If ever there was a player who deserves to be venerated as a true living blues guitar maestro, here is the guy. He pulls off razzle-dazzle stuff that virtually nobody else can muster.
If ever you hear people say that the old blues are crude and primitive, let them hear some of the best of the best, the intricate ragtime guitar pickers of the golden era, like Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller, or amazing jazzy blues guitar solo-stylists like Lonnie Johnson. Almost every blues fan in the early stages asked the perennial question when hearing these string giants, “Yeah, but who is the other guy playing with him?” Of course, there was no “other guy.” Those mind-boggling “muscianers” were brilliant super virtuosos, en par with the best musicians of all times in any genre. They played such intricate and complicated fingerpicking with a walking bass beat on the top strings and snazzy solo lines on the treble strings while miraculously playing melody in the middle that it sounded like a string ensemble. Most guitarists today just marvel at their breathtaking demigod skills and even those daring mortals who attempt to emulate those maestros can spend a lifetime working at it and just get “pretty good” – but there are a few people on the planet who come close to mastering the styles of those geniuses of bygone days.
Foremost among them is a diminutive guy in Pennsylvania who is really an acoustic guitar monster, the biggest meanest of them all, the Sauroposeidon of the acoustic blues guitar. They failed to include him in the Rolling Stone Top 100 best guitarist list, but don’t let that fool you. It shows you what they know. Ari Eisinger was left off because only he plays old, archaic, unpopular music.
Close your eyes and listen to Pennsylvania bluesman Ari Eisinger play and sing and you will enjoy a thoroughly rewarding musical experience. You will believe unquestionably that he is the walking reincarnate of the old time ragtime pickers. He plays with such dazzling, seemingly effortless mastery, feeling every nuance and inflection while effortlessly whipping out the most complicated fingerpicking patterns. You will think there are three people playing and he not only hits every note, he plays so beautifully, so heartfelt and stunningly, all you can do is gasp for air. Realistically, within all reason and without doubt, Ari Eisinger gets as close to perfection as any player on the planet when it comes to mastering the old ragtime & country blues style.
"Contrary to the rumors, blues and ragtime guitarist Ari Eisinger has only 10 fingers. It just sounds as if he has more. His mission is to preserve the classic blues and ragtime tunes from the 1920s and 1930s." – The Plain Dealer
"He’s a fingerpicking guitar player par excellence who specializes in country blues and ragtime from the 1920s and 1930s... His playing is astoundingly complex and precise, obviously reverential yet filled with personal touches... A brilliant musician... he sounds like four people playing at once." – The Philadelphia Inquirer
Ari Eisinger is one of the most dazzling country blues and ragtime guitarists playing today. Listen to his astonishing performances of the music of Blind Blake and you will hear things no guitar player has managed to pull off since Blake himself disappeared in the early 1930s. The sportin’ right hand, the piano rhythms, the notes everybody else leaves out - they’re all there. “One of the finest fingerpickers I’ve heard anywhere,” “One of the top guitarists in the country,” “One of the finest interpreters of tradi-tional blues and ragtime” - these are just a few of the reactions from critics and fellow musicians to Ari’s remarkable way with the blues of the 1920s and ‘30s. Able to shift effortlessly from complex East Coast ragtime to the propulsive rhythm of the guitar evangelists to down-home Texas country blues, Ari is one of the most authentic musicians you are ever likely to encounter.
His interpretations of the songs of masters like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Memphis Minnie and Reverend Gary Davis have been called “downright spooky” for the way the styles of these pioneering guitar heroes are brought vibrantly back to life. Whether he is taking on the crystal tone and virtuosity of Lonnie Johnson or the liquid bends of Josh White played on a low-tuned Stella guitar, Ari deftly recalls the great music of the past while bring-ing his own brilliant musical personality to bear on some of the neglected classics of the blues.
Based in Philadelphia, Ari has toured across the US and performed in the UK and Japan, shar-ing the bill along the way with artists like Doc Watson, John Jackson, Dave Van Ronk, Paul Geremia and Taj Mahal. He has led guitar classes both in the US and the UK, and he is a featured instructor for Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop. Opportunities to see him in concert don’t happen nearly as often as fans would like, so this collection of Ari performing some of his favorite material, filmed in 2001 and 2009, will be a welcome treat.
Titles include: Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed, Southern Rag, Blues in E (improvisation), Frankie, Drunken Barrel House Blues, When The Levee Breaks, Hunkie Tunkie Blues, Lonnie Johnson style Blues in D, Match Box Blues, Piney Woods Money Mama, Rabbit Foot Blues, One Dime Blues, That Will Never Happen No More, Rope Stretchin’ Blues, Hard Road Blues, Chump Man Blues, You Don’t Understand, If You See My Saviour, But They Got It Fixed Right On and Wabash Rag.
Running Time: 98 minutes
Review: In case you missed out on catching Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, or even Memphis Minnie perform their feats of wonder live on an ancient Southern street corner, acoustic guitar ace Ari Eisinger vicariously affords a second chance now. Close your eyes, and the Philadelphian with the magic chops summons back string-dazzlers; from the distant era of scratchy 78s - but without any accompanying surface noise. Even the phrasing and inflections of his understated singing are sepia tinted, just perfect for yelping out "Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed" atop melancholy strings. Still, it's the radar in his blurred hands which astounds, flying through a dexterous mix of ragtime and country blues. Minnie's pre-Led'ed "When The Levee Breaks," Lonnie Johnson's single-string leads, Jefferson's slow drag through "Piney Woods Money Mama," Blake's ingeniousness tucked into "Rope Stretchin' Blues," the humble hypnosis of Mississippi John Hurt's "Frankie": Eisinger is all of those idiosyncrasies rolled into one combustible source. Conversing and playing, his Guitar Artistry DVD is far more inspirational than instructional. – Dennis Rozanski/BluesRag
Review: Ari Eisinger doesn't look like your typical bluesman. A science teacher, maybe, but not a blues singer/guitarist. Which proves Willie Dixon's line - "You can't judge a book by looking at the cover."
Behind his low-key demeanor and DIY aesthetic, Eisinger can play the blues - specifically country blues of the '20s and '30s - about as well as anybody alive. The Philadelphian has released only two CDs on his Second Wind label (his debut, You Don't Understand and 2005's That Will Never Happen No More) and, having tackled the styles of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, and Blind Boy Fuller in previous instructional videos, he now climbs the Mount Everest of ragtime/blues - the music of Blind Blake.
But the bigger news is the DVD devoted to his own playing, The Guitar Artistry Of Ari Eisinger. As is clearly evident by his graying, receding hair, the video was taped in two sessions. In the 2001 session, Eisinger plays a 1960 Gibson LG-1; in the 2009 session, he plays a parlor-sized Stella Concert from approximately 1920. After singing "Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed," a song usually associated with Josh White, the 52-year-old talks about his first guitar lessons with Roger Sprung and later studying with Bob Zaidman, as well as soaking up LP reissues of blues 78s. In the 90-minute DVD, he goes on to illustrate the influence of Mississippi John Hurt, Charlie Jordan, Rev. Gary Davis, and others, but as he shows in an improvised blues in E, he is more than a walking time capsule; he's got a few tricks of his own. And his singing is expressive and personal with a refreshing lack of affectation. As he explains, he didn't take the typical journey backward from rock and roll to blues; he wasn't aware of Led Zeppelin's cover of "When The Levee Breaks" until recently but already knew the original version by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy. Though they recorded it as a duet (with Minnie on lead), Eisinger plays a fantastic arrangement for solo guitar.
He makes a strong point concerning influential players versus artists who were just plain great, influential or not. Lonnie Johnson is an example of an extremely influential player who remains unsung. Eisinger makes the point that Johnson's single-string style influenced everyone from Charlie Christian and B.B. King onward, illustrating it with a grab bag of Johnson licks (perfectly capturing his vibrato) in D. – Dan Forte/Vintage Guitar
Review: I thought I'd seen everything in a previous Stefan Grossman DVD, The Guitar Artistry of Geoff Muldaur . But now along comes Ari Eisinger, whose stupendous ability will make anyone struggling to master acoustic blues guitar immediately put their axe up for sale on e-Bay. As with the Muldaur show, here we have one man, a nice, gentle cherubic figure, talking about his career between some frankly unbelievable finger picking on tunes such as Barrel House Blues, If You See My Saviour and Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed. Apart from the incandescent fingerwork Eisinger surprises you with his strong, clear vocals. Unlike the older Muldaur, who knew, met with and learned from many of the now dead, great legendary bluesmen, Ari has had to learn third-hand, from records and transcriptions, and his grasp of this classic material is exemplary. All hail Stefan Grossman for continuing to expose to the world a stable of dedicated musical craftsmen like Ari Esinger, a man who proves that the tradition we know and love is in the safest hands possible. – Roy Bainton/Bluesmatters