Coward “plays like an elegantly crafted valentine to the acoustic guitar,” said Chris Barton in the Los Angeles Times. Known for “fire-breathing noise workouts” on stage and in the studio, guitarist Nels Cline shifts gears on an album that is largely acoustic. Rather than incite one of his “free-jazz electrical storms,” Cline experiments with the zither, banjo, ukulele, and even more exotic instruments, weaving a “hypnotic spell” on tracks such as the 18-minute-long “Rod Poole’s Gradual Ascent to Heaven.” It seems there’s nothing the “chameleon-like” guitarist can’t do, said John Kelman in Allaboutjazz.com. Like other great guitarists who came before him, particularly John Abercrombie, Cline has a rare “ability to morph into any musical context” while retaining the signatures of his prodigious sound. Coward “refracts the guitarist’s many stylistic markers through a personal prism, creating colors and compositional landscapes” that reveal his instrument’s vast potential. “An instrumental masterpiece,” Coward will keep potential imitators dumbfounded for years to come.
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