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November & December Short Takes

Ed Acquesta "String Spirits", 2004 Ed Aquesta is a master guitarist, adept in many styles. From fingerstyle solo jazz guitar arrangements á la Joe Pass and the seven-string wizard George Van Eps to rootsier ground once dominated by such fingerstyle luminaries as the late John Fahey, Acquesta never disappoints. He even plays some down-home Delta slide. And amazingly, he never seems out of his depth. Acquesta convinces every step of the way, from Ellington¹s lush "Prelude to a Kiss" and numerous other standards to the "Wabash Rag". Awesome late night listening. © Chip O'Brien

Po' Girl "Vagabond Lullabies" 2004 If this trio sounds a bit like the Be Good Tanyas that's because Trish Klein is one of it's founding members. Allison Russell and Diona Davies complete the group, blessing us with a laid-back album of modern traditional sounding folk that's perfect for lazing about on the porch. With understated vocals, there's instrumentation ranging from a hopeful banjo to mournful fiddle to a driving snare drum. "Walk on and Sing" is a stand-out, with slide guitar played by guest player Tony Scherr, muted organ and emotional vocals that sound gospel at times. "Part Time Poppa" is a 30's style blues tune while "Take the Long Way" is a thoughtful ballad with a more contemporary sound. © Jamie Anderson

Howard Emerson "A Tale to Tell", 2004 It may well be that the best guitarist in America you have never heard of is Howard Emerson. The man can flat out play. Every song on his second CD "A Tale to Tell" brings Emerson's stylistic syncopation to the forefront, while various tracks emphasize funky slide work, a fingerstyle groove, or simple, sweet melody. He doesn't dazzle with flash, or confound our ears with too many notes. Emerson's work is deft and precise, but full and rich while not being crowded, like a fine walk in autumn. Three of the tunes are vocals, with Howard's gravely tenor bringing the right flavor to each, while there are 12 instrumentals (though 4 of these are just "orphan licks"). More than once while listening I have caught myself wondering, 'how does he do that?' He plays as one who has absorbed bits and pieces from the legacy of finger pickers gone by, yet he is none of those, but brings his own musical voice. He can be funky ("Phelps Flats," ".and why not?", "Nokie's Blue Bottle"), or gentle (""Liar's Lullaby," "Piping Flower Waltz") . Emerson does a great slappy cover of Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" on 12-string guitar with some tasty slide work -- who needs a bass when you've got that groove going on? And how's this for praise: Stan Jay of Mandolin Brothers on Staten Island wrote the introductory notes, and for a couple years, Howard's debut CD "Crossing Crystal Lake" has been his recommended listening. I concur: give it a listen, and then you'll be one more who's heard of Howard Emerson. © Kirk Albrecht

Tony Furtado "These Chains", 2004 "These Chains" pulls recording veteran Tony Furtado down another road, this time unfurling his songwriting/vocal talents. Furtado has explored several genres and styles during his 15-year recording history. Discs have included studio work ("Swamped", "Within Reach", "Full Circle", "Roll My Blues Away", "American Gypsy") and two live effors ("Tony Furtado Kelly Joe Phelps Band" and "Live Gypsy"). Previous focuses on bluegrass, banjo and slide guitar have given way to thoughtful lyrics and an earnest, country-inflected tenor. California native Furtado takes his band through the paces in several swamp-based, driving tunes, with bandmate Doug Pettibone’s searing guitar cutting though the gumbo. "These Chains" show Furtado in a reflective mood -- he mentions on the liner notes that old prison work songs have been a big influence of late, and it shows, both musically and thematically. He covers a lot of other ground as well, including a duet with Jules Shear on Bob Dylan’s "One Too Many Mornings", "Swayback Jim", a nice ode to a swayback horse Furtado happened across during a cross-country trip, and a heartfelt track co-written with Jim Lauderdale, "Need a Friend". Still, the one track that jumps out from this collection -- and which has country radio station "hit" written all over it -- is Furtado’s "Oh Father Mine". Furtado wrote this when he learned his father was about to die from cancer. It’s sincere, pulls all the right heartstrings without being manipulative, and quietly connects. © Fred Kraus

Kastning/Siegfried, "Bichromial", 2004 The avant-garde composer John Cage was profoundly influenced by a maxim of one of his teachers: that the purpose of music is "to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences". Kevin Kastning and Siegfried, on "Bichromial", follow in Cage's tradition with an austere collection of acoustic guitar duets which challenge a listener's preconceptions about the nature of music. "Through-composed", no passages or themes are repeated. The result gives the impression of spontaneous but unhurried improvisational interplay, and is synchronously quieting and disquieting. © Alan Fark

Pete "Big Dog" Fetters "Deep", 2004 Pete "Big Dog" Fetters sounds like a one-man acoustic band on his latest release, "Deep", a lively recording and genuine showcase of his incredible musicianship. This well produced CD highlights Fetters' proficiency as an acoustic bluesman -- he absolutely shines on acoustic slide, harp solos and vocals. "Deep" features eleven tracks, ten of which are original songs from this singer-songwriter whose work originates from a storytelling point-of-view. Fetters covers both light-hearted and serious subjects with a fresh, uplifting energy that definitely grabs your attention, starting with the opening track, "Who’s That Knockin'", a great slide tune, followed by, "Cornfield Cadillac" a fast paced track with some excellent harp work. If your toes aren't tappin' by now, better check for a pulse. Fetters brings plenty of soulful emotion vocally, but he really pours it on playing slide. Some great examples are, "Does Your Mama Know?", "Midnight Train", and "Like You Do". "Deep" is an excellent body of work from a premiere solo blues artist who brings it all together with authority from start to finish. Fetters resumé includes seven albums, he’s opened for B.B. King, Delbert McClinton and Leon Russell, and twenty years of touring and performing as a solo artist. Acoustic country blues has a huge following with a present day revival, making it a very hot commodity. Fetters is one of several extremely talented acoustic bluesman whose music is spreading like wildfire. I highly recommend getting a copy of this new release, it’s sure to please without the burn. © Pamela Dow

Viv "Flawed", 2004 Viv plays rock and roll, sounds like no other band, yet sounds at times like many bands frequently cited as influences: Beatles, early Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett, Radiohead, the Eagles. Viv plays tight, changing with every cut and inside every cut. The arrangements never stay in one place for long, moving with inscrutable logic: acoustic, then rocking hard, then piling on layers of sound. Matt Ostrander, principal songwriter and lead singer, has a head overflowing with dark thoughts, a pop sensibility, and an adventuresome approach. He turns phrases on their heads, writes obscure lyrics, and name checks Dylan. And he has the nerve to call the album "Flawed." If it were perfect, it wouldn't be rock and roll. And Viv plays rock and roll. © David Kleiner

blowuphollywood "Fake", 2004 An anonymous duo heavily influenced by the dreamy aesthetic of Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and The Verve, blowupollywood renders a breathy, cosmic collection sure to ignite lava lamps and incense burners to all who come in contact. Built upon simple, legato melodies of voice and acoustic guitar embellished by a myriad of sound effects, lush keyboard textures, and a wide array of orchestral harmonies and counterpoint, blowupollywood excels at creating memorable, anthemic songs with a classic 70's studio sheen. The throbbing lower register bass, syncopated grooves, and soaring vocal motif on the title track evokes memories of the Moody Blues in mid-flight. "Born" quotes an obscure Paul Simon lyric. The sampled flutes, arpeggios, slide-guitar, and double-tracked vocals of "Oceans" are majestic as they coalesce into a grand finale. And vintage B3 at the onset playfully pushes "White Walls" into Procol Harum territory. Though the references may be retro, "Fake" is a futuristic tour-de-force. © Tom Semioli

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