Minor 7th July/Aug 2007: Cole Porter Guitar, Loudon Wainwright III, John Jorgenson Quintet, Eilen Jewell, Craig D'Andrea, Jud Caswell, Woodchopper's Ball, Steve Lin & Joseph Williams II, Marco Pereira, Paul Curreri
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Reviewing the best in non-mainstream acoustic guitar music

July/August, 2007

Various Artists, "Cole Porter: Delovely Guitar," Solid Air Records SACD 2062, 2007

This anthology, drawn from Cole Porter's most familiar songs, follows on the heels of Solid Air's Henry Mancini: Pink Guitar, which won a Grammy Award in 2004 for best pop instrumental album. Delovely Guitar repeats the formula, this time showcasing 14 guitarists from the label's impressive roster in one solo performance each, with one duet closing the program. The CD begins with Doug Smith playing "Anything Goes," which employs harmonics, octaves, alternating bass and an unexpected shift of the melody on to the bass strings, leading into a key change. Nick Charles offers a similarly well-developed arrangement of "I Get a Kick Out of You." Likewise, Eltjo Hasselhoff's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," frames a Chet Atkins-influenced treatment with a jazzy, rubato introduction and coda. Lawrence Juber creates a pop setting for "I've Got You Under My Skin," dishing out his trademark octave runs, close jazz chord voicings and treble bends in a very pleasing performance. Both David Cullen's "Night and Day" and Wayne Johnson's freewheeling "Love for Sale" are played on nylon-string guitars. These two cuts may be the most successful interpretations on the disc, at least for listeners expecting to hear mainstream jazz versions of this material. Similarly, Mike Dowling offers a sensitive chord melody reading of "What is This Thing Called Love," although played on a steel-string guitar. "Begin the Beguine" gets a dark, dirge-like treatment from Jim Tozier, and may be the most radical reimagining of any of the compositions included here. As counterweights, Lasse Johansson and Kenny Sultan lighten things up by recalling classic ragtime and Blind Blake in their selections. The CD ends with Mark Hanson and Doug Smith dueting on a pretty, stately "Delovely." This anthology deserves a reception equal to that of Pink Guitar, although Cole Porter's music comes from an earlier time than Henry Mancini's and consequently may be more difficult to recast for solo steel-string guitar. Many guitarists and general listeners are sure to grab this disc -- they won't be disappointed.
© Patrick Ragains

AMR's Website Buy it at Acoustic Music Resource
Listen to "Night and Day" (by David Cullen) (mp3)

Loudon Wainwright III, "Strange Weirdos," Concord Music CCD-30301, 2007

It's a shame that this insightful songwriter isn't known to a larger audience. Sure, he had a Top 40 hit a million years ago but it's one better left to the dusty recesses of that bin marked bizarre. Yeah, his sometimes off-kilter lyrics are, well, weird, but hey, if Randy Newman can do it, why not Loudon? Enough lamenting, maybe scoring a major motion picture will do it -- sure didn't do Newman any harm. These songs are either featured in or inspired by the movie "Knocked Up." I hate to use a description like folk/rock because it could mean anything from vintage Eagles to Peter Mayer but that's what this is, his acoustic guitar always at the center, with touches of accordion, pedal steel, mandolin and keyboards on a subtle bed of drums and bass. It's all great dressing for terrific songs about, well, being knocked up -- love, angst, babies, and life in the burbs, not necessarily in that order. One of my favorites is "So Much to Do:" "Let's take the final we aced the quiz / Let's get into it whatever it is," delivered with Loudon's wry vocals and a honky tonk piano. There's a spirited gospel chorus and organ in "X or Y" with more of those trademark witty lyrics, "X or Y / Do or die / Pain and joy / It's a girl or boy." "Feel So Good" is a cool shuffle -- if your foot's not tapping, you're dead. Only Loudon could start a song with "Shut up and go to bed" and yep, it's called "Lullaby." The admonishments continue over a pretty arrangement of electric guitar (played by Richard Thompson thankyouverymuch), drums and bass, just right for a lullaby, Loudon-style. And only he could pen an entire song about math. Well, about that kind of math you do when you're aging -- "Where are they now and what are they doin'? / Everyone's ancient at your high school reunion." On the surface it may not seem like it but the title cut is a tender ballad, cradled in a thoughtful string section. Acoustic-based instrumentals are sprinkled through out the album, adding a cinematic feel. Every songwriter should study his work. His lyrics are refreshing, sharp and creatively descriptive with melodies that don't always go in the usual places. You don't need to be a songwriter or moviegoer to appreciate this wonderful album.
© Jamie Anderson

Loudon Wainwright III's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Strange Weirdos" (mp3)

John Jorgenson Quintet, "Ultraspontane," J2 Records JJCD7050, 2007

Flatpicker, multi-instrumentalist and composer John Jorgenson has played extended gigs with Elton John, Chris Hillman's Desert Rose Band, Earl Scruggs and other high-profile acts. Over the last several years he has produced several excellent gypsy jazz projects as a leader. "Ultraspontane" is the latest such offering and arguably the most well developed of the lot. The focus is on Jorgenson's seemingly unbounded imagination and technical skill as an improviser. Stephan Dudash receives nearly equal billing on 5-string viola, playing Grappelli to Jorgenson's Reinhardt. Jorgenson composed nine of the 12 pieces on the CD, which shine no less than the stellar playing. The entire program is executed with equal parts precision and fire. Highlights include "Swingapore," "Don't Worry 'Bout Me," (with singer Beryl Davis, in fine voice, reprising her recording of the song with the original Quintet of the Hot Club of France), "Ultraspontane," and Improvisations #1 and 2. Yet there are no weak tunes here. On "Lucky Sevens," Jorgenson doubles on guitar and clarinet, revealing connections between gypsy jazz and its New Orleans antecedents. Jorgenson recently recorded Django Reinhardt's Improvisation #1 as a solo on David Grisman's Tone Poets, but here presents Improvisations #1 and 2 accompanied by the Nashville Chamber Orchestra Quintet. "Le Journee des Tziganes" (Day of the Gypsies) joins the jazz and string quintets for a dynamic performance and a folk-rock influenced break from Jorgenson. Many gypsy jazzers have chops. John Jorgenson and his quintet have chops in abundance, but his compositional and arranging skills have helped bring the genre into the 21st century. If you're unfamiliar with John Jorgenson, there's no better place to start than with "Ultraspontane."
© Patrick Ragains

John Jorgenson's Website Buy it here
Listen to "El Camino Del Che" (mp3)

Eilen Jewell, "Letters from Sinners & Strangers," Signature Sounds SIG2006, 2007

The opening notes of Eilen Jewell’s sophomore release -- Johnny Sciascia’s low down bass, Jason Beek’s insistent drumming, Jerry Miller’s fine guitar twang, and Jewell’s harmonica (and later, Daniel Kellar’s propulsive fiddle) -- make a clear and rather swinging statement. Jewell is happily two-stepping away from the downtempo tunes of "Boundary County," her independent first disc. Forget about the Gillian Welch, orphan-girl-with-guitar comparisons that were unavoidable then. This is a band record, first and foremost. Song after song on Jewell’s sophomore release stands as a declaration of independence, musically and lyrically. There’s the Texas tinged Jewell original "Heartache Boulevard" with its defiant lyrics "I ain’t going home and I ain’t going far" and Miller’s retro-country solo played largely on the bass strings. Miller propels the tango of Jewell’s "Too Hot to Sleep" with some downright Dick Dale single string picking on the electric. In case you somehow didn’t get the point, the closer, "Blue Highways" double times it in a song about a character who’s out to "put miles behind these wheels" while giving Miller and Kellar one more chance to trade hot solos. The whole affair is a hoot but, for me, some of the biggest fun was what Jewell did with some covers she rescues from relative obscurity. Her leisure approach makes Dylan’s "Walkin’ Down the Line" -- which I learned long ago from Hamilton Camp as uptempo ramblin’ folk -- even more unruly. With help from Jason Beek, Jewell finds the solid two and four inside the Woody-Guthrie-folk of Eric Andersen’s "Dusty Box Car Wall," but first, she teasingly reminds us where the tune came from with an intro of sweet old finger picking. Though Jewell populates "Letters from Sinners and Strangers" with the requisite country dose of folks leavin’, heartbreak, and cheap booze, a real sense of joy dominates the set. It’s a steppin’-out-record for listeners and one giant leap for Eilen Jewell.
© David Kleiner

Eilen Jewell's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "How Long" (mp3)

Craig D'Andrea, "Crazy is Catching," CandyRat Records, 2007

There must be something in the water at CandyRat Records, because those guys are putting out some great acoustic guitar music lately. This latest effort from Craig D'Andrea, "Crazy is Catching", is no exception. D'Andrea seems equally at home slapping and tapping his fingerboard, gently fingerpicking, and laying down a blues riff. The opening cut, "Canada Sad" reveals his ability to drive a groove, moving the listener in and out of the ebb and flow while never losing his direction. It's a great window into the CD, filled with tasteful, but skilled, playing. You can hear multiple influences in his playing, like Don Ross (who also records on CandyRat), but D'Andrea has his own voice, too. "Morrison County" is a rollicking jaunt of musical fun. He tries something I've never heard before, morphing Chet Atkins and Michael Hedges' styles into one song. I think he's closer to Hedges here, but it's an interesting confluence. The title cut "Crazy is Catching" features some staccato strumming like a machine gun ripping off notes rapid-fire. In "For Word", he deftly shifts from tapping to picking to harmonics at will, showing off his command of the instrument, but creating a cohesive musical composition as well. "Stages of Obsession" and "Canada Sad" have alternate versions for Don Ross' GobyFish Records, and they features ensemble playing which adds a new dynamic to D'Andrea's playing. In the case of "Canada Sad", brings a new fire from the belly, with drums and scorching electric guitar in the mix. This is a worthwhile CD for any guitar lover's shelf.
© Kirk Albrecht

Craig D'Andrea's Website Buy it at CandyRat Records
Listen to "Canada Sad" (mp3)

Jud Caswell, "Blackberry Time," Alderdown Music ALDO701, 2007

Every tune on "Blackberry Time" has an undeniable sweetness thanks to Jud Caswell’s melodic compositions, James Taylor-like delivery, and delicate arrangements. But this does not prevent some of the tunes from delivering real impact. The lovely interplay between two tracks of Pat Wictor’s slide guitar and Caswell’s acoustic doesn’t dim the delicious gotcha in the story of big city money and small towns in the opening track, "For Sale." "Whatever Happened to Rob,"is a syncopated contemporary rumination ala "Bob Dylan’s Dream." Caswell’s tale details "the further adventures of faraway friends" including the ones who get lost along the way. "The Men Behind the Bushes" takes a harsh critical look at the current political situation and the muted reaction of those of us who "feel the outrage fading into numb." "Leave Him," is a stripped down and different look at a common theme. Here it’s the man waiting and hoping the woman he loves will leave her "strong and silent / not quite violent type." We suspect she won’t. "Peace and Quiet" also moves unexpectedly, here from conflict in the Middle East to conflict within a relationship. Andy Rice’s slow bowing on the bass contrasted with the pizzicato in the chorus heightens the tension effectively, though there’s a bit of thematic overreaching on this one. "Immune" features more lovely picking from Wictor and Caswell and Caswell’s attention to lyrical detail ("You push back your hair / Stir your coffee, taste the spoon"). The title track is as pure and delightful as the summer day it celebrates. It is the highlight of the album, with Karen Mal’s vocal support and a gorgeous mandolin and six-string duet in the interludes. There’s also more of Caswell’s observant writing ("stains upon my fingers / and an aftertaste that lingers / One part sweet, one part fruit, and two parts seed"). Blackberry Time... how sweet it is!
© David Kleiner

Jud Caswell's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Peace and Quiet" (mp3)
Listen to Jud Caswell at our podcast

Various Artists, "The Woodchopper's Ball," Divine Wind Records, 2007

I have to admit, I love compilation CD's. You get a nice taste of multiple artists' music to see if that's something you want to invest in, and usually the CD's are a good bargain for how much music you get. "The Woodchopper's Ball" is just such a CD -- full of fine guitar music, and you get 26 tracks in all. Many of the artists are from Ohio. There are some famous players on here, like Don Ross, Pete Huttlinger, Stephen Bennett, Todd Hallawell, and Robin Kessinger. And there are some players many of us have not heard of, like Ryann Anderson, Kerry Kean, and Jon Mosey. But don't let their lack of star status fool you -- these folks can play. "The Woodchopper's Ball" runs the gamut of stylings, from tapping to straight up thumb picking to 12-string guitar to bluegrass to gypsy. The first CD is more high energy, while the second has more traditional tunes and ballads. The big names you may know, so let me shed some light on some lesser luminaries on this double CD. Jim Volk's "Conversation Piece" is a musical dialogue juxtaposing A & B parts, and it reminds me of early Alex DeGrassi or Ed Gerhard when the Windham Hill label was the freshest face on the acoustic music scene. Jon Mosey has got the rag down on "Variation on a Theme by Fuller", channeling Blind Boy in this clean yet dirty ditty. "Rain Whispers" by Michael Kelsey finds us sitting in the gentle wetness on the shores of Lake Erie enveloped by the hovering fog. This is a great CD -- go out and buy it -- you'll get some fine music, and all the proceeds go to support the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.
© Kirk Albrecht

Brian Henke's Website Buy it here
Listen to "Renewal" (by Doug Smith) (mp3)
Listen to Michael Kelsey and Jim Volk at our podcast

Steve Lin & Joseph Williams II, "Eliot Fisk Guitar Series, Vol. I," VGo Recordings VG1013, 2007

Any avid classical guitar enthusiast is going to love listening to this recording, but before I can tell you why, there is some explaining to do. The disc was originally intended to feature the top prize classical guitar competitor from the 2006 Boston GuitarFest, however, come the time of the competition the festival unexpectedly found itself with an even number of adjudicators. These four jury members in turn could not agree whether Steve Lin or Joseph Williams II was more deserving of the award. They instead decided to declare a draw, and thus this completely unique album came to be. It is extremely unusual to find a disc that is an even division of solo performances by two individuals, and the result is an unexpected dynamic that I have never felt in a recording before. There is an added excitement knowing that these two had so recently competed against one another, and in doing so had garnered such indecision from the judges. Listening to the recording from start to finish, first hearing Williams then Lin play their individual selections, you feel as if this is now your opportunity to be the adjudicator. Indeed they are both highly skilled and sensitive musicians. Both their competition programs run the entire gamut, covering several time periods as well as varying degrees of technical and musical difficulty. The result is a thrilling musical journey that reaches two completely separate and individual climaxes as each performer battles for the spotlight. Following this, as if to reconcile their differences in a cooperative final touch, the two come together to perform a duet written by Williams. Having had a taste of what the Boston GuitarFest adjudicators endured, I too would have had great difficultly choosing a winner. However, they must be commended, because their compromise has led to the creation of one of the most innovative and exciting discs I have ever reviewed.
© Timothy Smith

Steve Lin's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Guajira" (mp3)

Marco Pereira, "Camerístico", Biscoito Fino BF676, 2007

Brazilian guitarist Marco Pereira's tenth release, "Camerístico," firmly establishes the artist as his country's premiere instrumentalist, composer, and arranger. Pereira is also an accomplished musicologist and educator whose master's thesis on the Spanish composer Villa-Lobos was presented at the Université Musicale Internationale de Paris. His guitar work has also graced the recordings of some of his country's most renowned vocalists such as Milton Nascimento, Tom Jobim, and Gilberto Gil. With "Camerístico" Pereira concentrates on his compositional and arranging skills where many of the pieces feature opulent orchestral arrangements. Throughout the disc one hears echoes of the classic recordings of Sergio Mendez and Luiz Bonfa. The guitarist is a formidable talent who plays with both fire and finesse combined with exceptional articulation and tone. While Pereira's playing is at times subtle and introspective, he never loses focus of his role as leader. The recording features the artist in a variety of configurations from trio, quartet, quintet, and orchestra. This is an ambitious project with compositions arranged thematically to produce a variety of sonorous tapestries woven to create a product much greater than its separate parts. On the opening track "Circulo dos Amantes," Pereira begins with a slow, deliberate, melodic theme, which segues into an up-tempo section featuring a dazzling array of rapid-fire runs and chromatic lines. Another standout is the reflective "Violão Vadio" which is a passionate reading and interpretation of the classic Baden Powell and Paulo Pinheiro ballad. While fans of the guitarist's solo albums will find this recording a welcome and enchanting departure from his previous work, all enthusiasts of Brazilian music will thoroughly enjoy this adventurous musical offering by this exceptional musician.
© James Scott

Marco Pereira's Website Buy it here
Listen to "Lis" (mp3)

Paul Curreri, "The Velvet Rut", City Salvage Records CSR15, 2007

A self-portrait backs the insert, a forlorn Curreri slitting his wrists, hanging himself, falling on his sword.... The message? By any normal standards, "The Velvet Rut" is career suicide. But Curreri is not your normal singer/songwriter. His complex fingerpicking, easy-going vocals, and torrential wordsmithing have garnered him praise -- especially among performers -- that requires new superlatives. But Curreri, searching for a fresh language, produces, engineers, masters, and plays every note on an uncategorizable and uncompromisingly challenging record about decay, isolation, death, forgiveness, love, and a healthy dose of alcohol... (There’s even a piano duet entitled "Intermission for Beer.") "The Velvet Rut" opens with "Mantra," a spoken word Velvet Underground homage complete with fuzz, distortion, and repetitive hook ala "I’m Waiting for the Man." Impelled by loneliness as wife Devon Sproule tours, Curreri embarks on a metaphysical trip with the mantra, "God bless the patience stretch from fresh into rotten." Lyrically, Curreri looks for the general in the specific, Frank O’Hara style. Like O’Hara and Kerouac, he mines his personal life for material: influences, friends, how he met Sproule, the tale of Curreri’s fruitless attempt to save "The Wasp" born too soon, complete with Curreri-fied picking and increasingly complex rhythms. "Fat Killer at Dawn," finds a murderer,"sometimes in the I Want You... sometimes in the mirror dude." A song about a self-destructive "Loretta" obsesser, features an otherworldly chorus of singing and clapping Curreris, amid a mélange of rhymes (left of center, poisonous poinsettia, ass full of splinters)... Even when soul searching, Curreri retains his monumental sense of humor. He also leaves room for straight-ahead Curreri tunes: "Keep Your Master’s Voice in Your Mouth," "The Ugly Angel," and "Why I Turned My Light Off." The record closes with a tender and affecting improvised postcard to Sproule that ends, "Next month, when I’ll be overseas, you will be back home. Then I will come back home and you will be at home." Last words of a promising career? Nothing can stop the limitless invention and playfulness of the awesomely talented Curreri.
© David Kleiner

Paul Curreri's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Loretta" (mp3)

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