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November & December Short Takes

Dagobert Bohm "Circle Around," 1999 Dagobert Bohm's "Circle Around" was recorded in 1999, but Ozella Records rightly rescued this gem from their vaults to release it nearly a decade later. Bohm's compositions are minimalist, sedate and mystical. The title track in particular oozes a drone-like serenity which lulls. The exception to the mood is "Opus 71," which could be a piece of Bill Evans' jazz balladry, a wistful pianistic reminiscence... and my favorite track. © Alan Fark

Lee Westwood Ensemble "Nymph Suite and Other Stories," 2008 In Lee Westwood's second release, "Nymph Suite and Other Stories", he has been joined by several fellow musicians to form the Lee Westwood Ensemble. The disc features new music composed by Westwood, and is a natural growth from his debut CD, which predominantly comprised of solo guitar works. Most notably, these new compositions share a distinctive mood, which is a common thread throughout the entirety of the disc. While the music has a meditative effect, it is never introverted, as the flute presents the melodic content in a clear direct voice, frequently speckled with delicate tonguing techniques. This peaceful effect is the result rather, of the cyclical, yet tastefully chromatic and paradoxically unpredictable nature of the melodies. Meanwhile, the soundscape is then further enhanced through the support of Westwood's flowing guitar arpeggios, and the haunting sustain of violin and cello. Accompanying the disc is a series of poems and original art, which appears to have inspired Westwood's music. When these various mediums are experienced together, the listener is guided through an artistic journey like none other. © Timothy Smith

Ken Hatfield "Etudes for Solo Guitar in 24 Keys," 2008 Ken Hatfield is a consummate musician whose resume includes work with Charlie Byrd, Z.Z. Hill and composing scores for film and television. As a leader, Hatfield has fused jazz and classical music in solo and small group settings. This CD features original contrapuntal pieces played solo on nylon string guitar. He offers one piece for each major and minor key, starting with C major, shifting a fifth to G major, etc. The minor key etudes progress in fourths, i.e., C minor, F minor, etc. Although the CD is a companion to Hatfield's printed folio of these etudes, the performances are quite interesting and listenable on their own. The opening Etude in C Major, Etude 20 in B minor and Etude 24 in G minor are strongly rooted in classical forms, but the pieces in Ab major, F minor ("For Jim Fisch"), and Eb minor have a jazz feel. Intermediate and advanced guitarists will find much here to widen their harmonic and rhythmic palettes, but casual listeners are also in for a treat. © Patrick Ragains

Patrick Smith"Scattered Hearts," 2008 Atmospheric. Meditative. Such is the tenor of Patrick Smith’s "Scattered Dreams," a CD of solo acoustic guitar pieces. Smith doesn’t show much flash of single note runs, no frenetic tapping, no percussive use of the soundboard. Offered in the 14 tracks are simple fingerpicked melodies that use a similar pattern. The title track, "Scattered Hearts" opens with the clash of a brash chord anticipating the angst of its theme, and proceeds to batter the listener to consider the reality of hearts set apart. Some of Smith’s chord shapes up the neck sound almost harpsichord-ish, adding unusual color to the songs. An example of this technique is on "Gathered Heart," the antithesis of the title cut. While Smith makes the most of interesting chord forms, the songs often drift into the same feel both in tone color and picking patterns. This would be fine on an EP with just four or five songs, but with 14 tracks and 45 minutes of music, the disc begins to sound repetitive after a while. The possibility of the songs themselves is present, but their fulfillment needs further musical development and variation, utilizing the possibilities six string guitar offers. © Kirk Albrecht

RJ Cowdery"One More Door," 2007 Even when she's singing something sad, there's a message of hope in RJ's songs. Her relaxed alto voice is like a having a conversation with an old friend who strums the guitar as she talks. Steeped in folk, this acoustic guitar playing singer-songwriter doesn't stick with familiar folk trappings but ventures into rock and a bit of country. "I Believe" is a sweet anthem that wishes for good in this life. I love the touch of banjo in that one. You don't want to piss off a songwriter and she proves that in "State Of Mine" -- "But you had your chance so be on your way / Before I change my mind and drop a house on your today." The liner notes for "County Road 62" say it's dedicated to "those who dance at the Torch Baptist Cemetery." Unfortunately, the lyrics don't match up to this intriguing premise, with passive lyrics about having a good time and leaving flowers on the graves. "There She Goes" starts out as a compelling story about a woman's love of fast cars but we never know anything beyond that. Too many of her songs are like these -- they come off as a bit bland, even when inspired by intense emotions. More detail and less predictable melodies would've fixed that. Also, her songs would have been bettered served with arrangements that were more acoustic and with drums that weren't so prominent. There are times when the percussion and electric guitar scream "look at me," drawing the focus away from the songs and her lovely voice. Her acoustic guitar was often too low, making it sound like an afterthought. © Jamie Anderson

John Scott Evans, "Above the Sun," 2008 Adding strings to a production must be a seductive temptation for any guitarist who can afford to do so -- the polish it adds can make the difference between a professional versus an amateur showcase of one's work. The downside is that orchestral music may become relegated to being formulaic and predictable, especially for cover tunes. Such is the case when John Scott Evans revisits Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" and Christopher Cross' "Sailing"... instrumental versions which Evans plays flawlessly but without surprises. Evans is more obviously a great player on those songs in this collection on which his guitarwork speaks for itself, unvarnished: the Celtic-tinged "Streams in the Desert," the bittersweet number "Cascadia" and the jaunty "The Choir." © Alan Fark

Bob Bradshaw & Chad Manning, "Bag of Knives," 2008 Bob Bradshaw -- principal songwriter -- on vocals and guitar and Chad Manning -- producer, co-mixer -- on fiddle and mandolin, put together songs and arrangements as delicate as Manning's tremelo mando picking on the title track. Throughout, the lyrics are as carefully chosen as every note on this elegant album. (The lack of a lyric insert is unforgivable!) Downtempo tunes dominate and sadness lingers. But there's more than enough beauty and inventiveness to lift the coldest heart. The waltz-able refrain ("Dance with me") of "Desert Waltz" -- the tale of a soldier's deployment and return -- brims with longing effectively mirrored by Manning's playing. "Please" features the wish-I'd-written "snug as a gun" (by way of Seamus Heaney?) and "the shock that shook me speechless." "Another Day in the Life" overlays detail on detail on top of insistent bass and fiddle as it moves toward its inevitable but still devastating conclusion. "From The 2-Step To The 12-Step Once Again," brings welcome humor while proving these guys know their way around a swing tune. This "Bag of Knives" is sharp: lovely, affecting, and original. © David Kleiner

Amy Regan "And Then There is This," 2008 Her wistful Norah Jones-like soprano and straight-ahead lyrics are what folks will notice first about this EP. She doesn't use fancy metaphors or vague words, just plainly stated love lost/love gained stories. She taught herself piano (and I'm assuming guitar) and that results in some pleasantly unexpected melodic changes. One of her influences is Joni Mitchell and although they were about the same age when they started writing, there isn't yet that kind of maturity in Amy's work. She has great potential, though, especially if she stays with the production talents of Patrick Ermlich and Tyler Lee. They've packaged her songs in a pleasing mix of rock and folk with a touch of pop. My favorite cut is the jazzy "Nighttime Bird," centered around a bossa nova guitar. © Jamie Anderson

Joe Iadanza, "Traveling Salesman," 2008 Notice the striking (and ecological) packaging of this CD. Iadanza dedicates the record to his grandfather, Sam -- a traveling salesman. Every detail reflects that this album is a labor of love. The songs bring to musical life the thoughts of the salesman as he drives from one place to another, sometimes late at night ("Night Light Lullaby"). The lyrics tend to jump like thought, from thing to thing ("And I've got this new pad, and you're the first word I felt inspired to write. Hey, maybe you're not feeling much different inside"). But the tendency toward disunity is more than offset by the consistency of the concept and the arrangements. One of Iadanza's best moves was securing the trio "Gathering Time" to spice up the vocals ("Your Song") and take the edge off his gritty voice. Thanks to them and Carolin Pook's fiddle playing and arranging, many of the tunes really swing ("Lovers in the Park," "The Barn"). Credit, as well, to Jon Castelli's engineering for maintaining clarity throughout. As Joe the Traveling Salesman, Iadanza has surely made Sam proud. © David Kleiner

Matthijs Spek, "Beyond," 2008 On this, his second album, guitarist/pianist Spek plays his own compositions on steel string guitars, mostly in a solo setting. He processes his sound with a bit of delay on some tracks, resulting in a shimmering tone that fits his wistful compositions. The title tune is classically-influenced, with a melodic line played underneath a flawless tremolo. Other tunes, like "Solace" and "Remember," are slower and reflective. The pensive "Elegy" is followed by "Weightless," a playful tune. Spek's music is inviting and often familiar, without sounding derivative. The overall impression is one of inviting, subtle beauty. © Patrick Ragains

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

John Rankin - Last in April, First in May
The Wandering Endorphin - When the Moon was Full of Mystery
Jeff Troxel - Dancing in the Flame
Jimmy Williams - Acquiescence
Michael Kammin - Cold Pines
Otis Read - Turn a Page
Markley & Balmer
Mary Hocks - Spinning the Sky
The Roseline - Lust for Luster
Tim Jenkins - Poiema
The Conductors - Navigating the Spectrum
Brent Gunter - Andalusia
Bill Madden - Child of the Same God

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