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November & December Short Takes

Michael Monroe "Simple Life", 2005 This gorgeous album of acoustic guitar, vocals and flutes is beautiful. Songs vary from the gentle finger-picking in the original title cut, like a laid back Alex de Grassi, to the multi-tracked strummed acoustic guitars on Cat Steven's "Peace Train." His rich warm voice sounds a bit like Stevens too. "Calling" is a highlight. He wrote it while at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, capturing the peacefulness of that place. It ends with repeating vocal harmonies intertwined with a low flute, like a chant. The production is warm and clean; it was all done in his solar-powered studio with custom guitars (tenor, baritone and standard acoustic) built by David Seaton. This disc will stay in my CD player a long time. Yours too. © Jamie Anderson

Shawn Amos "Thank You Shirl-ee May" 2005 Credit "Thank You Shirl-ee May" as one of the most ambitious records of the year. Shawn Amos (yes, his father was both famous and Famous) learned, after his mother's 2003 suicide, that she had been a professional club singer in the 1960's. The CD is a tribute to her and the story of a mother-son and husband-wife relationship told through a song cycle that takes the listener on a tour of 60's musical styles: the Beatlesque title track, the psychedelic "You're Groovy (For Boy Blue)," the superfly "Make It," and the country-fried gospel of "Dear Lord." The whole affair is very groovy. Thank you, Shawn Amos. © David Kleiner

Otis Taylor "Below the Fold," 2005 Anyone whoís heard Taylorís previous recordings, wonít be disappointed when giving his latest release, "Below The Fold," their undivided attention. The album highlights Taylorís trademark style of distinctive storytelling and signature "trance blues" sound. Many describe his trance blues rhythmic patterns as hypnotic and mesmerizing, others may find it monotonous. "Below The Fold" contains ten original songs about intense social issues from Taylorís own personal experiences and their relation to historical events. A variety of instruments are applied from banjo, fiddle, mandolin, trumpet, and drums, accentuating the specific style and format of each track. Taylor adds layers of bluegrass, jazz, folk, and rock over a rootsy blues sound, enhancing a cohesive bond between the Delta and Appalachian styles. "Below The Fold" delivers the kind of gutsy blues one expects to hear from Taylor. Reminiscent of his earlier albums, this new release and seventh album is an exciting and memorable. Several tracks worth mentioning, "Feel Like Lightning," "Working For The Pullman Company"(sung by his daughter Cassie), and "Right Side Of Heaven," full of New Orleans flavor. © Pamela Dow

Steve Wildey "Along the Way", 2005 There are hints of Tommy Emmanuel and Alex de Grassi in Steve Wildey's solo fingerstyle playing. His compositions are full of twisting and turning, yet confident, surprises. He's master of the grace note with deft hammer-ons and pull-offs as pioneered by James Taylor. Small flourishes such as this, including the tasteful use of harmonics, add up to a sweetly evocative sound. Fans of Tommy Emmanuel who can do without the pyrotechnics will love "Along the Way." © Alan Fark

Bill Perry "A Christmas Carol", 2005 I'm dying to know what would make a talented guitarist like Bill Perry put down his instrument for 20 years. A classical guitarist who took a two-decade hiatus from music, Perry has resurrected an obvious love, and "A Christmas Carol" is the pleasant result. He's imbued his own signature into such Christmas classics as "White Christmas, " "Little Drummer Boy" and "Joy to the World." Unlike other formulaic holiday collections, however, he's wisely included five of his own compositions, the first of which is appropriately titled "Prelude/Resurrection," exultant in mood as if he's returned to a bygone place. © Alan Fark

A.J. Rosales, "Resistor", 2005 A.J. Rosales has a sonically diverse album bucking the trend of a lone singer and his guitar. Together with bassist Shawn Sommer, Rosales serves up an 11-song disc of songs and instrumentals with Rosalesís voice (oft compared to Adam Duritz, but lower) and guitar (akin to Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek) leading the way. The instrumentals are intriguing, similar to "The Inlaw Josie Whales" by Anastasio or "January Second" by Watkins. Many of his structures feel ripe for an energetic live show, especially tracks like "Union," the electric "Transistor" and "Down To The Wire." Primarily a one-man show, Rosales is joined on this outing by bassist Shawn Sommer. A bass playerís curse is to go unnoticed in the crush of guitars and crashes of drums but we get to hear some choice playing in this bare setting. Sommerís playing is at once perfectly tuned to Rosalesís but Sommer is just as quick to strike out with his own counter-melody. With the exception of two or three vocal tracks, I would only recommend this record for acoustic junkies and non-mainstreamers. To the tech-savvy, Rosales is available via iTunes, both "Resistor" and his earlier EP "Earth and Shoal." © Sean Lewis

Anthony McGloin "Nightflight", 2005 Where do all these talented Australian guitarists come from? It sounds like Anthony McGloin on his self-produced debut guitar CD "Nightflight" has been listening to a lot of Tommy Emmanuel (or maybe just Chet Atkins). He's got that thumbpicking groove down on tunes like "Restless Spirit," "Sunny Afternoon," and "The Silly Season," (on the latter he flatpicks some mean mandolin as well). He catches a nice melody in "Separate Ways," and he opens with some lovely false harmonics on "Summer in Hidden Valley." The masterpiece of the recording, though, is his arrangement of "Money Money Money / If I Were A Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof. I can just see a somber Tevye the milkman ruing his fortune. He does the original score proud by hitting this one spot on. A few songs tend to wander in and out of style, pace, key, and melody, and seem to get lost in too free exploration of the instrument's sonic capabilities (like "Ship in the Storm" and the title track "Nighfllight"). More mature compositions will come as he hones his craft, but McGloin is off to a pretty good start with this effort. © Kirk Albrecht

Jamie Kindleyside "kind-le-sid", 2005 Jamie Kindleyside's "kind-le-sid" is an enjoyable album because Kindleyside doesn't have to spend too much time telling the listener how to feel about his songs, he just plays them and the feelings come naturally. After listening to this relatively short album, the listener knows something he didn't before -- the sadness and loss in "Cinnamon and Sage" to the devotional inspiration of "Jesus In My Heart." Expertly combining the melancholy sound of the violin, clever use of instrumentation, and poetic songwriting, Kindleyside leaves us inspired, enthused... and singing along. © Jennifer Knighten

Eva Fampas "Plays Dmitri Fampas", 2005 Eva Fampas in her most recent CD release has compiled present day and classic 1987 recordings of herself playing various compositions by her father. For those who may not familiar with classical guitar in Greece, Eva is the daughter of Dmitri Fampas, the well known Greek guitar performer and composer. The playing is technically solid throughout, and no doubt impassioned by Fampas' adoration of her father and his music. The compositions draw on the sounds of traditional Greek music, emphasizing melodic content which is developed through antecedent-consequent relationships and frequent cadential points. That being said, these melodies are occasionally manipulated in various ways to give the music an element of edginess and unpredictability. Eva Fampas has done well here to display the vast compositional output of her father, and to anyone interested in exploring his works I recommend to begin with this disc. © Timothy Smith

Tony Hall "Seven Falls", 2005 AAA (as in Adult Album Alternative, not baseball) singer / song-writer /guitarist Tony Hall smacks a home run on this sterling sophomore effort. A classicist at heart (his influences range from Dylan to Petty) with an eye on contemporary pop (check out the funky, neo-psychedelic "Dire" replete with a wicked hip-hop tinged intro), Hall spins thought-provoking tales of the human condition with subtle melodies, expert musicianship, and refreshingly economic arrangements. A swampy three-to-the-bar dirge "Hostage" is further illuminated by a quasi-Jimi Hendrix-like break in the solo section (dig the resolution on the last downbeat). Tyrone Wheeler's warm upright bass sweetens "Pearl/This Is The Sea." The swinging horn parts atop "Puerto Rico;" Jerry McBroom's rapid fire snare patterns pushing "Lost Lovers, Old Tires, Junk Cars;" and the harmonica melodies meshing with Mike Schroeder's mandolin (note the toy piano licks!) are among the many, many musical highlights. "Seven Falls" emerges as an acoustic pop album that certainly stands with anything Dave Matthews, Citizen Cope, and Sheryl Crowe fill arenas with. © Tom Semioli

Brendan Devereux "Songs from a Yellow Chair", 2005 It's difficult to imagine a more pleasant evening than sitting in Hughes' Bar in Dublin, Ireland, and listening Brendan Devereux perform his self-penned tunes. This 13-track collection offers a glimpse into the compositional world of this earnest Dublin-born singer/songwriter. Joined by an able circle of musicians, Devereux spins compelling tales of love, passion, wanderlust and regret. Fine fiddlework by Fionnula Devereux combines with Brendan Devereux's gentle brogue to weave an exotic and quietly passionate atmosphere. Devereux, who won the Killarney Folk Festival Song Composition in 1993, is well worth a visit for any who hold even a passing interest in American folk music or who are open to a little Irish enchantment. "Songs from a Yellow Chair" is his second disc, following "Copper Alley" (1996). © Fred Kraus

Rebecca Zapen "Japanese Bathhouse", 2005 Multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Zapen has a background ranging from jazz to klezmer to folk so it makes sense that there's lots of variety here, from the ukulele-based old-fashioned sounding "Smile" to the Bjork-like "We Didn't Bother," all featuring her dreamy vocals. Like many of her songs, "We Didn't Bother" has some unusual melodic changes. Half steps? Minor? I'm not sure but it's definitely beyond usual singer-songwriter fare and it's all anchored with a solidly strummed acoustic guitar, keeping that waltz time so well she hardly needs drums. She veers into a Brazilian feel on "Dolores" and "Your Voice." There are instrumentals too. My favorite is Pizzicato #1, a piece that reflects her classical leanings. Holding down the center is her plucked violin that's later joined by an acoustic bass. Lovely. © Jamie Anderson

Here's some others we received this month:

Al Monte - E Minor Soup
Shane O'Brien - The SDT Session
Maypops - Spirits of Agnew
Debra Cowan (with Michael DeLalla) - Dad's Dinner Pail
Laura Day - It's You
Ken Totushek - Sweet Devotion
Buzz Turner - Finally Home
Bobby St.Vincent
Johnny J. Blair - Treadmarks
Kevin Hiatt - Strange Ships on a Blue Horizon
Alan Goodman - Under the Bed
Ilsabe O'Connell - Little Lost Cause

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