Documentary Releases: Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Basho (2015) - Reviewed

Eccentric and mysterious yet brilliant acoustic guitar player, pianist and singer Robbie Basho was only 45 when his life was unexpectedly cut short by a freak accident on the chiropractor table, leaving behind years of important contemporary transcendental guitar music long thought to be lost until recent rediscovery.  The timing couldn’t have been more impeccable, resurfacing as Liam Barker was finishing his documentary film treatment on the subject which came to be known as Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Basho.

Comprised of archival original recordings including but not limited to interviews with Pete Townshend, William Ackerman, Henry Kaiser, Country Joe McDonald and (via audio interview) Mr. Basho himself, Voice of the Eagle is a biographical chronicle of the life and work of one of the music scene’s most overlooked and gifted original artists who is only now starting to receive public attention.  Interspersed with the interviews are fleeting moments of naturalistic footage of the Rocky Mountains and nature, stunningly photographed by Justinas Vabuolas, set to snippets of Basho’s music, evoking how it feels to be in the presence of a Basho track. 

A peculiar, introverted man diagnosed with synaesthesia (a condition causing one to sense sound as color) who later claimed to be the reincarnation of a 17th century poet when he wasn’t conversing with invisible entities no one but him could see, the result of this strange personality left listeners with extraordinary music the likes of which hadn’t been heard before or since.  That he was so overlooked invariably conjured up comparisons in my head to the dilemma of Inside Llewyn Davis with respect to unique talent being completely overshadowed by another. 

Hearing Basho’s vocals is like being in the presence of a Midwestern American utopia, breathtaking and evocative while distinctly all American in form.  Upon hearing it you wonder why this man didn’t achieve a wider audience as we see him starting own on a known record label before falling to the wayside doing cassette recordings for scented candle aromatherapeutics.  The decline is sad to witness considering the immense uncharted talents of the man, culminating in a bizarre death Basho himself seemed to foresee according to colleagues. 

I never knew of this musician or his work before and upon watching for the first time, I could feel my eyes widening and my jaw dropping as his Heavenly vocals and truly unusual transcendental guitar music played out on the film’s soundtrack.  Functioning as a warm hearted tribute to the man’s legacy as well as an introductory chapter to newcomers like myself, Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Basho won’t answer all of the questions it poses about this odd yet ingenious musical talent but it does make you want to go out and listen to as many albums of his as you can as soon as possible!

-Andrew Kotwicki