Five seconds into Doug Martsch's solo debut, Now You Know, and it's obvious that this is his best work since 1997's Built to Spill album, Perfect From Now On. In the five years since that excellent work, Martsch and his band, Built to Spill, have become imprisoned by their Neil Young-esque, indie-by-way-of-classic-rock sound. To break free from those chains, Martsch has moved his soft gaze backwards ironically, to the blues, a genre with roots in slavery.
Now You Know isn't what a purist would call a blues album. No, it's still distinctively Martsch. His high-pitched, gauzy warble does not jibe with the blues canon, perhaps with the sole exception of old LPs played at too fast a speed. And a cut like "Window," despite opening with guitar licks that would feel at home on a Carter Family album, could have easily appeared on BTS' There's Nothing Wrong With Love with its double-tracked vocals and soft, rapid melody.
Martsch's guitar playing fits perfectly with the slide-heavy country blues that he explores in songs like "Dream" and "Gone" on Now You Know. Going all the way back to his days with Treepeople, his extended guitar solos have always been classic rock-, and thus blues-, influenced. So in the album's gorgeous opener, "Offer," Martsch simply pares down his playing, using a slide to coax chiming notes from an acoustic rather than anthemic finger bends from his Stratocaster.
After the dull and all-too-predictable Ancient Melodies of the Future, Martsch's blues foray leaves him sounding completely revitalized. Even the pure BTS of "Heart (Things Never Shared)" is inspired in a way that his now-hiatusing band hasn't been in ages. By stripping away Built to Spill's recent albatross (excess), Martsch, a honky from Idaho, has found emancipation in the most surprising of places.