Minor 7th July/August 2002: Jerry Douglas, Mark Erelli, Larry Pattis, Frank Morey, Paul Chasman, Salvatore Casabianca, Tim Sparks, Eamon O'Tuama, Marco Pereira, Bob Hillman
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Reviewing the best in guitar CDs, from jazz to folk to rock to new age, emphasizing acoustic and independent or obscure releases

July/August, 2002

Jerry Douglas, "Lookout for Hope", Sugar Hill Records SUG-3938, 2002

Following in the footsteps of his predecessors Tut Taylor, Uncle Josh Graves (of bluegrass titans Flatt & Scruggs), and Mike Auldridge (of the Seldom Scene), Jerry Douglas has become recognized as this generation's leading master of the Dobro guitar. A top Nashville session man who has lent his talents to countless recording sessions by artists of every stripe, Douglas has received 6 Grammy awards, 9 Academy of Country Music Awards, and 15 nominations by the International Bluegrass Music Association. Douglas' talents are, however, far too great to be limited to appearances on recordings by other artists. On his latest solo album "Lookout for Hope", Douglas slip-slides away on eleven tracks, six of which are his own compositions. Opening with Duane Allman's "Little Martha", Douglas reveals this much loved tune to be a natural for the Dobro. The 10-minute title track "Lookout for Hope" was penned by guitarist Bill Frisell and sounds like a Grateful Dead jam on bluegrass instruments (the track features Trey Anastasio of Phish). On "Patrick Meets the Brickbats", Douglas --- who had never been asleep at the steel --- and his cohorts hit the ground running on a show stopping bluegrass barnburner in which each instrumentalist ups the ante for showmanship and speed (it would make great background music for a movie chase scene). "Monkey Let The Hogs Out" and "In the Sweet By and By" each feature Douglas performing solo instrumentals on a Kona guitar. Douglas wisely included two guest vocalists on the album to offer variety amid the stellar instrumentals. "Footsteps Fall" is an aching ballad concerning loneliness and isolation triggered by "the sound of love through a stranger's wall" beautifully sung by Maura O'Connell with Douglas on background vocals. Written by Boo Hewerdine and Annette Bjergfeldt, it is certain to receive widespread airplay and coverage by other artists inspired by this definitive interpretation. James Taylor closes the album with his mellow butterscotch vocals on "The Suit", a song about a simple farmer's burial ("It was one of those occasions where you had to wear a suit...") and "wearing the State of Nebraska as his overcoat". This album has all the crisp production values that can now be taken for granted from any Sugar Hill release, along with its usual roster of stellar supporting musicians like Sam Bush on mandolin and Bryan Sutton on guitar. "Lookout for Hope" is certain to garner a few more awards for Douglas' crowded trophy wall.
© Patrick Grant

Jerry Douglas' Website Buy it at Amazon.com

Mark Erelli, "The Memorial Hall Recordings", Signature Sounds Recording 1271, 2002

Start with the voice. Grace notes and slides complement an effortless legato delivered with a touch of sandpaper. The resulting sound makes every song Erelli's own, and oh so easy on the ears. Next, consider the concept behind the Memorial Hall Recordings. It's engaging--even if the hype about it on the enhanced CD is less appealing. Recorded live (without an audience) in an old New England hall with incredible acoustics. Some originals from Erelli with the flavor of home along with songs from his favorite New England writers. A crackerjack band masterfully handling a range of styles in deceptively laid-back arrangements. The project opens with its signature tune, Erelli's "Call You Home," a loping greeting to the listener and the New England valley Erelli thinks of as a long lost friend delivered with a bittersweet nod to the inevitable goodbye to come. The lyrics are pure poetry ("The sky is open like a chalice/All along the river road/Where the patchwork field tobacco barns/Shiver in the cold") and so is Jim Henry's mandolin playing. And there's so much more. A freight train of a guitar interlude loaded with effects. A country waltz ("A Fine Time of Year"). A trio of Civil War tunes including "Blue-Eyed Boston Boy," a traditional tune hauntingly arranged with a reed organ drone; "Dear Magnolia" a homage to the Band; and one of the album's few missteps, a Byrds-like rendition of "Follow the Drinking Gourd." But, don't worry. There's also Bill Morrisey's "Summer Night" with lovely dobro work and tasteful accordion. "Devil's Train," up tempo country with some very hot guitar licks from Kevin Barry. "Ichabod," an atmospheric setting for lyrics by New England's John Greenleaf Whittier. And finally the inevitable "Goodbye," leavened with a touch of vaudeville. Eminently listenable and lots of fun.
© David Kleiner

Mark Erelli's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Call You Home (RealAudio)

Larry Pattis, "Hands of Time", Guitar Odyssey GO-0202, 2002

There's something about the opening notes of the title track "Hands of Time" which are reminiscent of Sor's Fifth Étude. But the mournful prologue quickly melts into an insistent rhythmic drone, a sinusoidal ebb and flow of wonderfully conceived melody awash with beauty, mystery and pathos. Larry Pattis has laid his hand upon a unique solo fingerstyle which is often distinguished by such tintinnabular themes, bobbing upon paradoxical swells of rejoice and lament, as on "Buddy Boy", "Nonpareil", "Underfoot", "Free Fall" and "Burning Man". Many of the tunes disclose an undercurrent of classical guitar influence, especially and not surprisingly on the playful "Going for Baroque". Although Pattis establishes his technical prowess on the first tune, it's apparent that he considers composition and mood to be on equal ground with flashy playing, orchestrating leisurely and melancholic reflections on "Homeland Suite", "The Paths of Swannanoa" and "Through the Eyes of a Child". "Hands of Time" is a perfect and exquisite hybrid of neoclassicism and fingerstyle.
©Alan Fark

Larry Pattis' Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Buddy Boy (streaming mp3)

Frank Morey, "Cold in Hand", Indigo Hamlet, 2002

Frank Morey's well-abused voice sounds as scratchy as a three-day stubble and as well-oiled as last night's fifth of Jim Beam. In fact, Morey sounds a bit as if he's gone to the devil, which with "Cold in Hand" as evidence, would be a tough statement to dispute. It seems there's a reference to the devil or satan in every other track in this 14-song collection, as Morey is drawn to life's dark side like a moth to a flame. The Massachusetts-based singer/songwriter creates an intimate, haze-filled world populated by barflies, scoflaws and ne'er-do-wells. The shadowy universe lurking on the other side of our brain that most of us shun is embraced by Morey. But while his subjects are filled with human frailties and shortcomings, Morey works in a measure of compassion as well. His titles conjure an atmosphere all by themselves: "Blame it on the Devil," "Goin'Down Kickin", "Barflies", "Dead Dreams and Whiskey Lies", "In the Middle of Nowhere", "Junkietown", "Ghosts and Guns". Musically, less is more for Morey, and his spare, jazzy, New Orleansy, percussive arrangements recall the mid-career work of Tom Waits -- not to mention his gravelly growl. "Cold in Hand" presents a collection of extremely evocative work. Morey really knows how to pull the listener in close and whisper in his ear. Very compelling.
© Fred Kraus

Frank Morey's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Ghosts and Guns (RealAudio)

Paul Chasman, "I Hope", Bay View Music BVM004, 2002

How do you describe music which is eminently listenable, technically impressive, and just plain touches the soul? That would be "I Hope" by guitarist Paul Chasman. It is a classical guitar record, but it goes well beyond the sometimes stodgy, sterile confines of one more Bach piece. Maybe that's because the title track was first played by Chasman in 1986 on steel string guitar, but now he revisits it on a Jeffrey Elliott classical, lending new color and more flowing rhythm. Chasman has done well in incorporating Doug Smith on the other guitar, and cellist Hamilton Cheifetz, whose depth of tone on his magnificent 400-year old Matteo Gofriller cello seems to sweep you up in his bow strokes. The CD would not be the same without these two fine co-laborers. The most powerful of the 11 songs is "Light Another Candle", where Cheifetz takes command from the start, while the counterpoint of the two guitars has you sitting on the edge of your seat the whole song. "Grace" and "Love Song" are simply splendid melodies, while I'm ready to dance on "Joy" and "Friends", where we hear images of the fire of Spain. In "Don Quixote", I could almost see that poor, misguided, honorable man riding across the plain on one of his ill-fated quests. Chasman bookends the disc with solo and ensemble versions of the title cut, leaving us ready to hit the play button all over again.
©Kirk Albrecht

Paul Chasman's Website Buy it here
Listen to Friends (RealAudio)

Salvatore Casabianca, "Curve", Depot Square Music 0137, 2001

That a kid could mature from teen adoration of Kiss and Zappa to an acoustic singer-songwriter whipping up thoughtful jazz-pop vocal stylings seems like a generous irony, or maybe just recapitulates all the other things that also happen naturally with age. If nothing else, it speaks to the value of disparate musical influences on fertile creative soil. On "Curve", Salvatore Casabianca combines the agile songcrafting of Stephen Bishop or Livingston Taylor with the soulful urgency of Van Morrison and the voice of Elton John. "Fast Lesson" and "Ocean" are torchy Brasilian-tinged odes, humid swaggers which lurk around the perimeter of his personal stories. Casabianca resurrects bittersweet images and memories around the death of his brother on "28 Years", and where a lesser songwriter might be bogged in maudlin sentiment, Casabianca succeeds in a very real tribute because of sincerity and a feeling for nuance. On "Addiction", he reaches back to some blues influence from his past life, gutsily sounding like Peter Green's "Oh Well".
©Alan Fark

Salvatore Casabianca's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Fast Lesson (RealAudio)

Tim Sparks, "At the Rebbe's Table", Tzadik TZ7160, 2002

Tim Sparks has built an impressive track record of fingerstyle excellence since winning the Winfield Championships. Noted for his outstanding explorations into ethnic musical forms transcribed for guitar, Spark's last 3 recordings have narrowed the focus to Jewish music, drawing deeply from the wells of Jewish cultures both oriental and occidental, especially the music which flowed from European Jews. This latest effort, "At The Rebbe's Table", may be Sparks' best yet in capturing the life and cross-pollination richly textured in these 11 selections from the diaspora Jewish communities around the world. All of the tunes on the disc are based on traditional Jewish forms, and for the Goyim among us, Sparks' liner notes help us sense some of the flavor he has tried to create with his 6 strings. Sparks is not alone on this disc, but ably joined by Marc Ribot on nylon stringed guitar, Erik Friedlander on cello, Greg Cohen on bass, and Cyro Baptista on percussion. The songs contain allusions to Greek, Persian, Spanish, and Arab music. Of course, in the title cut and "Sadagora Dance" we can almost hear the wailing of the Klezmer violin. "The Keys from Spain" take us jaunting through Andalucia, while the traditional Yemenite tune "Beautiful City" sends us to Jerusalem. Mixed in with all this culture is the quiet, solo "Mashav" written by John Zorn, who produced the CD, and whose vision these days is driving Tim Sparks to bring us some wonderful guitar music.
©Kirk Albrecht

Tim Sparks' Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Mahshav (streaming mp3)

Eamon O'Tuama, "Behind Every Life", 2001

Expect no mercy. Eamon's O'Tuama's second outing, "Behind Every Life", will challenge and surprise you. It starts mid-song, with O'Tuama spitting out lyrics--including the album's title--from the lips of a character who knows "it's all been done before and nothing really matters today when it's gone away." The vocals float in a tide of electric sound and insistent drums. Keyboards climb the scale one note at a time. Tension rises, relieved for a moment by a chorus in which the tension builds all over again. O'Tuama--an Irishman in New York--confounds expectations throughout: vocals that sting with a whisper; an effects laden mix with an acoustic bottom; sexual ambiguity; a little Celtic influence and a solid rock sound that consistently hits heavy on the two and the four. And moments of beauty among the ruins: a searing solo in "Bloom Again" one highlight of effective violin playing throughout; tuneful refrains elevated by chorused female harmony voices; jangly Byrds-like guitar. The lyrics, a series of allegations, take no prisoners: "I never listen to what you say; touched by your little cares that were so empty then; your hands are cold and clammy... cause we touched one day at a funeral." The most memorable songs, like "Rescue Me" and "Portrait," expose a bit of vulnerability and work the hook with Beatlesque harmonies and that jangling guitar. In the closing tune, O'Tuama approaches resolution, chiding himself --"Poor Baby"-- for "writing sad songs through the years", like the ones in this unrelenting litany of "big stories" about "hard lessons" learned by those with "lost dreams". It's not easy to live in the world O'Tuama depicts. But, how easy is it to live in yours?
© David Kleiner

Eamon O'Tuama's Website Buy it at iTunes
Listen to Bloom Again (RealAudio)

Marco Pereira, "Valsas Brasilieros", GSP Recordings 1022, 2001

Many South American composers have utilized dance rhythms as the basis for their compositions for solo guitar. Among these are the choros of Heictor Villa-Lobos, Astor Piazzola's tangos, and Antonio Lauro's waltzes. Marco Pereira's new disc "Valsas Brasileiras" explores the versatility and diversity of the Brazilian Waltz. Performing on both 6 and 8 string guitars, Pereira's playing is wonderful. From the virtuosic "Desvairada" by Garoto to the romantic whimsy of "Emotiva No. 1" by Helio Delmiro, we are treated to refined, well thought through interpretations. The up-beat "Valsa Negra" by Leandro Braga will conjure images of the Brazilian nightlife. In contrast, "Eu te Amo" by Antonio Jobim and Chico Buarque will prepare you for a mid-day siesta. Pereira also treats us to two original compositions: "Plainte" and "Marta". The choice of repertoire should please both the avid listener of Brazilian music and the novice alike. The recording quality is very nice. The guitar is clear with just enough reverb to imitate a small warm recital hall. This disc is a must have for the fan of Brazilian music
©Philip Hemmo

Marco Pereira's Website Buy it at Guitar Solo Publications
Listen to Plainte (streaming mp3)

Bob Hillman, "Welcome to My Century", Brave New Records BNR81742, 2001

Acclaimed in major dailies nationwide, Bob Hillman is a sharp-witted troubadour akin to Loudon Wainwright III, Richard Thompson, and John Hiatt. A purveyor of intimate, wry, and nakedly honest autobiographical pop songs cloaked in a folk-rock context, Hillman's second release is an engaging journey through the emotional highs and lows of human relationships and not-so-simple twists of fate. Producer Tommy West (Jim Croce, Mama Cass, The Partridge Family) enlists a dream team ensemble to complement Hillman's raspy vocal delivery and engagingly tangled word-play. Guitarist Dave Schramm (Heather Eatman, Yo La Tengo, Richard Buckner), bassist Sal Maida (Roxy Music, Sparks), guitarist David Hamburger (Chuck Brodsky, Freedy Johnson), guitarist Mark Bosch (Carol King), keyboardist Brian Mitchell (Crash Test Dummies, John Lurie), guitarist Billy Masters (Richard Shindell, Dar Williams), cellist Mary Wooten (John Cale, Sheryl Crow, Marianne Faithfull), and drummer Dan Vonnegut (Carrie Newcomer) are the consummate side show, embellishing Hillman's routine chord progressions with inventive harmonies, tasteful solos, and strategically placed riffs and counterpoint. Each track runs like a mini-movie. "I Need You" commences as a bar-room dirge bemoaning a broken romance then leisurely slips into a syrupy "misery loves company" chorus worthy of Harry Nilsson. In "Games" the singer confesses a fear of losing his hair and paramour, but we don't know which is most important to him. The history lesson in "Greenland" is really a cry for affection, but what better way to woo a women that to thrust her upon the same pedestal as Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy?
©Tom Semioli

Bob Hillman's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Welcome to My Century (streaming mp3)

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