Though perhaps best-known in the acoustic guitar world for his tapping and percussive skills as showcased on his popular 2001 album Le Bleu (which he recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in England), Oregon-born but now Brooklyn-based Justin King has enjoyed a varied career in and outside of music. Growing up he was a fan of Nirvana and other Northwest groups and took up both drums and guitar. In his late teens he moved into fingerstyle acoustic music, inspired by Will Ackerman and other Windham Hill guitarists—especially Michael Hedges, the most influential of all the percussive “tappers.” He toured as a solo opening act for the likes of James Taylor, B.B. King, and Al Green, but then formed a band called Justin King and the Apologies, which mixed melodic electric rock with some of his acoustic guitar flights.

When that band had run its course, King immersed himself in another one of his passions—photography. He managed to get embedded as a photographer documenting the Oregon National Guard on two tours in Afghanistan (in 2008 and 2009), then went to Haiti in 2010 to capture that country’s struggles after its devastating earthquake that year. In between all that he found the time to cut an album called Humilitas Occidit Superbiam, on which he played guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, and even cello. He built his Vinegar Hill Sound recording studio in Brooklyn, and it was in that city that he formed his current rock group, King Radio, who released their excellent self-titled debut (recorded by Jim Scott) in the fall of 2015. In that eclectic band, which blends elements of folk, soul, country, rock, gospel, and more, King plays electric and acoustic guitars and keyboards. (King subsequently sold Vinegar Hill to engineer Reed Black.)

For Acoustic Guitar Sessions, King came alone, and performed two songs: The ballad “Sisters,” which appears in a more fleshed-out (but still acoustic-driven) version on King Radio, and one of his finest percussive instrumentals, “Taps” (from Le Bleu). A talented cat, for sure. That beautiful guitar is a Kalavinka custom dreadnought, with an Adirondack spruce top and cocobolo back and sides.

 

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