Minor 7th May/June 2003: Al Petteway, David Wilcox, David Goodrich, Doug Smith, Adrian Legg, Kym Tuvim, John Montgomery, Michael Gulezian
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Reviewing the best in non-mainstream acoustic guitar music

May/June, 2003

Al Petteway, "Shades of Blue", Solid Air Records, 2002

Get comfortable, settle down, take a load off and enjoy Al Petteway as he slides through a slinky collection of blues-based tunes on "Shades of Blue". Petteway, who confesses to singing only occasional backup vocals through his career, lets his cedar-Brazilian Rosewood Mission Grand Concert guitar do all of the singing here. Petteway composed all 13 tracks, and they display the deft, sure, accomplished playing that fans of Alphonso Brown Petteway III have come to expect. What comes through, however, and which is a slight departure, is a certain looseness and joy -- a freedom and comfort not so apparent on previous works. Petteway’s liner notes offer insight into the songs, which "were improvised from basic ideas and grooves that defined my idea of the blues on a particular day". Recorded in his home studio, most were written and recorded on the same day: "I played the tunes just enough to get them under my fingers, but not enough to limit my imagination once I started playing", Petteway says in the liner notes. Tracks range from the pleasant bounce of "Tony’s Rag" (dedicated to his two-year-old grandson) to the Chicago blues of "Lightning Rod" and "Slinky Soozie" (with several nice runs) to the jazz/funk/fusion of "E Funk". Petteway also pleases on the nicely melodic "After Dark" and the haunting "Darkest Hour". This is a pleasant, accessible collection with a bit of an edge.
© Fred Kraus

Fred Kraus interviews Al Petteway and Amy White!! - click here

Al Petteway and Amy White's Website Buy it at Acoustic Music Resource

David Wilcox "Into the Mystery", WhatAreRecords? 60063-2 , 2002

"Into the Mystery" is a singer/songwriter disk without a conventional love song, political song, or story song. Rather, this is a loosely conceptual collection about faith tested ("On to the Next") in a world of problems ("City of Dreams") and miracles small ("Radio Man") and large ("If It Wasn't For the Night", co-written by Pierce Pettis). As we might expect from Wilcox, the production values are first-class. The producer is Ric Hordinski who also contributes percussion, support on a variety of guitars, and tape loops. Guitar whiz Phil Keaggy trades in his six string for a bass. The arrangements -- varied and built on Wilcox' rhythmic playing -- serve melody and meaning. Take, for example, "Last One Gone", (co-written by the vastly underappreciated Tom Prasada Rao), about what is lost as we encroach on the natural world. Wilcox opens with a musical motif in the bass strings, repeated in the treble. It accompanies the verses, building tension with its sparseness. Harmonics punctuate ends of lines and transitions to new sections. The release comes as the guitar moves into a samba-like rhythm to drive the chorus. Wilcox' vocals are smooth, earnest, and quietly passionate. Paul Patterson's violin plays echoes and sitar-like flourishes, tastefully filling empty spaces. (Patterson has another lovely moment near the end of the record as "Fall Away" morphs into a reprise of "Rise".) "Out of the Question" follows, percussion driven, with harmony vocals underlining a melody I found myself humming. The tunes in "Rise", "Blue Horizon", and "Ask for More" (co-written by rising songwriter Maia Sharp) have also stuck with me. In the liner notes, Wilcox says he feels like his "first ten recordings were practice" and now he's ready to start. For this new beginning, Wilcox puts his faith explicitly into the lyrics. Listeners will decide for themselves if the message ("If it wasn't for the babe lying helpless on the straw...") is awkward ("Thank God, life's uncertain", from "Apple a Day" follows "City of Dreams"' take on September 11th), debatable ("There's more love in this nation/Than hate and revenge"), or universal ("I give way to the mystery/like the branches in the breeze"), and if it serves the songs as well as everything else on this tuneful and tasteful disk.
© David Kleiner

David Wilcox's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Out of the Question (streaming mp3)

David Goodrich, "Accidentals of the West", Young/Hunter TSP0002, 2003

Until now, jazz-influenced Americana seems to be a niche which has been monopolized by Bill Frisell, and particularly exemplified by his CDs "Nashville" and "Good Dog, Happy Man". Like Frisell, David "Goody" Goodrich on "Accidentals of the West" has proven that instrumental music born of the heartland can be intelligent, catchy, devotional, even inspiring. Unlike so many instrumental guitar CDs, Goodrich doesn't set out with a mission to dazzle. Mood is paramount. "Jesus", "Susquehanna Waltz", "Aberdeen" and "Now Go There" conjure languorous and muggy summer evenings on the porch swing, frittering the time in bib overalls, drinking PBR. Make no mistake, though, this is not hayseed stuff, but rather soundtrack stuff. It might be better to use a term coined by Charlie Haden in the liner notes of Pat Metheny and Haden's "Beyond the Missouri Sky" to describe this genre: "contemporary impressionistic Americana", because it seems to acknowledge a more sophisticated and cinematic artistry. It's probably no coincidence that "Accidentals" has parallels with "Missouri Sky"... Goody was once a student under Metheny's tutelage at Berklee. Minimalist though this collection of songs mostly is (Goodrich plays all guitars, mandolins and banjos... there are no drums or bass) both the title song and Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" are both vibrant and invigorating musical dramas orchestrally jigsawed together by multitracking.
©Alan Fark

David Goodrich's Website Buy it here
Listen to Accidentals of the West (streaming mp3)

Doug Smith, "Alone Again", Solid Air SACD 2036, 2002

One of the best-kept secrets of the music world is a magically talented fingerpicker with the oh-so-common name of Doug Smith. Sounds like the boy next door, right? Well, this Doug Smith doesn’t sound like any boys I grew up next to. Smith is a weaver of beautiful melodies who plays as clean as anyone recording guitar today, and based on his previous recordings, shouldn’t enjoy such anonymity. "Alone Again" is Smith’s sixth release. He has done great duo work with Paul Chasman and Mark Hanson, but this is only his second record (the first being "Alone at Last") featuring just him and one guitar. His compositional strengths - belying a classical guitar background - come through on every one of the 12 tracks of the CD. The opener, "Beyond the Clouds" shows Smith’s ability to dance over a melody line while developing multiple voices. Fingers flash on "Out of the Darkness", but as he drives us through, his touch is never out of control, so he keeps us with him for the entire ride. His playing jumps easily from Celtic-tinged pieces like "Dance of the Gnomes" to the tapping of "Millennium Force" to the Travis-picking "South Run". He paints a wonderful version of Turlough O’Carolan’s "The Right Reverend John Hart", agonizing over the melancholy yet sweet tune. Sometimes, you’re left wondering if you’re hearing just one guitar; other times you’re glad it’s just one. Doug Smith may not be the boy next door, but hopefully he’ll soon be as well known.
©Kirk Albrecht

Doug Smith's Website Buy it at Acoustic Music Resource

Adrian Legg, "Guitar Bones", Favored Nations Acoustic FNA 5060-2, 2003

Make no guitar bones about it, when a four-year winner (1993-1996) of Guitar Player Magazine's Best Fingerstyle Guitarist award returns to the fray after a three-year sabbatical, it is an event to be listened to very closely. On his newest release "Guitar Bones", Legg amply demonstrates why he is so cherished by the fingerstyle guitar community. For Legg, this release marks a return to simplicity both in the use of single guitars and in the recording approach (for example, avoiding pickups and overproduction). "Uncle A" jump-starts the collection with a short piece (0.59 seconds) bursting with scale-derived lines flawlessly executed despite the fast tempo. "Jam Today" and "Jam Tomorrow" each find the composer in a jazzy blues vein, easily explained by their origins as pre-show warmup exercises Legg developed over the years. "La Giga Anziana (The Elderly Jig)" is, in fact, a jig but hardly recognizable as such given the extremely slow tempo adopted to fit Legg's conception of an elderly Italian couple dancing gently together. "One-Eyed Turk" finds Legg playing slide on a resonator guitar, again with a bluesy feel. "O'Malley & Delacey" is named for several musicians with whom Legg worked in his early years, and is an outstanding cut with clear bluegrass overtones. "St. Mary's" has a compelling melody that demands attention, and stands out on this collection for its ensemble approach employing viola, flugel, bassoon, and arco bass for a fuller sound than other cuts. Even so, as Legg describes the piece, it is "more a small parish hall than a cathedral." "Ghosts in the Hills" is another tune which has a bluegrass feel and the suggestion of fiddles ripping out scales, on which Legg succeeds in demonstrating the musical ancestry between England and the Appalachians. Those musical ghosts are still with us today. Named after a small theatre in Amsterdam where Legg performed some of his earliest gigs, "Een Kleijne Komedye" closes out this collection with a nod to the past. It came from an old solo LP recording made by Legg many years ago, and it was worthy of being saved into digital format as part of this collection. As he has done with so many of his prior releases, odds are that Legg will once again take home a well deserved armful of accolades with this new release. It is great to hear him rattle his guitar's bones again.
© Patrick Grant

Adrian Legg's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Ghosts in the Hills (RealAudio)

Kym Tuvim, "On the Mend", Cake Records 70422, 2003

"On the Mend" is a healing, a series of messages from one lover to another, an "I" addressing a "you" in every song. Kym Tuvim delivers the messages with a voice alternately confident and vulnerable but consistently sensual. The arrangements are band oriented as the same players contribute to most tunes. Many of the songs swing, often driven by relentlessly syncopated rhythm guitar. A case in point is "Trouble", one of two songs on the album some Shania-like artist should record immediately. "Trouble" starts with the rhythm guitar pattern against one sustained note from Jason Bendickson on the bass. The voice comes in, singing one verse stanza just above a whisper. The speaker tries to convince herself everything will be okay, but no... Two bars of acoustic guitar by itself and the band enters, bringing all of her turbulence to the rest of the stanza. Try not to tap your feet. The chorus arrives. She’s in trouble. Each successive chorus will build in volume and drive. A full stop introduces the middle section. The insistent voice duets tensely with Julie Wolf’s Hammond B-3. The background vocals increase, the sound of breathing more and more agitated until the whole band enters and takes the track out. The listener’s been through one very rocking wringer. "Hard" is also ready for the country with its sing-able chorus and Dan Tyack’s slide. On the one hand, the lack of specificity in the lyrics (there’s not a single name and hardly an object) and the uniformity of subject lend this disk a same-y quality. But let it grow on you. "On the Mend" will win you over with literate lyrics (the quicksilver lovers in "Mercury" wait "for the mercury to rise"; the lover in "Falling Rain" knows "about sitting fences" but what you don’t know about letting down your defenses could flood the earth") and the skill of the supporting players. Check out Phil Peterson’s cello on "Mercury" and Tyack’s dueling dobros in "Fly Away". And, listening to the emotion, sincerity, and earthiness of Tuvim’s vocals --mixed well in front-- will convince you she's fine now and getting better all the time.
© David Kleiner

Kim Tuvim's Website Buy it at iTunes
Listen to On the Mend (RealAudio)

John Montgomery, "One Step Away", Circus Drum Records CIR 00010, 2002

Just to get this said and out of the way, this guy has a great voice. Not great in the 4-octave, vocal-gymnastic sense, but Montgomery was blessed with a resonance that is as sweet and wistful as the valentine you sent to your fourth grade teacher. There is a quiet yearning coupled with a mature insight that adds up to create a clean, honest voice. He reminds me of somebody that I cannot for the life of me pin down, but to perhaps pigeonhole him with an analogy as sounding to me like Paul Simon with a heart that isn’t completely broken. Montgomery has a daunting coversheet that is reflected in the depth of his lyrics. He cites among his influences the great literary minds of Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, James Joyce, Jane Austen and even Carl Jung. Holy Guacamole, Batman! And need I say that he worked as a biologist with a B.S. in genetics and a doctorate in neurobiology. With a rap sheet that buff, I wonder why his title track wasn’t called, “The Cure for Cancer.” That’s quite a credential for a singer/songwriter but all his education has not gone to waste. His lyrics are poetic and graceful, full of imagery and keen insight. Though not as blatantly inscrutable as, say, Dylan or Dewie Bunnel, his songs and their meanings are complex and not easily gleaned. This is a beautifully produced CD with a blend of instrumentation that brings out the best in John’s sweet voice. Cello, violin, accordion and Montgomery’s solid acoustic guitar playing create the perfect vehicle to carry the weight and conviction of his lyrics. Songs “Not Now, Not Ever,” and “Marry Me” are catchy, soft-rockers with an upbeat tone that contrast with the darker, more evocative “In The Mirror,” and “Followed By The Sound.”
© Rob Dunne

John Montgomery's Website Buy it at CD Street
Listen to Not Now, Not Ever (Quicktime)

Michael Gulezian, "Language of the Flame", Timbreline Music TMBR-0703, 2003

While fully mesmerized by the array of different layers of sonority present in Michael Gulezian’s latest release "Language Of The Flame", I attempted to think about the language (if that is the right word) Gulezian is actually communicating to his listener. There is, on the one hand, a solidly rhythmic structure to many of the selections offered here. I can say, for example, that it is the type of rhythmic complexity that breaks free of the predictable side of syncopation. But, at the same time, the listener cannot deny that Gulezian has a deep appreciation for the profundity of melody itself, especially on more traditional tunes like ‘Oh Suzannah,’ where Gulezian’s voice (something I wish I could hear more of) seems projected from deep within a forgotten canyon which the listener has just miraculously stumbled upon in the middle of the night. So the metaphor of night, set against the figure of a dancing flame, seems one way of describing the type of musical architecture Gulezain has created for us… On “Little Meggie”, one of my favorite songs on this recording, Gulezian begins with a cyclical, finger-style number, organized around a set of major keys. But just as this set of themes “comes home” for the listener, Gulezian breaks the movement and fully develops the melody, infusing the song with all types of emotions and colors. There is in the beauty of Gulezian’s work a kind of invisible smiling face, a joyful set of eyes which are winking back at us from across the stage, letting us know that the purpose of music is to enjoy its sound, while not getting caught-up in the mechanics of how it is produced by the artist. Yet on the other hand, and I cannot say enough about this, there is a deep sense of melancholy that has been fully articulated in the last song, an emotion that reaches its apex in the haunting image of an ascending Michael Hedges and the woeful cry of his forgotten muse. "Language Of The Flame" is not to be overlooked.
© Bernard Richter

Michael Gulezian's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "I'm No Seismologist," Chortled The Metrognome (streaming mp3)

Al Petteway: Celtic Instrumentals for Fingerstyle Guitar, Video 1 Al Petteway: Celtic Instrumentals for Fingerstyle Guitar, Video 2 Al Petteway: Caledon Wood Songbook The Guitar of David Wilcox Adrian Legg: How to Cheat at Guitar Adrian Legg: Pickin' 'N' Squintin'
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