AMN Reviews: J.R. Bohannon – Compulsions (2022; Astral Editions)

The isolation of lockdown was challenging for guitarist J.R. Bohannon. In refreshingly vulnerable linear notes, he describes how his struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) were made worse by the pandemic. But he accommodated by creating Compulsions, a set of solo acoustic guitar improvisations in an American folk style, each recorded during a panic attack.

These slow and melancholy pieces have compelling melodies, which Bohannon used to calm himself. He writes “my anxiety manifests in the shifting tempos of the music.” This juxtaposition of placid and serene up against an underlying darkness has a subtle and perhaps largely subconscious impact on the listener. You cannot merely enjoy the beauty of his finger-picked melodies without acknowledging that something unsettling lurks beneath.

In addition to the acoustic, Bohannon accentuates some of the pieces with slide and pedal steel, but employs them to produce disquieting drones and atmospheres rather than much twang. A particular favorite here is Love in Action, featuring an uncharacteristically quick-paced, angular theme over soft layers. The final track, Intention, changes things up with an ominous drone while introducing distorted electric guitar to the mix.

Compulsions represents what happens when a musician is determined to make the best of a difficult situation by creating art that does not try to discount his own troubling emotions. The result is sublime and moving. The album will be released on January 14.

While we all have certain obsessions and compulsions, OCD can be a serious condition that presents more strongly in some individuals than most. Read here for more information.