Shawn Persinger is Prester John
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Shawn Persinger is Prester John


Band Alternative Avant-garde


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"Ptolemaic Terrascope"

If you've ever wondered what "modern/primitive guitar" was or what it sounded like, look no further than the informative, self-penned liner notes of Connecticut guitarist Shawn Persinger's third solo album, mysteriously billed (for "marketing" reasons) as noted above. Deriving inspiration from artists as diverse as Eugene Chadbourne, Leo Kottke, John Fahey and Marc Ribot, Persinger explains that some of the elements of "modern/primitive guitar" include "dissonance, non traditional song structure, angular melodies, odd metres, rhythmic invention." all favourite aspects, to be sure, of the majority of the music in the collections of readers of this magazine!
As performed here exclusively on acoustic guitar, it's Fahey's and Kottke's work that may be the most obvious reference points, although tracks like the playful ‘Zero Percent,’ the infectious ‘30 Krowns 300 Zlotys’ and ‘Betray Your Country’ had me making mental comparisons to Terrastock favourite Pat Orchard, while the lightning fast, nimble-fingered ‘Talking Dumb’ will appeal to fans of the early work of the gifted Mick Wills, and ‘Sandpaper Polish’ and ‘Dot.Another Dot’ will leave the "howdy doodat" crowd picking their jaws off the floor.
While the headspinning dizziness of the variety, intensity and intricacy of the tracks may seem daunting at first, the best advice is to pop it on and sit back and enjoy some of the most varied guitar playing you're likely to hear this year, particularly if you're a fan of Terrascopic favourites like Glenn Jones, Steffen Basho-Junghans, The Durutti Column's Vini Reilly and Roy Montgomery, as well as the aforementioned Wills, Orchard, and Fahey - comparisons Persinger eagerly welcomes, claiming, rather magnanimously, "I have no interest in flag planting." (Jeff Penczak) - Modern/Primitive Guitar


Charles Young, a onetime Rolling Stone writer who found his way to the magazine Musician in the early 90s, spent much of his time trying to be Lester Bangs Jr. It was a pleasant surprise to see him speak up in favor of what he called "one person/one instrument" music, possibly in a review of a Windham Hill release, if memory serves. (He mentioned its appeal to "one person/one typewriter" types, which of course encompasses most of us populating this website.) I'm not sure whether it was Leo Kottke or Keith Jarrett I heard first, but both of them planted an appreciation for "one person/one instrument" music which continues to be evident in my collection.

As those two examples indicate, the "one person/one instrument" road cuts through many musical territories. Its heritage includes figures as lofty as Bach and as rough-hewn as Robert Johnson, and its modern representatives can be as banal as George Winston and as arcane as Derek Bailey.

Shawn Persinger started out with second-generation proggers Boud Deun, but here he places his work firmly in the "one person/one instrument" tradition. Scanning the cover, one first notices the album title, then sees that he bills himself as "Shawn Persinger is Prester John." Then the back cover lists titles such as "Blood Jokes," "Betray Your Country" and "Stupid, Stupid Rain" for a series of 19 pieces totaling 45 minutes. One might think that Persinger was offering a skewed variation on Kottke and John Fahey's style. And one would be right.

Unlike those influences, Persinger's work is often dissonant. He's apt to include string-scraping in the "melody" of a piece, as he does in "Equine Medley," and to start out with some folky meandering only to quickly upend it, as he does in "Sherman Hairpin." However, the whimsical nature of his writing makes it only a hair less inviting than Fahey's once was and Kottke's still is. He's as deft a picker as those two, also.

For a reference more suited to, there's Keller Williams, whom Persinger cites on his website as "fantastic (if a little too cheerful for my normal taste)." If you can relate to that, this disc is worth tracking down.

The only shortcoming here is that the CD could use more variety -- perhaps in the form of (shudder) vocals. As a layout of the rules for Persinger's form of Modern/Primitive Guitar, though, this disc works as a new entry in the pantheon of "one person/one instrument" music. - Modern/Primitive Guitar

"Acoustic Guitar Magazine"

The extended moniker Shawn Persinger uses on this CD hints at the unusual musical journeys taken by each of his unique guitar solos. Working from a complicated and varied pool of influences—modernist painters; composers like Astor Piazzolla, Igor Stravinsky, and Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart); and guitarists Janet Feder and Marc Ribot—Persinger’s compositions suggest the grooves of Leo Kottke, John Fahey, and Michael Hedges coupled with the harmonic sensibilities of guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, saxophonist John Zorn, and 20th-century “new music.” Persinger, who has dubbed his paradoxical style “modern/primitive” (after a parallel movement in visual art), draws sound from every part of his guitar, using body slaps, behind-the-nut notes, scraping, neck bending, unusual tuning schemes, and assorted instrument preparations. But this “abuse” yields pleasing musical results. The rhythmic pulse pulls the listener forward while the repetition of short phrases creates familiarity amid the quirky sounds and playful melodic anarchy. - Gary Joyner - Modern/Primitive Guitar

"Taylor Guitars' Wood and Steel"

Shawn Persinger has defined his career by playing hard-to-define music. During the mid ’90s, Persinger tended electric guitar with the Washington, DC-based, progressive fusion quartet Boud Deun, which drew widespread acclaim for its early-Crimson-meets-Mahavishnu sound and for tight improvisational shows that harnessed the energy of early-’80s punk bands like DC’s Minor Threat.
In recent years, Persinger has retooled his artistry for solo acoustic guitar as a self-dubbed “Modern/Primitivist”, boldly bending the conventions of song structure into fresh, inventive forms. Persinger seems interested in expanding the language of the six-string, exploring musical paradoxes, reveling in corkscrew figures, angular melodies, and elements of dissonance, and frequently using such techniques to playfully juxtapose repetition with abrupt change.

Before the more traditionally minded guitar fans among you scream “Avant-garde!” and bolt for the exits, be assured that Persinger’s freewheeling instincts are “grounded” in more accessible stylistic forebears like Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges; there is both an inviting warmth and virtuosic grace in his nimble fingers on his latest outing, The Art of Modern/Primitive Guitar.

Persinger’s playing is informed by influences that stretch far and wide, across both musical and visual art forms, also drawing from his exotic travels. Avant-garde jazz composers Henry Threadgill and John Zorn; classical visionary Igor Stravinsky; guitarists Marc Ribot, Henry Kaiser, and Taylor clinician Mike Keneally; painters Picasso, Joan Miró, and Paul Klee; and assorted films have all inspired Persinger’s work. Persinger also is a kindred musical torchbearer of the late fingerstylist, John Fahey, whose “American Primitive” approach, a key source point for Persinger, brought dramatic innovation to acoustic guitar music in the mid-’60s, and profoundly inspired Kottke.

Whether anyone can truly be original anymore is debatable, but on The Art of Modern/Primitive Guitar, Persinger makes a strong statement as an artist on his own path. Not only has he assimilated a wealth of diverse influences, he has navigated the important artistic process of learning and then unlearning, earning creative freedom in the process.

Of the album’s 19 tracks, most clock in at under three minutes — half of them don’t go beyond two minutes — and the portion control keeps them from overstaying their welcome. Whether the brevity is a conscious influence of punk, Persinger seems keenly aware of the power of a one-minute punk song, and that approach safeguards against progressive music’s vulnerability to ambitious overindulgence. Persinger also happens to be capable of expressing more in a minute than are most guitarists.

Much of the album conveys a visceral, intimate feel — one can imagine Persinger hunched over the soundboard, tapping, plucking, and sliding — and he manages to blend a classicist’s sophistication with a sense of impish spontaneity. The bold rhythmic complexity challenges the listener, yet also rewards the attuned ear with rich surprises. In the same way a vibrant poet reconfigures the language to create a unique impression, Persinger’s tone poems play with the familiar syntax of acoustic music. It may leave you feeling off-kilter at first, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Zero Percent” explores variations on a sly, feline figure that manages to feel at once both sinister and amiable. “Talking Dumb” dispenses a turbo-tempo rhythmic juggernaut in a modal tuning with a Middle Eastern flair. “Equine Medley” blends virtuosic power and grace, finishing off with a DiMeola-like flourish. “Leaving Jerusalem” incorporates an insistent circular bass line infused with a sprightly, fingerpicked melody line. “An Extra Dollar” plays off a recurring samba rhythm, adding fingerstyle filigree. “Stupid, Stupid Rain” indelibly etches a moody tension into the air. Throughout the album, Persinger locates the musical crossroads where cerebral and intuitive instincts coalesce in a fresh way.

Fans of Mike Keneally and onetime Taylor clinician Richard Leo Johnson are sure to embrace Persinger’s work; if you’re interested in escaping the box and getting in touch with your modern/primitive side, perhaps you will too. - Jim Kirlin - Modern/Primitive Guitar


If, to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the mark of a great artist is being able to keep two contradictory notions in mind and still function, then Persinger’s musical abilities know few bounds. – Ken Smith - The Art of...


...thrill to his technical mastery and exhilarating riffs [they] point to bold new directions. - Sam Prestianni - Outsider


Brace yourself, Shawn Persinger lunges toward you like a sharp knife. He's edgy and articulate and opens with a stab of violence with "It Rains A Lot." It features a couple in bed, and let's just say it's not your typical love song. In fact, Persinger follows it with the instrumental "Pony Is Delinquent" to allow the listener to decompress. He parses the CD with skillful guitar instrumentals, which sound somewhere between classical, Spanish, and New Age. These instrumentals are essential to the success of this CD, or it could overload the listener with its powerfully dark subjects and images. Persinger runs to the avant edge of singer-songwriters, yet the sound is strictly acoustic, consisting of just Persinger's voice (sometimes double-tracked) and his brilliant guitar work. He frequently produces lightning lines of poetry. The terse, arresting lyrics set off by his intricate, sparse guitar work create a highly original, engaging sound, although not one for casual listening. If you're bored with the crowd and willing to feel the cold metal and hot acid of Persinger's songs, you'll revel in his original and intriguing music. - Rich Warren - Peerless Review


SOLO: Acoustic Guitar and Vocals

All instrumental
Shawn Persinger is Prester John
Released: May 4th, 2004 on Innova Records
Limited Edition Release: December 2003 on 6 or 7 Records

Shawn Persinger is Prester John
10 Instrumentals, 5 Vocal songs
Released: September 2001 on E.H.P.

Shawn Persinger is Prester John
12 Instrumentals, 4 Vocal songs
Released: February 2000 on E.H.P.

BOUD DEUN: Avant-Rock Group: All Instrumental

Boud Deun
Released: September 1998 on Cuneiform

Boud Deun
Released: March 1998 on E.H.P./Syzygy

Boud Deun
Released: May 1997 on Cuneiform

Boud Deun
Released: August 1995 on E.H.P.


Compilation CD of Acoustic Guitar pieces.
Includes one previously unreleased track,
"An Extra Dollar" by Shawn Persinger is Prester John.
Released: May 2002 on Cunieform

Compilation CD of "Jam" bands,
featuring one previously unreleased,
live, BOUD DEUN track. By the way Shawn had
NOTHING to do with the title of this record or the cover art.
Released: May 1999 on Shanachie


Released: April 2002 on Pretentious Dinosaur.
Shawn plays on 1 track of this least
the liner notes say he does.

Released: April 2000 on Out of Phase.
Shawn plays on 5 tracks of this release
from former BOUD DEUN drummer, Rocky Cancelose,
and UNCLE GUT bassist, Mike Galaway.


Music for the film, "MAIN STATION" by Laura Horak
Scored for: Flute, Clarinet, Piano, Violin and Cello
Released (limited): December 2002



"Stunningly gifted." - GUITAR PLAYER
"Unique and groundbreaking...borders on brilliant." - RELIX
"Thrill to his technical mastery and exhilarating riffs [they] point to bold new directions." - JAZZIZ

Recently returned home from a 4-month world tour (documented in the Nov. 2007 issue of Guitar Player Magazine) Persinger is primed and ready to tour the States once again.

Shawn Persinger is among the most innovative and eclectic composers, guitarists, singer/songwriters performing today. He's been called a cross between The Violent Femmes and Leo Kottke; Stravinsky composed for AC/DC; a mix of Ani DiFranco and John McLaughlin; Michael Hedges plays The Minutemen; but what he really is, is what countless critics have written, "A true original." Drawing on a wealth of influences Shawn has combined the best of rock, jazz, folk, concert, world music and the avant-garde to develop a sound that is uniquely his own.

From his work with the groundbreaking avant-rock band, Boud Deun, to his solo guitar music; his aggressive folksinger style to his pieces for the �concert� music world; Shawn has proven that his musical sensibility is unlimited. Shawn has released three solo CDs in the past four years: �Peerless,� �Reasonable Horse,� and his most recently released record, �The Art of Modern/Primitive Guitar,� all of which have earned him international popular and critical acclaim.

Praise for his playing ability and composition style by publications as far reaching as Rolling Stone, Guitar World, The Washington Post, The Village Voice and countless others, has helped Shawn sell thousands of CDs worldwide. With continuos national airplay, an endorsement from Elixir Guitar Strings and support from Taylor Guitars� �Discover the Indies� program Shawn is continuing to develop a wide and diverse following throughout the world.

Since 1999 Shawn has been touring the planet, playing on 5 continents, in 35 countries and countless cities. Success has followed him throughout Europe, Asia and, of course, North America. He is currently touring the states and is continuing to develop sounds that, like Tom Mulhern of Guitar Shop said, �Will have your fingers wondering if they can do that.�