraping and ecstatic end.

Like many artists whose touring routines were sidelined during the pandemic, Shapiro has a lot of material—two albums’ worth—waiting to be recorded and released. One new twist for the musician is that he’s picked up the banjo over the past three or four years and has started writing new solo pieces on the instrument, which he hopes to include on a future release. As he says, “I’ve been trying to avoid sounding like a guitar player playing another instrument.”

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