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November & December Short Takes

Brownbird Rudy Relic "Anti-Stereo Acoustic Holler Blues," 2007 Few certainties exist in life, but this I know: Brownbird Rudy Relic will change how you think about modern music, will prompt your jaw to drop in utter incredulity, and will absolutely, positively blow your mind. Brownbird recaptures the urgency and passion of early- to mid-20th century American blues by distilling their essence and infusing them with poetry and power. He arms himself with an acoustic guitar and low-fi recording equipment that makes his rough-edged compositions sound like old 78s. He doesn't handcuff himself by redoing old songs -- he takes the spirit of the old masters and uses it to inhabit his own work. A former punk rocker and New York City subway busker, Brownbird's work is warm and gritty, shedding light on racism, love and life's aches. As he says on the liner notes: "When all the saids have been said and the dones done, I am still that same 15-year-old punk rocker who found Chuck Berry, fell for Chess Records, bestowed his heart to pre-war rhythms and gave his life over to the blues." And we benefit greatly from his earnest hollerings. Wonderful, unique collection. © Fred Kraus

Emily Kurn "Things Change," 2007 With songs like several different New England singer-songwriters, she has that earthy honest style that makes them so appealing. What separates her from the pack is a voice deep with vibrato and a delivery that always reaches the back row. It's Americana through and through with a solid rhythm section and sideplayers including guitarist Duke Levine (Mary Chapin Carpenter) and bassist Richard Gates (Patty Larkin). It's no surprise that she covers one of Rose Polenzani's songs (one of those aforementioned New Englanders), the well-presented "You Were Drunk," as well as eleven of her originals including "Brown Boots, Red Coat," a heart-tugging goodbye song and "The Schmuck," a quirky tune in a ragtime style, about a lonely guy. "No Way Around It" has a great sing along chorus underpinned with a fun electric guitar. © Jamie Anderson

Diego Sandrin "A Fine Day Between Addictions," 2007 A formidable presence on the LA music scene (he co-wrote "Gone" with Lisa Marie Presley) and former member of a popular Italian punk band (Ice and the Iced), Diego Sandrin's debut album harkens back to the days when singer-songwriters were indeed confessional, as evidenced by the album's dedication "for all those who hold the world in contempt -- for dreamless and locked up ones everywhere for whom pain is a way of life." Despite the dour subjects addressed in "A Fine Day," Sandrin's plaintive melodies and quasi-orchestral arrangements are a most uplifting blend of heartland rock and adult contemporary. The ascending chord progression of "Bad Graces" affords a positive spin to a guy who'd either kill himself or move to California should his love remain unrequited. Orchestral flourishes evocative of Paul Buckmaster and Gus Dudgeon's groundbreaking work with a young Elton John abruptly stamp out the pastoral waltz verses of "My American Friends" -- yet another frightening tale of alienation. Fear not, Sandrin often employs Cindy (no last name given) to temper his temper with lovely vocal harmonies. Fans of the Wallflowers, Rufus Wainwright, and David Gray will likely be hooked. © Tom Semioli

Bobby Rush "Raw," 2006 From showboat to rowboat, Bobby Rush brings it all back down home on "Raw." If you're not convinced, the front and back cover photographs should set you straight. His sly dog persona remains intact straight through from the opener, "Bony Maroney," -- "she's a real skinny woman but she's well put together" to the closer, "I Got 3 Problems," -- "I got problems with my woman, my girlfriend and my wife." The latter is a stand-out slide guitar how-to, very pleasing. His voice is direct, unadorned and fits the material to a tee. Rush's harmonica startles in its clarity on "Glad to Get You Back" and "You Don't Love Me." "Raw" is nothing if not authentic. His audience may be sparser and wiser -- they may chuckle rather than howl at his antics ---but they won't be disappointed by Rush as solo bluesman. © Steve Klingaman

Jook Bourke, "Just a Minute," 2007 Jook Bourke discovers the smooth spot where the blues takes a load off and offers a respite from life's travails on "Just A Minute." This pleasant, 11-song collection (all penned by Bourke) features his comfortable tenor, which occasionally dips into a throaty growl. Equally adept on guitar and harmonica, he files the rough edges off the traditional blues genre and creates an amalgam of jazz-inflected, bluesy tracks. The story-based lyrics revolve predominantly around relationships and their mendings and frayings. There are many enjoyable moments on this, his third solo CD, following on the heels of his "My Mojo's Just Too Weak." Though he grew up in Pittsburgh, Bourke seems to have absorbed some of the laid-back leanings of his present environs of Satellite Beach, Florida. Have a favorite beverage handy. © Fred Kraus

Greg Gilbertson, "Limited Vocabulary," 2007 Greg Gilbertson plays six and 12-string guitars in altered tunings and composed all of the music on this disc. Critics have compared him to Don Ross, Leo Kottke, Billy McLaughlin and Michael Hedges. For me, Gilbertson's strongest suit is his striking and original emphasis on melody, incorporated into the percussive approach typified by his influences. The opener, "First Light," illustrates this approach, with Gilbertson using a chorus effect to fatten his tone. Gilbertson writes in the liner notes that "Esox Fables" reminds him of fishing for muskie, which would have to be the most frantic fishing trip ever! "Fidelity" features a more natural tone, yet, even without noticeable processing, Gilbertson's melody happily remains in the forefront. A bluegrass feel characterizes "Dirt Roads," which brings to mind a 5-string banjo and fiddle trading licks. The CD closes with "At Hour's End," evoking a lullaby at the end of a summer day. Gilbertson is a good composer and I'm anxious to hear him experiment with different tones, contrasting tempos, and bring other instruments into his arrangements, although his existing strengths should serve him well regardless of the path he takes. © Patrick Ragains

Si Hayden, "Steel Roots," 2007 Si Hayden is a guitarist from the Midlands in the U.K., and a player of both steel string and electric guitars with a lot of jazz influence. On this CD, "Steel Roots", he plays acoustic. Of the 12 tracks on "Steel Roots", 10 are original compositions, and he covers Van Morrison's "Moondance" and "Folsom Prison Blues". Most of the tunes have multiple voices at once, and the songs could be characterized as busy. A case in point: "Planet of the Grapes" has walking bass lines, tapping, a Spanish opening arpeggio, with blazing scale work. It's hard to know where he's going with his music; each song seems to take a direction for a brief time, then a detour takes us on some other route. The opening track "Ellya" is a great bluesy groove, yet constant attempts to interweave single-note runs take him out of time and lose the sense of cohesion good songs maintain. On "Moondance", we hear all his influences come together: a funky groove, jazz chordings, some Spanish guitar flourishes, and lots of quick arpeggios. It would have been more effective if he had chosen one stylistic flavor and developed it more fully, but Si does have some chops. Hayden is a talented guitarist who, like a good wine, needs some time to develop into a refined taste. © Kirk Albrecht

Cindy Combs, "Sunny Rain," 2007 George Winston is well-known as one of the flagship artists for the Windham Hill label, which in the 1980s introduced the world to some incredible acoustic music, not the least being Michael Hedges and Alex de Grassi. What most people don't know about George Winston is his mission since 1985 to record a full catalog of the Hawaiian slack key guitar masters on his own Dancing Cat label. Cindy Combs is one of those contemporary masters whom Winston sought out. Combs recalls learning her trademark G6th (D-G-D-G-B-E) and the "C Wahine" (C-G-D-G-B-E) tunings in a six-lesson intensive from slack key legend Keola Beamer in 1971, a year that she says "changed her life." It's apparent on "Sunny Rain" that 30+ years of playing slack key guitar has placed her in a position to also change the lives of the next generation of guitarists -- there is a flawless and unhurried touch in her instrumental guitarwork which seems like a metaphor for island life itself. © Alan Fark

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

Darren Curtis Skanson - Duetos Cantabiles
Michael Veitch - Painted Heart
Peter Miller - From a Distant Shore
Max Heinegg - These Familiar Days
David Widelock - Memories of a Surprise
Christopher Smith - Gravedigger's Boy
Steve Chizmadia - It is What it Is
Shawn Harris - Temptation
Adam Hill - Four Shades of Green
Dafni - Charlie's Lonely Sunday
Olivea Watson - Way Down Deep
Megan Jean & the Klay Family Band - Autumn

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