Guitarist Nels Cline makes music in a mind-boggling variety of contexts: from relatively mainstream artsy roots-rock with Wilco, to experimental skronk-skree in variously sized groups with all manner of folks, to a sort of rock-informed (but not “fusion”) jazz with his own group, the all-instrumental Nels Cline Singers. He’s covered Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger with singer Carla Bozulich and Coltrane’s Interstellar Space with percussionist Greg Bendian. On Coward, though, Cline goes it alone, accompanied only by his overdubbed self, inspired by the multi-tracked 1970s excursions of ECM Records chamber-jazz artists like John Abercrombie, Ralph Towner, and Pat Metheny.
A deceptively peaceful droning intro (“Epiphyllum”), created by recording layers of looped guitar feedback, gives way to the spacious spirituality and rolling acoustic textures of “Prayer Wheel.” Cline’s impressive chops are matched by his admirable restraint — he generally goes for mood and color rather than flashy displays. The title and sound of the idiosyncratically rockin’ “Thurston County” evoke both Cline’s sometime-partner in noise duets, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, and the county in Washington state whence Nirvana hailed. “The Androgyne” has an opaque, impressionistic melody reminiscent of the handiwork of pianist-composer Andrew Hill, whose music Cline explored on 2006’s New Monastery.