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November & December Short Takes

Steve Baughman "Life in Prism," 2010 Steve Baughmanís latest CD, "Life in Prism," is more of the same from the California-based guitarist: well-shaped melodies and clean playing, combined with a willingness to color a little outside the lines. Known for his adaptation of banjo frailing technique on the steel string guitar, Baughman opens and closes the CD with a pair of fine originals, then fills the rest with sweet arrangements of standards, from Jay Ungarís "Ashokan Farewell" (played in duet with Nina Gerber) to the Christian hymn "It Is Well With My Soul" to several traditional tunes and some Turlough OíCarolan gems. This effort from Baughman features more straight fingerpicking over the clawhammer effect he has used so well in recordings past. His simple arrangement of the Spafford hymn is delightful in capturing the sober yet hopeful mood of that piece. His rollicking clawhammer playing is featured well on the traditional "Julie Ann Johnson", where the pulsating style carries the melody along with a gently driving rhythm. If you have patience to wait through about 10 minutes of air, there are 2 extra tunes tacked onto the end of the disc: OíCarolanís "Fanny Power," and "Dans Keff Sans," a tune he has recorded before, but this time played a bit slower. If you like clean, beautiful fingerstyle playing, you really canít go wrong with Steve Baughman and "Life in Prism." © Kirk Albrecht

Various Artists from The Acoustic Guitar Forum "Hand Made Music," 2010 The internet is a great meeting place of like-minded artists, allowing cross-pollination not seen in previous generations. Guitar forums have proven to be a fertile place for giving voice to players below the radar of the mass market, yet capable of making some enjoyable music. From this cauldron of collaboration comes a CD of original songs by members of the Acoustic Guitar Forum entitled "Hand Made Music." For most amateurs, itís a pretty nice collection of fingerstyle playing. Some players like Doug Young from Acoustic Guitar magazine, and Don Alder, are well known. Others have no following at all as players, but offer fine contributions. James Filkins, a writer for Minor 7th, plays two pieces on the CD, "Women and Roses" and "Autumnal Equinox." The guitars come from luthiers who have all contributed to the forum, actively sharing their ideas and creations with guitar heads who just canít get enough of these masterful hand-crafted music boxes. The arrangements are all pretty simple, single-guitar songs (except the duet "Snow Day" by J.R. Rogers & Steve Reinthal). A couple favorites: the flamenco-tinged "Spain" by Marcus Eaton and a well-crafted medley "Shenandoah/Danny Boy" by John Creech. Some nice listening in these 17 cuts. © Kirk Albrecht

Abby Ahmad "Curriculum," 2009 She chronicles an intensely emotional relationship in angry poetic language using fleeting images and dynamic arrangements mostly centered around her Ani Difrano-like guitar. The band kicks it, offering layers of texture to drive the mood of each song. "Star Pupil" features a smooth horn section over her percussive guitar, making for a great groove. The wistful piano on "Picket Lines" is a nice touch. On "Habit" there's only a bass and drums plus her guitar and vocal but that's all that's needed for a big sound full of bitter lyrics like "I want you when I'm hungry / But I crave you when I'm full / You're two chocolate bars and a cigarette /Away from being lethal." It's her best song, by far. "Lost on Me" is more contemplative and in "Up and Through" she laments, "I am my own catastrophe." She finally lets go of that bad relationship in the last song, "In Favor of Braver Parts." While this is a wonderfully produced and arranged disc, a lot of the lyrics were too vague, like she'd strung together a bunch of random words. Beyond knowing that she's really angry and lost, it's hard to know what is really going on. But then, maybe this is meant to be an aural equivalent of abstract art. © Jamie Anderson

Michael Busch "Dawn Dancer," 2009 German instrumentalist Busch has produced several solo albums, composed and recorded for films, and is a key member of the trio, Jaelic. This CD features a program of originals, each performed flawlessly. Beautiful pastels by Antje Bleck on the case and insert are evocative of the places and feelings inspiring Buschís compositions. Buschís compositions and performances are equally strong. "Highway 101" features energetic strumming, hammering, and tapping and calls up mental images of the American Northwest. Other uptempo pieces include "Highland Spirit", "Snowdonia Travels", and the title track, which closes the disc. My favorites include several moody compositions: "Evolution of a Pearl", "First Trip to Ireland", "Fare Ye Well", "Finally the Wind Comes Down", and "Avalon" (more likely referring to the Welsh island of Arthurian lore than to Mississippi John Hurtís hometown). "Dawn Dancer" will reward the careful listener with a travelogue of stunning musical beauty. © Patrick Ragains

Art House Cinema 2010 Art House Cinema is a project helmed by veteran singer-songwriter Brent Daniel, who leads a dexterous ensemble that can play just about any style their leader throws at them. Fans of old-school album rock will instantly fall in love with this well written, diverse, and expertly rendered debut, which is the first in a trilogy of albums planned under the above mentioned moniker. Akin to such classic tunesmiths as Ron Sexton, Graham Parker, and John Hiatt and their formidable sidemen (anyone remember The Rumour?) -- Daniel a.k.a. AHC tears through several genres ranging from Americana to folk to garage rock with almighty acoustic guitar as his anchor. Daniel is a rambling country gentleman on "As A World Turns," a tender confessional troubadour in "Sparks," a restless romantic soul for "The Girl You Are" and so forth. Daniel croons with a lilt of a British accent -- which fits his Beatle-esque melodies quite well, though he's certainly not derivative. You'd be hard pressed to find a finer songwriter and his band plying their craft these days (sorry BruceÖ). © Tom Semioli

Redmond O'Toole "October on Achill," 2010 Itís not hard to find good Celtic music in our day. All kinds of artists have sprung up to bring us the driving rhythm and haunting melodies of the Land of Eire. Redmond OíToole has taken his own turn, yet from a different direction: OíToole plays an 8-string classical guitar, played in the style of Paul Galbraith, upright like a cello with an endpin resting on a resonance box. This lends a certain unique timbre to the traditional tunes, quite different from the usual ringing of steel string guitars from players like Tony McManus or William Coulter. OíToole has not gone too sparse in his playing, surrounding himself with fine players on traditional instruments like fiddle, uilleann pipes, low whistle, and bodhran. In the mix of traditional tunes and Turloug OíCarolan melodies are three pieces by the 19th century composer Mauro Giuliani that fit right in with the rest of the CD. The 13 songs form a fine corpus of Irish music, played with sensitivity and allowing the power of the music to speak its own lovely voice of love, sorrow, and trouble through the ages. A fine collection. © Kirk Albrecht

Jess Yoakum "The Quiet Mile," 2010 Her versatile vocals sound so present, it's like she's singing low in your ear -- how can you not listen? Her emotionally moving songs are complimented by simple arrangements of acoustic guitar, cello, keyboards, percussion and bass. It all has a pleasant organic feel like the musicians woke up today and said, hey let's cut a song. "Texas" has a dreamy slide guitar that underscores the unsettled emotions of the singer. There's someone she's left behind in Massachusetts but there's a draw in Texas too -- what to do? "Hold Me In" has a solid piano like an anthem while "This Quiet Mile" features a huge sounding acoustic guitar, perhaps in an open tuning. In "The Morning," she pours out her grief, telling us how hard it is to wake up without that certain someone. There's a rolling piano in "Hiding Out," a great contrast to sharp words like "I cling to my anger like it's the one thing that defines me." The stand out cut is "Breathe Child" where she gives comforting advice to a friend, or maybe herself, about remembering to take care of yourself. Her voice sounds more breathy than on other cuts, suggesting a fragility that really enhances the song. A heartbreaking cello completes the picture. Beautiful. © Jamie Anderson

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

David Zink - PopZinkle
Victor Tsaran - Vanilla Fields
Reini Adelbert - KarooBlu
James Apollo - Til Your Feet Bleed
Bill Wilson, Jr. - Chasing the Sun
Lithium Seven - Something Else is Waiting
Jesse Brewster - Wrecking Ball at the Concert Hall
Big Boy Pete - Winklepickin
Scott Dameron & Jay Ladd V - Walker 904A
Tom Salvatori & Iris Litchfield - Ever Ever On
US 32 - Tumblin Home
The Redemtion Center - Land of Plenty

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