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November & December Short Takes

Michael Monroe "IF", MisTree 10015, 2002 Michael Monroe is one of those naturally blessed singers whose voice flows from the other side of his diaphragm. Effortlessly, his music flows over the listener and soaks in deep like the glow from that second glass of Merlot. His voice evokes the best of a blend of other fine singers: Richie Havens, David Wilcox, a pinch of Ian Anderson and a whiff of Keith Carradine. His latest release, "IF", showcases his voice with the support of a great mix of cello, flute, acoustic bass and some lush alternate tunings on the acoustic guitar. "IF" blends original songs, lyrical and instrumental and a few covers of Dylan and Jethro Tull. Let M2 work his quiet magic on you and you'll be coming back time and again. ©Rob Dunne

Victor Saumarez "Going Solo", Tor Records 2002 Brits love Cyprus, the small island on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. A cheap tourist destination, Cyprus has had a British presence for decades. So it's no surprise to find British musicians on the isle. Victor Saumarez is one such Brit who for some years made his home and honed his jazz chops in the clubs and cafes on the Greek side of Cyprus (he now lives in L.A.). "Going Solo" is mostly standards, with a lot of variety, from old time greats like Miles and Duke and Thelonius Monk, modern forces lie Herbie Hancock and Joe Henderson, to Carlos Jobim. The 10 cuts are all played on his acoustic flattop guitar, but with the Fishman Rare Earth soundhole pickup, have a nice fat jazz tone. Saumarez dedicates the CD to the great Joe Pass, and he reflects the vibe and groove Joe brought to his playing. The opening cut, Miles' "Freddie the Freeloader", demonstrates a formidable feel in producing melody, harmony, a bass line and a backbeat while keeping the tune moving. Victor's a player worth giving a listen to. ©Kirk Albrecht

David LinHart "Lines into Circles", 2001 Akin to David Gray, Billy Bragg, Ani DiFranco, and Nick Drake, singer-songwriter David LinHart's introspective compositions are firmly woven around an acoustic guitar and structural harmonies that stylishly draw from adult alternative, pop, folk, and blues. Using a percussive right hand technique which slaps, mutes, and rattles his worn and buzzy roundwound strings throughout "All Of These Miles," LinHart's fierce word-play is punctuated by several dynamic changes and textural twists. "Obligations" recalls Paul Simon in his glory years via a bouncy melody which floats high above a jazzy-cabaret chord progression rendered affectionately in and out of time. Additional cuts such as "Starbrite," "Things That I Really Don't Mean," and "Surprise Surprise" deftly employ hammer-on phrasing, ringing overtones, and cathartic themes of boundless interest despite the fact that it's only one man, one voice, one guitar, and one song at a time. © Tom Semioli

Phil Risen "Things are Different Now", Rizen Ranch Muzic, 2000 Laminated major 7th upon minor 7th chords are the modus operandi of Phil Risen... and a lovely M.O. it is, fusing pop, rock and blues in a way similar to that by which Peter Frampton took the world by storm in the 70's. "Best of Me" especially captures the Frampton feel-good vibe, sustained and phase-shifted electric lines laid over a melodic acoustic backbone. Risen, though now an independent artist, is no stranger to the big-time, his musical resumé boasting an unforgettable two-year stint as the lead vocalist for Foghat. © Alan Fark

Francis Doughty "Under the Sky", FD-2 2001 On his sophomore effort, Francis Doughty maintains the widely recognized excellence he displayed on his first outing. He has often been compared to Leo Kottke, and his version of Kottke's "Busted Bicycle" demonstrates why: he attacks the tune with his 12-string guitar, choosing to burrow through the base of the mountain rather than taking a meandering road around it (his analogy). He again reaches for the 12-string for Geoff Muldaur's "Mole's Moan" and for Carolan's "Sheebeg and Sheemore". His choice of the 12-string for the Carolan composition is inspired (as is his arrangement of this Celtic chestnut) and suggests that the full sound of the 12 string is a natural stand in for the Irish harp. The balance of the album is devoted to ten of Doughty's compositions (he studied classical composition at University of Massachusetts). On these pieces, Doughty demonstrates that he has moved far beyond the influences of John Fahey and Leo Kottke to find his own voice, especially on "Pearl-Streaked Morning", "Steve's Pain", "Star Spangles on the Pond", and "Embers" (you can almost see the embers flickering when you hear the harmonics on this tune). This CD is exceptionally well recorded and produced, right down to the cover art, photography and liner notes. Highly recommended. © Patrick Grant

Dennis Neff "Finger Food" Most acoustic instrumental fingerstylists hero-worship Doyle Dykes from afar. But Dennis Neff is on a nearly spiritual tack toward doing justice to some of Dykes' more difficult riffs and bends. "Celtic Blue" starts out his CD "Finger Food" with Neff attacking his tunes with a Kottke-like vengeance, but his spring winds down a little bit with each song so that he ends up wilin' away a beautiful autumn's afternoon pickin' for the leisurely fun of it. There are some nice covers of "Little Wing", "My Girl", "Let it Be" and "Here Comes the Sun". © Alan Fark

Bob Bennett "The View from Here", Living Room SPLR3-102, 2002 Bob Bennett projects a rich and sonorous baritone, accompanied by a precise but syncopated fingerstyle mimicking James Taylor. His tunes are infectious, prompting a listener to place harmonies in his mind's ear where there are none. A nod to Bennett's very obvious professionalism is given by David Wilcox, who cameos on background vocals on Bennett's 1991 CD, "Songs from Bright Avenue". The only thing holding Bennett back is that although his lyrics are heartfelt, they occasionally become maudlin, and the evangelical nature of his song's messages narrows his appeal to Christian music aficionados. © Alan Fark


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