The British guitarist Dave Evans, a real dazzler of a fingerpicker, has been recording since the early ’70s. His first entirely instrumental album was released in 1974. Entitled Sad Pig Dance, it might have attracted only farmers and policemen’s ball attendees, but nonetheless managed to do a great deal to set up Evans’ reputation in a somewhat crowded genre. This player’s compositions, particularly his harmonic frameworks, are quite different than better-known players such as John Renbourn or Bert Jansch; he sometimes sounds as if he is playing all of their guitars at once. What he is actually playing is a guitar he built himself, so any and all compliments for this unmistakably cavernous sound should go to Evans himself.
His great instrumental talents — including techniques involving alternate tunings and percussion-like sound effects — have continued to be an obsession among guitarists from the new age crowd to free improv noise guitar deviates; this fact tends to overshadow Evans’ work as a singer/songwriter. It was in this mode that he first presented himself to the listening public on the 1971 album entitled The Words in Between. It has been correctly pointed out by several critics that those were the days when a songwriter armed with a guitar was expected to really be able to play, not just to be a strum and humbum. It was Evans’ picking, not his singing, that attracted fellow guitarist and record label manager Stefan Grossman who, in the late ’70s, began documenting a variety of guitarists including Evans on the Kicking Mule label. Most of Evans’ best music from the ’70s has been reissued.
If you consider yourself an expert on folk but aren’t familiar with Dave Evans, it isn’t surprising. The acoustic guitarist never became well known, although not because of a lack of talent–Evans’ talent is obvious on 1974’s Sad Pig Dance, his first session for Kicking Mule. On this unaccompanied solo guitar outing (which was produced by Stefan Grossman), Evans’ focus is instrumental folk that incorporates elements of rock and Mississippi Delta blues. The British guitarist plays with a lot of warmth and feeling on such reflective, earthy originals as “Sun and Moon,” “Morocco John” and “Raining Cats and Dogs,” and he is equally appealing on Bert Jansch’s “Veronica” and jazz improviser Jimmy Giuffre’s “The Train and the River,” which lends itself nicely to a folk setting. Sad Pig Dance was out of print for many years, but in 1999, Fantasy reissued it on CD and added nine bonus tracks from 1976-78–four of them were originally heard on 1976’s Take A Bite out of Life. Unfortunately, recording albums wasn’t how Evans would end up earning a living; the 1980s and 1990s found him paying the bills by building and repairing instruments in Belgium. But the fact remains: Evans brings a lot of charisma to Sad Pig Dance. (by Alex Henderson)
One way that guitarists expand the harmonic possibilities of their instrument is through the use of open tunings. By tuning the guitar differently than the standard EADGBE arrangement (for instance, to an open chord), a whole new world of sounds and textures becomes available.
New age guitarists were quick to adopt this method to create beautiful melodies that went nowhere. Dave Evans, however, was one who coupled his love for open tunings with his knack for writing good songs and came up with a terrific album in Sad Pig Face, originally released in 1974 at the height of the finger-picking guitar movement. Evans is a minor figure on a scene dominated by Davey Graham, Bert Jansch, and others, and this is about all the recordings of his currently available. However, this is quite an album to rest his legacy upon, a near perfect recording full of strong melodies and nimble playing.
Evans manages to take a slew of diverse influences, from blues to rock to jazz and meld them into a style that never seems disconnected. Evans’ pieces are frequently lyrical and whimsical, form the playful “Chaplinesque” to the unconventional “Morocco John.” “Stagefright” is the rare long guitar instrumental that never wears thin and “Jessica” foreshadows the ambling musing of new age guitarists a decade later (yet in a much more interesting way.) There are twenty-three songs here, all of which demonstrate the vast range of possibilities for folk guitarists to explore. Those who play the guitar will be pleased to know that tablature for eleven of the songs here is included for study.
Sad Pig Dance is a marvel of an album, the kind that is so good it transcends its genre and just becomes good music. It’s an odd title for album so filled with pleasures. (by David Rickert)
Dave Evans (guitar)
01. Stagefright 3.44
02. Chaplinesque 1.11
03. The Train And The River 2.29
04. Veronica 2.21
05. Captain 2.37
06. Knuckles And Busters 2.37
07. Medley: Mole’s Moan (The Gentle Man Trap) 3.04
08. Sad Pig Dance 1.34
09. Raining Cats And Dogs 2.51
10. Braziliana 1.48
11. Sun And Moon 3.27
12. Steppenwolf 2.54
13. Morocco John 1.44
14. Sneaky 4.07
Music composed by Dave Evans