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September & October Short Takes

Brady Earnhart "Manalapan", 2003 Manalapan... where Brady Earnhart spent time snorkeling and the title of his second album, a surprisingly breezy meditation on longing, love, and trying to "see back to where I started" even when the water gets murky. Earnhart's impeccable lyrics abound with telling details, humor, and poignant revelations. Characters emerge fully realized ("Good Night Friday Night"). Some Whitman letters inspire perhaps the best song ever born out of a doctoral thesis. Earnhart and returning co-producer Jeff Romano work this time with a broader palette of instruments-many, including a variety of guitars, played by the singer -- but stay true to an underlying pop sensibility. Earnhart understands how to use his gentle voice to bring an unlikely combination of strength and melancholy to folk ("Arlington"), a James Taylor like anthem ("Get Right Back"), and rock ("Hot Red Car"). Manalapan... dive in. (Listen to "Car Repair") © David Kleiner

Miguel de la Bastide "Siento", 2003 The renaissance of acoustic music over the last decade has extended to all genres - classical, folk, and of course, the ubiquitous "New Age" category, made popular by Windham Hill artists in the 1980's. But American listeners have also begun to hear stringed poetry from lands across the Atlantic. Some of the attempts at "Nuevo Flamenco" have tickled the ears, but failed to deliver real flamenco duende. Echoing the power of Paco de Lucia, and the lyricism of Vicente Amigo, Trinidadian Miguel de la Bastide has delivered a marvelous offering of flamenco puro mixed with some Latin-inspired world beats in his latest release "Siento". The very first track, a bulerias called "Tentacion", draws you in with its percussive rhythm. De la Bastide recorded most of the eight tracks with some excellent help on percussion, while dancer Carmen Romero - his partner in the Compania Carmen Romero - provides captivating footwork on "Andaluza". But de la bastide crosses outside the skirts of traditional accompaniment with soprano and tenor sax on two cuts, lending a jazz feel. The CD ends with the solo "El Santo Dia", a passionate, fiery conclusion showcasing his fluency and virtuosity in flamenco. Miguel de la Bastide has got some duende! For anyone interested in excellence in modern flamenco guitar, this CD is a good place to start. ©Kirk Albrecht

Eric Elias "Solos, Duos, Trios & Quartets" 2003 The very strength of Eric Elias' music is also the weakness of "Solos, Duos, Trios and Quartets". Elias can pen an original jazz standard to do what it's supposed to - send the spirit soaring and connect a listener with the same emotional force that was there when the tune took form only in the imagination of the writer. Maybe that's why Elias' four original tunes, "The Sandman", "Rumor Has It", High Tide" and "Minoresque" blend flush with the other jazz standards here by composers who also have that gift: Bonfa, Gershwin, Jobim, and Rodgers and Hart. What's the weakness? There's only four of Elias' tunes. © Alan Fark

Laurie McClain "The Trumpet Vine" 2003 No one takes me back to "back to the land" like Kate Wolf. From the country road, the garden, the passage of time, three major chords and a relative minor or two, she created a lovely legacy of songs. Laurie McClain puts a real pretty shine on 14 Wolf melodies in her reverential tribute "The Trumpet Vine". The strength of the album is the exquisite acoustic sound engineered by Charlie Chadwick. I've rarely heard guitars so sweet; McClain's voice is a delicate instrument. Highlights include harmony from Pam Tillis on "Eyes of a Painter", fine lead from Nina Gerber (longtime Wolf collaborator) on "Green Eyes," Bryan Sutton's mandolin on "Like a River," and Muriel Anderson picking Pete Seeger's "Livin' in the Country" in "The Wind Blows Wild." © David Kleiner

Guy Buttery "When I Grow Up...", 2002 Guy Buttery is a 19 year old with scads of talent, and far-reaching musical ideas. In the melting pot which is music, this South African guitarist has been infused with the spirit of pioneers like Michael Hedges and Alex DeGrassi (to name a few, which he does in the liner notes), following their trails and branching out in his own ways. Buttery loves two-handed tapping and percussive rhythms, yet he can slow it down and fingerpick as needed. The opening cut, "Opening" shows a mix of techniques, while "A+E" provides hints of Andalucia in both tone and structure. Much of what Buttery is doing with his playing is taking a theme and running with it wherever he feels led. Sometimes it works well; other times, it feels disjointed and mismatched. A good example is the concluding piece, "Self Portrait", a meandering amalgam of harmonics, tapping, and picking - like something you might play sitting around some Sunday afternoon on the porch. That is, if you had the chops Guy Buttery does. As he learns to harness his creativity, we'll all be hearing more of this talented young man. © Kirk Albrecht

Alison Kitchen "Mercy Dancing", 2003 Alison Kitchen's new CD is one of the best-sounding collections of new music I've heard in many years. From the opening track, "It Only Takes a Minute", through the final seconds of "Beloved Planet", "Mercy Dancing" exemplifies top-notch singing, playing, songwriting and production values. Kitchen's Christian orientation informs most of her writing, which is concise and lyrical, rather than wordy, as can be a problem with many songwriters who deliver an evangelical "message". Her most apparent musical influence may be Joni Mitchell, mostly through her use of unusual chord progressions, although her presentation is more mainstream than most of Mitchell's work. The arrangements owe much to the singer-songwriter and folk rock movement of the late 1960s and seventies, several tracks recall mid-period Traffic. Kitchen's voice projects well and is strongest in its lower register. She quavers more on higher notes, although the overall effect is pleasing. Kitchen doesn't get in the listener's face with her spirituality, even if it is the dominant theme in her work. This CD deserves a listen from anyone who enjoys singer-songwriters with roots in the folk-rock vein and will attract repeated listening from those in sympathy with Alison Kitchen's mature spiritual leanings. (Listen to "For Rachel") © Pat Ragains

Frank Corbi & Kevin Van Sant "Tunes from Two", 2003 "Tunes from Two" is a sweet offering from Frank Corbi, veteran saxophonist, and guitarist Kevin Van Sant, and is the first in a series of duet albums to be released by Van Sant. The terrain is familiar, same old standards. Yet, there is a warmth and playfulness inherent in these recordings that transcend the genre. Corbi quotes melodies from songs like "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "I'm Beginning to See the Light" so often one doubts he's aware he's doing it. He's a true pro with a tone to die for. Supposedly, Van Sant is self-taught. Quite amazing for an individual who plays some of the most intricate and melodic solos, all while comping and playing a walking bass line. Well worth a listen. (Listen to "How Deep is the Ocean") © Chip O'Brien

Mark Brine "For Karrie", 2002 Mark Brine eases into the Woody/Dylan thing like a pageboy ‘do under a leopard-skin pillbox hat. Brine’s worn and softly ragged voice leads us through his 14 thoughtful, country-based tunes on "For Karrie". A country afficionado since the ‘60s, his collection ranges from the bluegrassy and upbeat "Baby, You Move Me" to the pedal-steel punctuated anti-war "Once a Soldier (Always a Hero)" to the more pop-leaning "8th Grade Romance (And They Danced)". The title track unfolds as heartfelt ballad about a fool in love. Sewing it all together is Linda Joseph’s able -- and markedly prominent -- fiddle/violin/viola throughout. Brine tosses in some nice turns of phrase, like "your quicksand eyes" and "still darkly warms my heart" while guitarist Denis Colby turns in some tasty riffs. Unremarkable but pleasant. © Fred Kraus

Andy Collins "Lake St. Serenade", 2003 This is cookin', kick-butt Dixieland-inflected blues... and it sounds just as rapturous in the Northern Hemisphere as I'm sure it does Down Under. When Andy Collins does play guitar, it's a mean 'n clean acoustic but his greater talent is as impresario, assembling an expert cast of musical co-conspirators on sax, trombone, dobro, fiddle, harmonica and fervent background vocals to rival a rural Baptist Church. The bonus multimedia CD "Pascoe River" offers a visual window through which Collins' music meets sunny outdoor Oz in all its leisure much as Jimmy Buffet's music conjures the Florida Keys seen through a contented tequila haze. (Listen to "Just Another Day") © Alan Fark

Greg Meckes "Moments of Clarity", 2002 Simply put, Greg Meckes' newest album "Moments of Clarity - Part 1" celebrates the ephemeral and the eternal at once. The fourteen pieces drawn together here are Meckes' own compositions, a set of soft instrumentals whose elegance is both profound and highly listenable. Even though "Moments of Clarity" has the feel of a completed project, Meckes intends to release a second installment in the near future. What is particularly impressive here is the mood Meckes furnishes his listener using only his guitar. Many of the all steel-string acoustic songs have a soft, warm quality to them, a feeling of futurity that is brought home through Meckes' passion for melody and harmonic balance. "Starting Over", one of my favorite pieces, captures this constant movement through a set of beautifully composed arpeggio-like gestures. As the song progresses, we are able to sense a kind of fragility in the world that surrounds the player. We look forward to seeing what this project will eventually look like as Meckes' music changes through time. © Bernard Richter

Tom Yoder "The Moment the Apple Falls", 2003 Tom Yoder is just a guitar guy. He's been playing most of his life, in just about every imaginable style, though his last two recordings have been solo acoustic fingerstyle. Tom is a guitar teacher, and posts lessons on-line through his website. He's dedicated to the instrument, that's for sure. "The Moment the Apple Falls" delves into several alternate tunings. The 11 tunes on the CD sound deceptively simple, but underlying them is some serious technical prowess, and developed multiple voices. You can tell he knows his way around the fingerboard. Yoder does several DADGAD tunes, giving a Celtic sound while exploring some other options within each. Some work and some don't, revealing a tendency to try too many things within one song, and losing the flow of the melody for the listener. "O'Coughlin's Reel" is a good example of this structural confusion. "Shade Mountain Rag" also begins a well-known musical form, but in one section turns into a blues, then back again. Yoder captures some darker moods with "Fish for Breakfast", while bringing some Kottke-esque chordal patterns in "Keyhole". He has lots of good pieces to the puzzle on this CD, but needs to out them together with a greater sense of unity. © Kirk Albrecht

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