Minor 7th March/April 2003: Andrew York, Louise Taylor, Badi Assad & Jeff Young, David Cullen, Chuck McCabe, Alastair Greene, Justin Connor, Andy & Denise
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Reviewing the best in non-mainstream acoustic guitar music

March/April, 2003

Andrew York, "Into Dark", GSP 1019CD, 2003

The L.A. Guitar Quartet --- now approaching its 25 year mark --- has become to classical guitar music something like the Beatles became to pop: enormously popular, setting the pace for others, constantly inventive and experimental, yet unable to contain all of its talent. As a result, individual members turn to various solo projects not lending themselves to a quartet treatment. Wisely, the members of the quartet have recognized the need for both group and solo efforts, and have kept each in balance. For his part, member Andrew York has become particularly known for his compositional efforts to bring new repertoire to the world of classical guitar and to expand its range to new age and "world" music. Coming almost a decade after his 1994 release "Denouement", York's third solo album "Into Dark" finds him once more devoting his energies to a variety of cutting-edge compositions, but ending with a nod to tradition with a performance of Bach's Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major. "Chilean Dance" opens this new collection of compositions, effectively evoking the sights, sounds, and smells of a folk carnival, and ending with a wonderfully brilliant cascade of harmonics. "Marley's Ghost" answers the musical question "Reggae on the classical guitar?" with an utterly convincing "Why not?". This intriguing piece demonstrates what might have been, had reggae pioneer Bob Marley taken up the classical guitar. "Wish", title cut "Into Dark", and "Higher Ground" are grouped as a suite entitled "Three Dimensions". York has generously written several compositions for other noted guitarists including LA Guitar Quartet mentor Pepe Romero ("Sirocco", with echoes of Spain and North African music) and Christopher Parkening ("Introduction to Sunburst" and "Evening Dance"). With its impressionistic approach, interesting themes and development, it is easy to see why "Sunburst" (in Dropped D Tuning) has increasingly become part of the repertoire of contemporary classical guitarists, and recorded by none other than John Williams. "Evening Dance" (which has also been recorded by Christopher Parkening) is performed as an intricate duet with fellow L.A. Guitar Quartet member Scott Tennant (of "Pumping Nylon" fame). Finally, York successfully navigates Bach's "Cello Suite No.3 in C Major", but does so at original pitch in cello tuning. We are fortunate to have a guitarist and composer of York's imagination to expand the world of classical guitar music, keeping the tradition alive for future generations. It has been a long wait for this installment of York's solo output, but its quality leaves no doubt that that the wait for the next chapter will be rewarded. As Grandma used to say, anything good is worth waiting for. Meanwhile, this serving is to be savored and enjoyed.
© Patrick Grant

Andrew York's Website Buy it at GSP Recordings

Louise Taylor "Velvet Town", Signature Sounds SIG 1276 , 2003

Louise Taylor has three fine albums on Signature, each different. She writes with poetry and insight and sings with an appealing sultriness. More importantly, her understanding of what makes a song swing sets her apart. Now, Taylor's set to release Velvet Town, her boldest and most challenging record, a set of smoky café tunes with a blues edge combining the immediacy of a live feel with careful studio production. The lead cut, "Something Like This," opens with percussion, then bass, and finally African-tinged picking on guitar. Taylor's intent is clear; groove is the impetus--even when, as Taylor describes it, "The rhythm is a little akilter." It's not your typical song about divorce. "If I Had My Dream" follows, with Billie Holiday-like notes sliding one into the next. It's a poignant tune, written for Taylor's father. "Velvet Town," paints a distinct and melancholy portrait of Brattleboro, Taylor's hometown by the river. "Call My Name" rests on a lick that sounds like Mississippi John Hurt playing finger piano. It's a vivacious come-hither tune. "I'd Be Dancing," decidedly undanceable, with vocals recorded through an amplifier for a retro sound, is as lovely as a woman descending "from the top of the stairs/In a rush of chiffon." Ominous, swampy strumming propels "Midnight Rain" and features some rather soulful cello from Stephanie Winters (from the Nudes); it's all about longing, spooky enough to be a love song from a ghost with a New Orleans sensibility. Taylor plays hot slide on "Firebox Coaltrain" and sings as sensually as the nylon-stringed accompaniment in "Strike the Set." The CD closes with "Simplify," stripped down but with ironically complex changes. Taylor likes to end each album with "a precursor to what's coming." No doubt, whatever is coming will be, like Velvet Town, intelligent, ambitious, and full of great little grooves.
© David Kleiner

David Kleiner interviews Louise Taylor!! - click here

Louise Taylor's Website Buy it at Amazon.com

Badi Assad & Jeff Young, "Nowhere", Water Songs Music 49210-2, 2002

You'd think that Badi Assad's artistic success could be merely chalked up to good genes. Sister of the acclaimed classical guitar duo, Sérgio and Odair Assad, Badi in her 20s recorded a series of solo CDs for Chesky Records that also showcased extraordinary neoclassical technique on nylon string guitar. Throughout her career, Badi Assad's anabashed sans souci spirit has allowed her music to exceed, by quantum leaps, the shackles of virtuosic convention which might be accounted for by any inborn gift, and to submerse her ego for the sake of exploration of new boundaries in world musics. Never more so than in "Nowhere" with musicmate and guitarist Jeff Young has her music glowed proportionately with the risks taken. Her trademark mouth percussion is more brazen, even otherworldly, on "Solais". Her Flora Purim-like vocals arc into edgy, barely earthbound, trajectories as on "Angeline". Assad has chosen to retain the Portuguese language for six of her compositions on this disc, perhaps also retaining the original passion that inspired the songs but more risky in hooking North American listeners. Eminently hookable to a worldwide audience is the contagious and sensual rhythmicity of this music, and the exceptional guitarwork of Assad and Young. An added gem is the cameo guitar appearances of both Sérgio and Odair Assad on "O Que é Eterno?, cowritten by Sérgio and Badi Assad.
©Alan Fark

Badi Assad & Jeff Young's Website Buy it here

David Cullen, "In the Pocket", Solid Air SACD 2033, 2002

David Cullen can finesse a salvo of chords through space with the kind of grace and intuition that an Olympic gymnast glides through her floor routine. Both make the exceptionally difficult appear fluid and effortless. But the real beauty of Cullen's fingerstyle jazz is less in the execution than the choreography of the music. The "wow" of Cullen's music is in the classically-influenced composition, the way his chordal resolutions tug at some long-buried archetypal memory that recollects both wistfully and pleasantly. "Bembe Minore" is one such aural vignette, sounding much in spirit like Liz Story's bittersweet composition "Wedding Rain". Cullen tale-spins both heartfelt and rapturously on other perfectly constructed tunes "B Cool", "Call and Answer" and "Seaside Soca". Yet, he's not so cloistered that he can't do down and dirty... check out the funkifized blues intensity of "Groove Etude", "Les McCann", "Go Ahead and Play" and "In the Pocket". The purpose of music is to emotionally move the listener. David Cullen has hit on that elusive magic by appealing paradoxically, but equally, to heart and intellect.
©Alan Fark

David Cullen's Website Buy it at Amazon.com

Chuck McCabe, "Bad Gravity Day", Blah Blah Woof Woof WS7602, 2002

Singer/songwriter Chuck McCabe radiates goodness, honesty and decency like sunshine on a fishing pond. Oh sure, he disguises it with some nasty swamp rock in "Keep Walkin’," with the devilishly jazzy "One Meatball", and with his bluesy "Down Easy". Still, there’s no mistaking his unwavering faith in a higher power that keeps him keeping on despite a lifetime filled with curveballs and screwballs. On "Bad Gravity Day", his second CD on BlahBlahWoofWoof, McCabe scopes out the current human condition and makes sense of it through various measures of humor, optimism and compassion. He creates a folk anthem with "Barefoot John", and a prayer for seeing the glass half full on "Do What I Can". McCabe’s frank take on life in the country jukebox-ready "Minimum Wager", an ode to the working life, will wring your heart and tug your soul. Musically, he favors a ‘70s-ish comfortable country/folk/blues palette -- some of his session players virtually embody that era: Maria Muldaur, Gene Parsons, Freebo. Other sessionists bring McCabe’s compositions into seamless full bloom, often highlighting his considerable finger-picking talents. An agreeable voice, an agreeable guy, McCabe wears pretty easy. Still, stripped-down versions of some of these tracks may have made this a stronger collection.
© Fred Kraus

Chuck McCabe's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Bad Gravity Day (RealAudio)

Alastair Greene, "A Little Wiser", RM0001, 2001

Slip Alastair Greene's "Chico" into your CD player and you're reminded of Eric Johnson's mature and thoughtful acoustic fingerstyle instrumental "Song for George" on his great blues/rock classic "Ah Via Musicom". Go one or two tracks on either side of "Chico" on Greene's self-titled debut CD, however, and like Eric Johnson's CD you are blown away by some of the most blistering and authentic power blues since the heyday of SRV, Johnny Winter and the Allman Brothers Band. Alastair Greene clearly has more than one voice and one volume, though, as evidenced by the acoustic numbers on this release. "The Long Way Home" is a clever acoustic re-jiggering of a twelve bar format in minor mode which creatively integrates mandolin and banjo (also played by Greene), and features a very non-bluesy vocal chorus which soars in a produced but likeable way similar to Edwin McCain. The acoustic slide on this number betrays the likelihood that Greene's spent some serious time listening to Duane Allman, or more recently, to Warren Haynes. Still, this is overwhelmingly an electric blues album which smokes very close to the point of combustion at all times. "Love Too Strong" is a "slow" blues that cooks in the way that "Stormy Monday" from the Allman's "Live at Fillmore East" also did. "Get My Wings" opens with a Hendrix-ism straight from "Crosstown Traffic", and thankfully, little such Hendrix-isms are heard all over this recording so that one is reminded that Jimi's music didn't die with him in the 60's. It just takes a gifted guitarist like Greene to remind us.
©Alan Fark

Alastair Greene's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to The Long Way Home (RealAudio)

Justin Connor, "Behind the Sun", Wiry Pulse Music 2002

"Behind the Sun" boldly sets out to go where no five song EP has ever gone. Though decidedly contemporary and rather quirky in its originality, the music makes significant nods to some very heavy hitters. The lush and lovely production work of the opening tune ("Angelyne") demonstrates how good this record can get. The introduction showcases a tension-building duel between folk-rock acoustic arpeggios and a single note attack on electric guitar. There are surprises throughout with ambient sounds, layers of harmony, unexpected changes, and shifting dynamics. Then the whole mix transforms and goes out with a quote of "Hey Jude." Yet with all of this, the tune remains sufficiently pop. Connor's vocals are breathy and low affect. "Cracker Jack" is a rock and roll vaudeville driven by a jaunty piano. It's a collage of sections and sounds altogether like something from an early 70's concept album. The compressed vocals, sound effects, and studio tricks in "Behind the Sun" and "Lull" show Connor has been listening to Radiohead. So do the lyrics, which can be sharp and cynically paranoid ("All these politicians feeding on the pulpit's tainted snow.") or off the mark ("There is a place behind the sun where the eagles smile and the cripples run.") The acoustic rhythm guitar and lead of "Content" reference the Grateful Dead's "Uncle John's Band" and underpin lyrics like, "Old man Joe he got drunk on faceless wine/He found his keys but left his soul not far behind.../There's a hit man in disguise and your credit card's got spent,/but right now I feel pretty damn content." Justin Connor's website (justinconnor.com) is cool, ambitious, overflowing with ideas, a tribute to imagination and technical skill, and well worth a visit. From my computer, almost everything there worked spectacularly well, but a few things did not work at all. Much the same could be said of my experience of "Behind the Sun."
© David Kleiner

Justin Connor's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Angelyne (RealAudio)

Andy and Denise, "Go", 2002

Andy & Denise are a duo in the acoustic pop/folk genre and I have to admit that their plain-Jane name didn't command much of my interest. No clever wordplay, nothing excruciatingly hip or obscure, just Andy & Denise. I guess I didn't expect much as their name didn't imply much, but like most of my first impressions, boy was I wrong. It's all here, folks; lush alt tunings, muscular strumming, funky rhythmns, finger-picking crisp as icicles smacked with a snow-shovel, great harmonies, a guy who plays guitar nose-to-nose with David Wilcox and a gal who sings with an effortless, sexy voice that reminds you of the first time you saw your girlfriend in a bikini. The opening song on their latest release, "Go", is a great 'take it to the highway' cruising tune; bouyant and peppy but not overbarring, it made me want to jump in my old Ford and head west on Highway 80. This CD is a great showcase for the range of their musical abilities both instrumental and lyrical. The songs cover a wide range of moods and subjects, from interspection and nostalgia, to downright moving. The song "Body on the Pier" is a hauntingly beautiful, though disturbing, song that really blindsided me and left me shaking my head at the power that a talented songwriter wields. I was pleasantly suprised at the depth and talent displayed in this CD and I know that the music of Andy & Denise will captivate anyone who gets the opportunity to hear it.
© Rob Dunne

Andy and Denise's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to South (RealAudio)

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