Minor 7th July/Aug 2012: Maneli Jamal, Amelia White, Toulouse Engelhardt, Pierre Bensusan, Girlyman, Laurence Juber, Anais Mitchell, Dylan Ryche, Jimmy Robinson, David Russell, Marcello Fantoni, Albert Bashor
Subscribe to Minor 7th Webzine! - FREE!
Reviewing the best in non-mainstream acoustic guitar music

Home | Facebook | Podcast | Archives | Submissions | Free CD Giveaway | Subscribe | About | Links

July/August, 2012

Maneli Jamal, "The Lamaj Movement," CandyRat Records 2012

It's no wonder fingerstyle virtuoso Maneli Jamal has over one million YouTube views: Hearing his music, listeners are driven to see how he manages to play such intricate compositions on just one instrument. Jamal's music reflects a range of influences and styles, with strains of jazz, roots, flamenco, Mid-eastern, from all over the map -- literally. "The Lamaj Movement" is a "concept album" telling the story of his family's personal diaspora. Driven from Iran during the revolution, Jamal and his parents moved more than twenty times in five different countries before settling permanently in Canada. Each piece reflects the theme of its title. One of the most powerful is "Lamaj," an homage to his father's fight for freedom. It begins with a striking Persian-influenced motif punctuated by two ragged chords and then moves to a lush brooding melody. "On the Run"'s percussive tapping and ominous insistent rhythm convey the terror of being afraid and fleeing, while "Alleviation," "Adapt & Accept," and "Nine Year Residence" are gentle pieces celebrating the respite of finding safe haven and adapting to new circumstances. The compositions are varied and intricate, spooling through endless variations and studded with stunning effects, like high-octane arpeggios, chiming harmonics, and rapid pulloffs. One of the most intimidating selections is "Klingerstrasse," a playful romp with lightning fast scales and right hand wizardry, such as arpeggios into which Jamal tosses an extra pattern and harmonics. But he's not just about the wow factor. As on the final piece, the meltingly beautiful "We Made It," Jamal shows his mastery of phrasing, a sumptuous tone, and an ability to wrest emotion from every note, even from the pauses between the notes. The Lamaj Movement is an astounding accomplishment.
© Céline Keating

Maneli Jamal's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Awakening"

Amelia White, "Beautiful and Wild," 2012

Amelia White sees ghosts and devils, angels and saints, demons inside and out. With a sliding, behind the beat delivery, her vocals convey both the sting and seduction of the devils ("Molten Fire:" "strikes up a flame with your best friend, drives off with your keys") and the eyes to heaven hope of the angels. The literal centerpiece of the album is "Mercy," a loosely-goosey country gospel. We've heard tunes on the "everybody walks on by" theme from before Dylan ("Only a Hobo") to Phil Collins ("Another Day in Paradise") and beyond but, from the shimmering electric lead-in to the persistent beat, the full instrumental stop on "sweet light of Jesus" and the honesty of including herself ("I am hard to love. I sure did swallow too much bad stuff.") among those "trying to find forgiveness a thousand times a day," I listened over and over the first time I played the record. Taking a worn out theme and trying to do something different with it is typical of the risks White takes throughout. "Lonely Sound" tells the story of a break up from the POV of the initiator. It's got the best line of the record ("You don't wake up planning to break a heart."). "Sidewalk" is an unexpected summer song, downbeat and lovely. White likes to take an unusual phrase and build a song around it, like "Skeleton Key." Another song from the same impetus, "Saxophone Train" features sparkling six-string and nary a saxophone. No two arrangements on the CD are the same. Most cuts are not straight-ahead loves songs. And the central concern is the quest for mercy in a merciless world. The titles of the last two songs, "Saint Christopher" and the banjo driven "Rider Ghost," suffice to show there is no resolution. Faced with a dilemma, White chooses to offer something beautiful and wild.
© David Kleiner

Amelia White's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Saxophone Trains"
Listen to Amelia White at our podcast

Toulouse Engelhardt, "Toulousology: Definitive Guitar Soli, 1976-2009," 2012

Only the coolest of the cool are permitted to have Rick Griffin art (think the Grateful Dead's "Aoxomoxoa") grace the cover of one of their LPs. Toulouse Engelhardt is that cool, his 1976 LP "Toullusions" sporting a flying and foreshortened Felix the Cat lookalike custom-crafted by Griffin on the front. The tunes from his 2012 retrospective "Toulousology" compile his best fingerstyle solos from "Toullusions," but also from "Martian Lust" (2006) and "Perpendicular Worlds" (2009). Engelhardt is a living legend who was part of the original Takoma Seven with John Fahey and Leo Kottke. Somehow he flew under the radar of the public smitten with equally talented peers Kottke and Michael Hedges in the 1970s and 1980s, even though he slightly predated them as contemporaries. Listen to "Fire in O'Doodlee's Popcorn Factory" and "Young Goodman Brown Joined the Confederacy Today" on this compendium and tell me that Leo Kottke didn't get some of his inspiration for his famous "Driving of the Year Nail" from Engelhardt! The theme of "Blind Watchmaker" partially recapitulates the theme of Promenade from Mussorgsky's (or ELP's… for the boomers among you) "Pictures at an Exhibition," but then takes off in a Toulousical direction all its own. The whimsical "Beavers in a Hot Tub" similarly flaunts his ability to co-opt a tune for his own unusual musical devices, in this case, the theme from "Leave it to Beaver." This Beaver tribute is part of a musical trilogy, "Mosrite Devotion," done on the solid body electric guitar that came to be associated with The Ventures, and which undoubtedly helped earn Engelhardt the moniker of "The Segovia of Surf." Obviously blessed with a keen sense of irony as well as virtuosity, Engelhardt has bestowed an alternate name for this CD collection -- "Definitive Guitar Soli 1976-2009." Run-of-the-mill solos will never do for Toulouse Engelhardt. I direct the reader to run to buy a copy of "Toulousology" and thereafter bask in the soli therein.
© Alan Fark

Toulouse Engelhardt's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Fire in O'Doodlees Popcorn Factory"

Pierre Bensusan, "Vividly," Favored Nations 2010

Pierre Bensusan, quoted in an NPR interview with Scott Simon, claims he'd spent five years fighting the music in his head before making his 10th studio album. That album, "Vividly," certainly seems to indicate that the music won the battle. If indeed Mr. Bensusan were the conduit for his music it is possible that he has indeed listened to that music first and worked out the technique later. With such a uniquely and sublimely talented musician it becomes a chicken and egg quandary, largely irrelevant. In the same interview he reiterated the idea that people "tend to be distracted by other things, such as technique, that they forget to listen." "Vividly," not unlike his previous albums, is a mix of expressive, sensitive and often evocative guitar playing, lyrics and vocals. Present in this collection of tunes is familiarity, and in terms of style of craft, "Vividly" is what we have come to expect from Pierre Bensusan. True of both recorded and live performance, Bensusan's work has always effused confidence, boldness and, perhaps savoir-faire. In the first few 20 seconds of the opening track, "Veilleuse", it is clear that this guitarist, composer and musical medium is at one with his instrument, his muse, and the music born from his fretwork artistry. Instrumental highlights include the grooved "Kiss Landing", textured "Dadgad Café" and splendidly melodic "Astres et Gnomes". What transcends here is the verve Bensusan creates. I can think of few artists with the paradoxical abandon and control of their instrument that equates in an outright sensuality. Artistry on level with Vangogh and Picasso come to mind when I listen to and picture "La Blanche Biche", a Celtic myth brought to life by an intoxicating mix of Bensusan's guitar, voice and ErHu played by Chinese master, Gan Guo. As apt as the album title "Vividly" seems, the performance of these compositions paint an evocative and rich canvas in the mind of the individual willing to attentively listen culminating in the luxurious, sumptuous and infinitely moving "Les Places de Liberté" which closes the album with a worldly vibe of vocals from Mah Damba, and her 13 year old daughter Dally Kouyate, both from Mali and French Canadian Claudette Deslonchamps.

A guitarist note: The Old Lady and The New Lady, Bensusan's brand new Signature guitar model, both created by Northern Irish luthier George Lowden, are used fairly equally throughout the recording of "Vividly."
© James Filkins

Pierre Bensusan's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Kiss Landing"

Girlyman, "Supernova," 2012

For a while, it looked like the quirky folk-pop trio known for their great harmonies was closing up shop; Doris Muramatsu was diagnosed with leukemia so they canceled a month of tours, not knowing what was coming next. Through her stay in the hospital Nate Borofsky’s song "Supernova" helped her get through. Unlike a supernova, there’s no death for this band, only a joyous rebirth. With newest member drummer JJ Jones and the other founding member Tylan Greenstein, they came busting out of this starting gate with a collection of songs about relationships ending, change and doubt but still resonating with optimism. They all write and play a plethora of instruments – from acoustic guitar to organ to banjo – so there’s never a cookie cutter feel with their music. JJ’s talents are highlighted in "Nothing Left," a song about letting go and starting again. "Soul of You" chugs along with a cool rock feel while "No Matter What I Do" sounds like something from the early 1900’s, only with a more crisp feel. Doris wrote "St Augustine," the song that probably best describes her recent journey: "I walked all around, with a sword pointed toward me / Asking me if I choose to be alive or dead." The call and response chorus brings the listener up. No wallowing allowed here. It’s clear Ty has gone through a recent break up, especially with songs like the bitter "The Person You Want." "Break Me Slow" pulls in a little church with a bed of organ and lines like "Lay my sins down low / Burn me once now let me go." On her "The Empire of My State," Emily Saliers (Indigo Girls) joins them with a soaring harmony. The disc ends with "Best I Could," a happy little song with the whisper of old time folk because of the instrumentation (fiddle, mandolin, Dobro, guitar) but JJ’s work and their harmonies giving it a more contemporary feel. Right at the end is a great vocal break down reminiscent of good gospel.
© Jamie Anderson

Girlyman's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Nothing Left"

Laurence Juber, "Soul of Light," Solid Air Records 2012

Laurence Juber is one of today’s most popular solo guitarists. His live performances feature a mix of originals and crowd-pleasing arrangements of pop tunes, ranging from Harold Arlen’s "It’s Only a Paper Moon" and Beatles favorites to Jimi Hendrix’s classic "Little Wing." This CD is a retrospective of Juber’s own compositions, and is notable for several reasons. First, although Juber wrote and first recorded most of these pieces over the last 30 years, the performances are new and played on various LJ signature Martin guitars. His body of work as a composer for solo guitar is both varied and consistently high in quality, and the selections here represent his output very well. His decision to revisit these pieces led him to record the album in his high-quality home studio and subtly reinterpret the material with interludes and new improvisations. The disc begins with "Silhouette", which Juber previously released in solo and duet versions (the latter on the bonus disc X4). The tune begins in a minor key, then modulates to its relative major for an effective change in mood. Five short interludes add cohesiveness to the set and effectively introduce each full-length tune that follows; e.g., "Pre-Flight", which precedes "Solo Flight", and "Kanan Dunes", the prelude to "PCH" (i.e., Pacific Coast Highway). Although I don’t have set lists of Juber’s live performances, he hasn’t played most of these pieces at shows I’ve attended, nor has he presented a program of original material like this. It bears mentioning here that many of Juber’s arrangements and improvisations take advantage of the close chord voicings possible in DADGAD tuning (in contrast to the approach of early DADGAD guitarists Davey Graham, Martin Carthy and their cohorts, who used the tuning to articulate melodies). Largely because of this, he’s widened the musical landscape for solo guitar. Every one of the full-length pieces here is a gem, though some of my favorites are "Mosaic", "Blue Lullaby", and the new composition, "Father Time", which closes the program. "Soul of Light" is one of Laurence Juber’s best efforts; it reflects his skills as a composer and player in exemplary fashion.
© Patrick Ragains

Laurence Juber's Website Buy it at Acoustic Music Resource
Listen to "Silhouette"

Anais Mitchell, "Young Man in America," 2012

Anais Mitchell's "Hadestown," was a tour de force, a stage-able folk opera retelling the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Now comes "Young Man in America," a search for mercy and grace differently ambitious but no less. Its first ten seconds announce this is not your father's folk music. The scratching of an old LP, the pitchless sound of bow on strings morphing into the birdlike cry of a fiddle, a single guitar chord punctuated by a strike or two on the bass drum. And, oh the places she goes from there… The opener warns "look upon your children wandering in the wilderland" of America, punctuated throughout by the guitar strike and the bass drum. The title track… no shepherd to navigate the "ravenous" young through the subtle dangers of the American dream ("Another wayward son waiting on oblivion") until only the music remains, clarinets and trumpets echoing then fading into organ and finally, Native American flute. The legacies and burdens we carry ("He Did"): "how it feels to be a child" of a man unable to express his love, a man who left no will except "a shovel and a hole to fill… a barn to build and an empty page to fill." "Venus," the most upbeat and uptempo song in the set, is a paean to the feminine. The rhythmically complex penultimate tune, "You are Forgiven" with a trumpet and electric guitar interlude, would be more comforting if it weren't followed by "Ships" with another young man waiting for something that will likely be a disappointment. The world Mitchell depicts is not easy. This review would have been so much simpler to write if Mitchell had reigned in her ambition, if her aural palette were more limited, if she would refuse to take life as it is and face it with unswerving truth. But then this record would not be the uneasy, uncompromising achievement that it is.
© David Kleiner

Anais Mitchell's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Shepherd"

Dylan Ryche, "Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitar," 2011

Chops. Dylan Ryche (sounds like "bike") has ‘em. In spades. And in taps, pops. Thwacks. And assorted other percussive elements, along with some fine finger picking on his debut CD, "Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitar" (a heady title shared by some daunting pickers, like Rick Ruskin, for one). The opening two cuts – "Run Over" and "Platypus in Sheep’s Clothing" – are nothing less than propulsive in their explosion of sound coming from Ryche’s guitar. He has listened to a lot of Don Ross, and Tommy Emmanuel, too, and both those influences are reflected back in his playing, but his style is not a clone of anyone. As the title may suggest, "Rollercoaster" is up and down and around, following a intertwined bass and treble lines with enough of a breather to see some of the sights along the ride. In a darker air, "The Fate of Comets" poses a cosmic, aural question. No matter what Ryche is playing, though, his songs have the quality found in all good music – a strong sense of melody. Despite the liberal use of modern fingerstyle techniques, Ryche is no noodler on the fingerboard, but if this freshman recording is an indication, carefully plots out his song development, and we the listeners are the better for it. Maybe my favorite of the 11 cuts on this CD is "Smoke Signals," weaving deftly a gentle but striking melody. The closing cut, "Mulberry Street," is up on YouTube, and Ryche tells Minor 7th that the song is a reference to the first book by Dr. Suess. He says, "This playful and happy song reflects the simple joy of making stuff up!" Keep making up stuff like "Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitar," Dylan – we’ll keep listening.
© Kirk Albrecht

Dylan Ryche's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Mulberry Street"
Listen to Dylan Ryche at our podcast

Jimmy Robinson, "Guitarworks," 2012

A friend of mine, a visual artist – and this goes back a few years – was an practitioner of Tai Chi, that balletic blend of martial arts and grace which emphasizes a revolving motion of anatomy. Eventually, I began to notice in several of his paintings a recurring theme of circles and curved swatches. "Aha, it all comes out, doesn’t it? It all comes out," he acknowledged. And so it is with Jimmy Robinson’s self-released "Guitarworks," a wondrous tour through the soundscape of his musical psyche. He started his musical career in the 1960s in a psychedelic rock band (you gotta love a guy who played in a group called Ejaculation), studied classical guitar at Loyola University, and evolved through classical jazz and prog rock/fusion incarnations. He’s been associated with Woodenhead and more recently with the virtuoso guitar group Twangorama. Over the past few years Robinson has focused more on his percussive acoustic guitar work in a solo setting over his electric guitar work in a group setting. The end result, "Guitarworks," affirms that it all does indeed come out, often spectacularly so. Robinson is simply a phenom, a beast, a melder and molder of styles overlapping, underlying and modifying one another. Visually, he’s mesmerizing, as seen in any YouTube clip, particularly one from the 2012 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. His "Guitarworks" features 15 tracks, most of which are his own genre-stretching compositions. Guest artists include vocalist Susan Cowsill and an inspired contribution by The Bonerama Horns on Hendrix’s "Little Wing." But for the most part, it is mostly the multi-talented Robinson, who contributes throaty-Jackson Browne-like vocals in addition to his six- and 12-string guitars and electric slide guitar. His take on Trent Reznor’s "Hurt" is defining, and his guitar work throughout manages to be melodic yet challenging, always purposeful. Titles include "Can’t Stop Drinking," "Frantic," "River of Tears," "Psycho Gras," "Morning" and "Nu Slap." The one clinker on this great collection is his "You Make Me Crazy," which, unfortunately, communicates its point only too well by driving the listener a bit batty. So skip over that one, but play the remainder early and often. You’ll soon be wondering why Robinson isn’t a household name. He certainly deserves to be.
© Fred Kraus

Jimmy Robinson's Website Buy it at CD Universe
Listen to "Can't Stop Drinking"

David Russell, "The Grandeur of the Baroque," Telarc 2012

David Russell is one of the most sought after classical guitarists in the world today. Over the course of his career he has recorded over two dozen critically acclaimed albums. Not one to rest on his laurels, Russell again released a new CD in 2012 entitled "The Grandeur of the Baroque". His selections are a departure from the repertoire one typically hears on a Baroque guitar recording, almost entirely featuring unique arrangements by Russell himself. The only other arrangement is the opening track "Toccata" from BWV 830 arranged by Hubert Kappel. This is an incredibly bold statement for the outset of the disc, being one of Bach's most brooding and introspective works. Unlike a typical Toccata which introduces the key in an improvisatory fashion, the main thrust of this Toccata is an extensive and striking fugue. I've personally looked at the Kappel arrangement of this work, and can say first hand that it's terrifyingly technically difficult to execute. Russell however handles the entire nine minutes of music with ease, poise, and breath-taking interpretive depth. Following the Toccata several inventions serve to offer the listener a dramatic reprieve, then build towards the next major work, Handel's Suite No. VII, HWV 432. Like the Toccata, this work was also originally written for keyboard and challenges the guitarist to the absolute extreme both interpretively and technically. Once again, Russell proves his mastery of the instrument, delivering his musical voice with unwavering grace. The drama is reduced slightly as Russell then delivers four works by Couperin. They are a perfect bridge between the Handel Suite and the Weiss Suite No. XIV that Russell performs to close the disc. Less introspective than the Bach Toccata and the Handel, the placement of the Weiss Suite at the end seems to denote a sense of emotional growth over the course of the recording. The work is more open and overt, offering the listener a sense of joy and hope. Once again Russell's ability to naturally interpret polyphonic music results in smooth, soothing melodies that cross the entire range of his instrument. With this recording Russell has once again proven himself to be a true master of his instrument and a priceless gift to the world of classical guitar.
© Timothy Smith

David Russell's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Gigue"

Marcello Fantoni, "Tomás Marco, Works for Guitar," 2012

Spanish composer Tomás Marco is an example of a musician who was once deeply entrenched in the avant-garde trends of the mid-twentieth century, but who has since returned to more tonal and traditional harmonies. Marco's later works are a distinctly haunting and beautiful blend of traditional Spanish harmonies peppered with the remnants of his atonal past. Marcello Fantoni's most recent disc is a much needed collection of these later works, offering a complete look at Tomás Marco's unique approach to the classical guitar in recent years. Perhaps the best summary of Marco's compositional voice can be expressed through his "22 Tarots", played in their entirety to open this recording. Marco wrote them following the completion of "Sonata de Fuego" as he felt there was more he still needed to express through the classical guitar. They are all short pieces, each representing a different Tarot card, and Marco says they can be played in any order, as a complete collection, or as single pieces. Each Tarot is surprisingly distinct from one another, exemplifying Marco's expansive compositional vocabulary. They range in character from tranquil to tumultuous, and require a wide range of technical and interpretive skills to perform effectively. Guitarist Marcello Fantoni navigates each Tarot with unwavering musical and technical prowess. From the soothing harmonies of "La Pape", and the inspiring image of "Le Monde", to the jaw-dropping scales of "Le Chariot", Fantoni proves he is a world-class master of the classical guitar. He commands the instrument with incredible nuance and detail, confidently guiding his guitar through its full range of dynamic and tonal possibilities. I must admit, this reviewer was breath-taken and inspired by Fantoni's musical tour de force on this recording. For any classical guitar aficionados who may not be familiar with Marco's works, I must insist you rectify this oversight immediately; and there can be no better exposure to these works than through Marcello Fantoni's CD.
© Timothy Smith

Marcello Fantoni's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "22 Tarots (track 1)"

Albert Bashor, "Cotton Fields of Dreams," Earwig Music 2011

"Cotton Field of Dreams" may be Alan Bashor’s first solo release on Earwig Records, but he’s no stranger to the biz or to the blues. Bashor’s seasoned growl, deltafied acoustic guitar picking, and worldly-wise, often humorous, compositions betray a lifetime spent on stage, in roadhouses and bars, and in probably any kind of venue one might imagine. He’s joined on "Cotton Field" by Little Feat’s keyboard player, Bill Paine, saxophonist Ron Holloway, and many other fine musicians and singers. The legendary rock/blues guitarist Pat Travers even makes a cameo on one of the album’s choicest cuts, "Fetch Me." Inspired by Bashor’s pilgrimage to Greenwood, Mississippi and the intersection of Johnson Street and Main where, legend has it, Honeyboy Edwards and Robert Johnson first met and changed the course of music history, "Jukin’ Down Johnson street " kicks it off with stinging slide guitar and a Latin groove that makes your feet move. The chorus slides effortlessly into a hard-swinging shuffle and the bar is set for the remainder of the album. While "Cotton Field" doesn’t always match the punch and natural groove of the opener -- the ballady, folk rock tracks "One Last Time" and "High on Your Love" don’t fit snugly here -- several tracks do meet the promise of "Jukin’." The follow up, "Rockin’ Red Rooster," need make no apologies with its brash Elmore James-like slide and relentless shuffle. And "Tater Diggin’ Woman," which could stand on its evocative title alone, boasts tasty slide work and Bill Paine’s groovy organ. The track pulses big, like an elephant’s heart, which makes it all the more surprising when one realizes, save for the scratch of strings on the acoustic guitar, percussion of any kind is absent. It’s the title track, however, a minor blues duet with Shay Jones, that veers from the good-timey feel of most of the album, and digs the deepest. Bashor’s vocal shimmers and shakes, and carves the great oaks of the delta with his initials. Thankfully, Albert Bashor has arrived. Now, if he would just stick to the blues.
© Chip O'Brien

Albert Bashor's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Seeing Eye Dog Blues"

Search the Minor 7th Archives!

Home | Facebook | Podcast | Archives | Submissions | Free CD Giveaway | Subscribe | About | Links

Acoustic Music Resource

Laurence Juber, Doug Smith, Al Petteway, Phil Keaggy (and many more!) at Acoustic Music Resource

Strings By Mail