Don’t be turned off by the garish cover painting of a rather disturbed-looking young man in a cowboy hat standing in front of a car engulfed in flames. The seven acoustic guitar–driven instrumentals on Texas Panhandle native Hayden Pedigo’s latest album, The Happiest Times I Ever Ignored, are for the most part gentle, pastoral pieces that to me evoke picturesque outdoor landscapes and calm psychic spaces; not any sort of darkness or angst. It’s definitely Pedigo’s most “normal” album, and I mean that only positively: If you’ve heard other records he’s made over the past decade, you know that he loves to occasionally experiment with soundscapes and ambient atmospheres that can range from avant-garde noise to ghostly washes and odd textural choices that are often in stark contrast to the divinely expressive fingerpicking that is his bread and butter. It sometimes makes for a rather disjointed listening experience.
On The Happiest Times I Ever Ignored that weirdness has been dialed back, yet there are still plenty of inventive, tonally appropriate sonic and instrumental touches throughout that elevate what feels like a solo acoustic guitar album to something more expansive—Luke Schneider’s distant, crying pedal steel; very subtle bass on a couple of tracks from Robert Edmondson and producer/mixer/arranger Trayer Tryon (who also adds some barely discernible synth shimmers); and haunting electric guitar accompaniment from Pedigo himself on the title cut. Pedigo used a single acoustic on the album: a gorgeous-sounding Opus Acoustic 400 series model, built by luthier Theo Nicholas, whose small company is based in Adelaide, South Australia.
Though Pedigo has often cited John Fahey and Robbie Basho—the original American primitives—as primary inspirations for his style, a few of the songs on the new album have more of a Windham Hill feeling. Indeed, when Pedigo was asked on Reddit.com about writing the title track, he responded, “That song was just my attempt at writing a melodic Will Ackerman Windham Hill type of acoustic guitar piece! I just wanted a super simple melody.” And speaking more generally about mastering fingerstyle guitar, he advised, “just mess with as many open tunings as possible and focus on melody more than any kind of crazy technique. Listen to Will Ackerman: His playing is so simple, but he has the best melodies ever.”
Pedigo uses a host of inventive tunings on the album, including (to name just four): D# A# D# F A# C; G# D# G# C D# G#, capo V; F A# F A# C F, capo III; and G A D A E F#, capo IV.
Whether The Happiest Times I Ever Ignored is a conscious move in a more commercially palatable direction or just the latest phase of Pedigo’s fascinating evolution, its beautiful simplicity and appealing overall tone will almost certainly bring him a wider audience.