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Sean Shibe, a shape-shifting artist, redefines the idea of a classical guitarist

The Scottish guitarist defies expectations, ditching his traditional nylon-strung instrument for a Fender Stratocaster to play a startling range of music – from Meredith Monk to Chick Corea.

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This is what a classical guitarist usually sounds like.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEAN SHIBE'S "SUITE COMPOSTELANA: VI. MUNEIRA")

SHAPIRO: We're listening to Sean Shibe playing Spanish music from an album he released last year. Now the young Scottish guitarist has a brand-new recording. And our reviewer, NPR's Tom Huizenga, says we're in for a wonderful surprise.

TOM HUIZENGA, BYLINE: Sean Shibe's new album is titled "Lost & Found." One thing he apparently lost was his traditional nylon-strung classical guitar. What he found was this instead.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEAN SHIBE'S "CHILDREN'S SONG NO. 4")

HUIZENGA: That's the sound of a sleek black Mexican Stratocaster, which Shibe plays throughout the album. The song here is by Chick Corea. And if you think electric guitars are only for shredding and blasting big noise, think again. In Shibe's arrangement of a piece by jazz pianist Bill Evans, the textures are gauzy, and the colors are muted. I've rarely heard an electric guitar sound so featherlight.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEAN SHIBE'S "PEACE PIECE")

HUIZENGA: There's a chameleon-like duality to much of "Lost & Found." And it's inspired by 18th-century poet William Blake, whose metaphysical work plays with opposites and disguise. Here, electric guitars don't sound like themselves. And Shibe, perhaps mirroring some of Blake's paintings, appears androgynous on the album cover, swathed in a pink tulle dress. Another touchstone of mysticism is the medieval abbess Hildegard von Bingen, whose music gets a plugged-in makeover. In place of sacred vocals, Shibe offers a psychedelic swirl of celestial light, a kind of star-way to heaven.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEAN SHIBE'S "O CORUSCANS LUX STELLARUM")

HUIZENGA: Shibe says this album is an overflowing toybox, but actually, it unfolds like a clever mixtape. Music by Meredith Monk and Olivier Messiaen rub elbows with Julius Eastman and Moondog, the Viking-clad composer who, beginning in the 1940s, performed on the streets of Manhattan and slept in doorways. His lighthearted love song "High On A Rocky Ledge," thanks to Shibe's poignant strumming, takes on the gravitas of a solemn prayer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEAN SHIBE'S "HIGH ON A ROCKY LEDGE")

HUIZENGA: Throughout the album, the guitar substitutes for other instruments by way of Shibe's crafty arrangements. But there is one piece - "Continuance," written for the guitarist by the young British composer Daniel Kidane. Listen to these meditative chords pierced with beams of multicolored light.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEAN SHIBE'S "CONTINUANCE")

HUIZENGA: Sean Shibe's "Lost & Found" is a beguiling album where music of innocence and experience interlace and where a masterful, mercurial artist compels us to hear a classical guitarist in new ways.

SHAPIRO: The album is "Lost & Found" by Sean Shibe. Our reviewer is NPR's Tom Huizenga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.