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September & October Short Takes

Zeb Gould "All of the Morningbirds," 2006 Listeners who enjoyed the early recordings of John Fahey and Leo Kottke won't miss the obvious nod to those influences on Zeb Gould's "All of the Morningbirds, a collection of 12-string guitar songs. Gould practically channels Kottke with a driving, percussive style on "A Spider's Quest for the Sun," "Consuela," "End/Beginning," and "Young Icarus." According to the label's press release, Gould spent time in New York working as an archivist for composer Philip Glass, which might account for this eclectic potpourri. "Hedwig" has a sparse, almost piano-like color to it, while "Interlude" is bracketed by over 25 seconds of silence before and after the fading track. There is one vocal on the CD, "Locomotive Blue Streak," with harmonies reminiscent of Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young's early work. The album closes with the only ensemble piece, "Two Sisters," where Gould is joined by Megan Weeder on violin and Sam Crawford on piano. The eleven cuts on this record will satisfy those who like 12-string guitar playing, and will recall perhaps the heyday of that medium, without necessarily forging any new territory. © Kirk Albrecht

Keith Miles "What it Was They Became," 2005 Keith Milesí songs emerge from a place where bluegrass, country, the Grateful Dead, and Jack Kerouac converge. In the liner notes, Miles -- largely a living room player -- explains how he came to record this debut and characterizes his talent as "rudimentary." He sells himself short. There are limits to his gentle voice, but he knows how to use it and how to put across songs convincingly (even a surprising cover of Mickey Newburyís "Just Dropped In"). More significantly, he is a poet who knows his way around a hook. The record, clearly a labor of love, began when Milesí friend Jack Sundrud convinced him they could realize the sounds he had been hearing in his head for years. With support such as Russ Pahlís steel solo on "Highway 81," Jim Hokeís tasty harmonica, and Sundrudís classy country production values, Miles dream has come true. © David Kleiner

Paper Moon "Miniatures," 2006 Scott Taber and Daniel Dever comprise the guitar duo Paper Moon. Taber is an accomplished classical guitarist who is skilled in jazz and pop styles, while Dever concentrates on electric guitar. Both guitarists have chops to spare and the selections on this CD showcase their instrumental prowess. The program opens with "Rayuela", with Taber improvising ably over a nice Latin background. Most of the remaining tracks feature electric guitar, played mostly by Dever. Their compositions range from the gypsy-flavored "Swing Set" and Tarrega's romantically flavored piece, "Vals - Tema de Strauss", recalling the whimsy of a merry-go-round, to the '70s-sounding "Al Coda." Miniatures shows much promise for Paper Moon, if the guitarists allow a bit more breathing room in their improvisations and work at producing warmer tones on their electric guitars. This duo is bound to offer exciting live performances; if they refine their approach (perhaps by using an outside producer) they will almost certainly produce more satisfying recordings. © Patrick Ragains

Culann's Hounds "Year of the Dog," 2006 San Francisco-based Culann's Hounds play traditional Irish music with a cheeky swagger and nod to pop sensibilities. The quartet features Steve Gardner's fine fiddle and mandolin work along with Renee de la Prade's button accordion. Mike Kelleher provides guitar and Scott Marshall chimes in with percussion. The guest artists that The Hounds enlisted on their second disc include John Popper of Blues Traveler on harmonica and former band member Conall O'Raghallaigh on pipes and low whistle. The result is an interesting blend of everything from Celtic reels and jigs to a heartfelt (and almost quaint) "Tennessee Waltz." Standouts include a beautifully wistful reading of "Wild Mountain Tyme" with guest vocals from Susan McKeown, and "Dirty Own Town," which conjures up rich visuals of a scruffy Irish pub. The Hounds make nice work of infusing Irish legend hero tales with youthful enthusiasm. Says Gardner, "We try to reframe these ideas in ancient tribal urban folk rock." © Fred Kraus

Tim Alexander & Sandy Shalk, "Giving Voice," 2006 This is the first in what will most likely be a series of recordings which fingerstyle player El McMeen is now beginning to produce for his Piney Ridge Music label. The aim is apparently to showcase talented players he's had connections with, and if this first effort is any indication, he's on the right track. Tim Alexander and Sandy Shalk have put together a lovely disc of mostly gentle, traditional sounding tunes. While it's a duo recording, the pair take their turns on the songs, highlighting their individual talents. Scottish and Irish melodies fill most of the CD, whether jigs like "The Bonnie Jig" (Alexander), ballads like "Jock O'Hazeldean (Alexander), or the obligatory Turlough O'Carolan song like "Planxty John Irwin" (Shalk). These guys have obviously been playing and listening to these tunes for some time, most clearly evidenced on "Crested Hens" played by Shalk, where he gives the song just the right pace, allowing the music to breath. We even get "Deep River Blues" by Alexander, and "Moon River" by Shalk for a turn on traditional American songs. The imprint of McMeen is all over "Giving Voice," from the sensitivity of arrangements and clean playing, to the clear fidelity of the recording itself. McMeen's mentoring of these players has given us more terrific guitar music by which to light our days. We're the fortunate ones for hearing their voice. © Kirk Albrecht

Modern Guitar Trio, 2006 Good music too often takes an inordinately long time to get recorded and released (if it ever does). That's certainly the case with the Modern Guitar Trio, which first came together around 1999 or 2000 when Roland Chadwick hooked up with Roland Gallery and Vincent Lindsey-Clark to record his work for guitar trio, "Letter From LA". Since then the three have performed together sporadically, concentrating exclusively on their own compositions. This is a bold strategy, but Chadwick, Gallery and Lindsey-Clark are all fine composers. Each man presents a suite for classical guitar trio, beginning with Vincent Lindsey-Clark's "Sonata Melodica". The first movement, "Allegretto grazioso", displays impeccable empathy and balance, which the trio maintains throughout the disc. Roland Gallery's "Two Fusion Pieces" is more energetic, concentrating on rhythmic variation to create interest. Chadwick's suite, "The Wendy House," evokes instability, acceptance and love in a moving tribute to his disabled sister. This is one of the most satisfying classical guitar recordings I've heard in years. I hope it's not too much longer before the Modern Guitar Trio releases another CD. © Patrick Ragains

Cal Williams, Jr. "I Loved You With All the Madness in My Soul," 2006 Gossamer-voiced Cal Williams alights on the blues on his sixth album, "I Loved You With All the Madness in My Soul." Like a butterfly riding a tractor-trailer rig, the juxtaposition of his fragile falsetto with traditional driving blues numbers creates a very untraditional pairing. Such a combination provides an ear-opening experience, nicely complemented by his dexrous acoustic slide guitar work. Accompanied only by a percussionist, Williams's fresh readings of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," Skip James' "Killing Floor Blues," and the oft-covered "Midnight Special" prove clean, spare and sincere. Williams includes one of his own compositions among works by such luminaries as Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Sleep John Estes and Son House. The Aussie, who has three times won the South Australian Songwriter of the Year Award, records on his own label, My Favorite Brunette Records. The quiet power and beauty of his work is quite pleasing. © Fred Kraus

Paul Joses "Roadstories," 2006 Scottish troubadour Paul Joses has seen fire and rain as a working musician traveling throughout Europe which is the theme of the aptly titled Roadstories. Akin to the most enduring singer-singer songwriters of the past forty years, from Joni to James to Ani and beyond, Joses is a master lyricist whose words could stand alone on the written page sans music. Fortunately for us he chooses to sing. Joses' unique, almost feminine, vocal timbre brings an undeniable identity to the tracks, which percolate with jazz, folk, and blues influences. The utopian "Fools & Dreamers" commences with a time-tested blues motif, supporting the verses until the hooky pop chorus brings it all back home. The title cut is reminiscent of the cool, smooth jazz (not a bad word here) found on early acoustic Everything But The Girl releases, exuding sex appeal and world weary yearnings atop wicked, acid drenched wah-wah licks from verse to chorus. "Eindoven On A Sunday Afternoon" would do Tim Buckley proud with its confessional romantic imagery. And props to Joses for wrapping his song-cycle in what Frank Zappa termed "music concrete" (i.e. everyday sounds, street noises).On this record, Joses could knock you over with a feather. © Tom Semioli

Exist 2005 Although this five song EP carries his band's name, it's really the work of Jesse Thomason. Don't expect an earthy folk with these simple arrangements of acoustic guitars and vocals -- more like an understated acoustic U2. His lyrics drift in a bed of philosophical contemplation, some light like the opening cut "The Sunset" and some dark, like the weary relationship song "Waiting for..." where he complains "I don't care anymore." He uses an open tuning with a low bass drone that underscores the melancholy on "Wild Flowers." © Jamie Anderson

Here's some other great music we received this month:

Craig Skala - Tundra
Tam Lin Music - Floating World
Tefflon - The Morning Way
Foxy Moon Baby - Dreamer
Cyan - Cloud
Eric & Susan Davis - Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
Robert Bell - Gypsy Tendencies
Emily Herring - My Tears Will Be Revlieved
Roger Matura - Time Traveller

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