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November & December 2012 Short Takes

Andrew McKnight & Beyond Borders "One Virginia Night," 2012 I've long been a fan of Andrew McKnight's thoughtful songs and he definitely doesn't disappoint here. He has several solo albums, but this is the first time recording with his band Beyond Borders, a quartet that also features Les Thompson (the Dirt Band), Stephanie Thompson and Lisa Taylor on guitars, banjo, acoustic bass, drums and more, not to mention harmony so tight you'd swear they were all related. Andrew's songs really shine, as does his amazing guitar work, from delicate fingerpicking on an acoustic, to hot swing on an electric. Arrangements go from bluegrass to country rock to jazz/blues, and the best part? It was all recorded live, capturing the energy that only comes from a concert. The disc kicks off with the bluegrass feel of "How High the Mountain." "A Town Called Progress" chronicles the sad decline of small-town America, using Andrew's sharp imagery. His songs are often about the people around his home in Virginia, like "Safe Home," about Appalachian families who send their kids into the military (and features a hot flat picking solo from Andrew), and "The Road to Appomattox," the poignant story of a Virginia farm boy in the Civil War. In "Made by Hand," a tune co-written with bandmate Les and Chance McCoy (Old Crow Medicine Show), he asks if we honor work the same way our ancestors did. The band rocks it up on the traditional "Worried Man Blues." "Dancing in the Rain" makes the struggles of farmers a personal story: All my years I've lived here, it's the only way I know / Run the family farm with the grace of God above and the fertile soil below / Summer's gone eleven weeks, of searing stormless choke / Fifty thousand dollars' worth, of dreams going up in smoke. Drummer Lisa Taylor kills it on her original song "It Means a Lot." With her bluesy wail and Andrew's electric punctuating the jazz/blues number, it's the one of the best cuts. "Beyond Borders" is wonderfully percussive and has a great melody. It all ends with their encore, "Surveillance," a little poke at the Patriot Act, featuring Andrew's right-on Jimmie Vaughan-style playing. The CD comes with a DVD and if anything else, proves that only four people recorded this album. Four very talented people. Very highly recommended. © Jamie Anderson

Ciro Hurtado "Los Angeles Blues," 2012 The name shouldn’t fool you – this is not a blues record, nor will listening to it give you the blues. But Ciro Hurtado’s latest nylon-string fingerstyle CD will give you a taste of his playing. The LA-based Peruvian native delivers an enjoyable listening experience, like a cool breeze on a warm spring day. With his lineage, it’s no surprise that Hurtado graces most of these 11 songs with a distinctly Latin feel, while fusing some unique Andean folk music ideas, and even a passing Moorish feel ("Reflection"). Hurtado is a sensitive player, bringing color to each song, yet there is a gentle elegance also present in his compositions and playing. "Aguas" is an upbeat re-make of a tune released originally in 1990, but now stripped down to the intimate setting fingerstyle guitar affords. "Tahuampita" reflects a traditional Peruvian jungle dance with a rhythmic feel. "IslAndes" is Hurtado’s attempt to fuse his own sound with Irish music, again in a dance-like melody. "La Negrita Tomasa" is a lively sprite of a song. The disc finished with the delightful "Bordon Triste," a mix of Peruvian styles. Ciro Hurtado is not trying to out-sizzle Strunz and Farah (with whom he has toured and played), but it’s fine guitar music for a peaceful night with your beloved. © Kirk Albrecht

Mike Clifford "Day Dreamer," 2011 New York singer-songwriter Mike Clifford has a strong solo presence on this five-song EP. He channels a bit of early solo Paul Simon with lovely bass-leading modulating chords on the opener "Next to You." The title track features a melodic finger-picking that recalls John Lennon's dreamier moments-say something like "Julia." He's a lower register tenor with a easygoing Jack Jackson kind of vibe. Spare production with a few key backup instrumental and vocal parts lend an understated orchestration to the project. He pulls in a bluesier vibe on the piano-based "Pourin' Down." I'm looking forward to the full-on CD. © Steve Klingaman

Elliott Morris "As the Waves Come In," 2012 This young UK singer is a gifted fingerpicker building compelling acoustic guitar structures into well-turned musical figures. This four-song EP features Morris on his Hania guitar on "The End of the World," which pulls a lick or two from the Bruce Cockburn school. "Stand Up, Be Heard" is a percussive, guitar-slapping piece with a power pop chorus. Morris' voice is particularly well suited for conveying a sense of you-are-in-the-room intimacy, but on the overdubbed chorus you get the sense that he can rock out, too. He does just that on "The Great Escape" with its Tuck Andress-inspired verses melded to a full-on indie rock quintet in alternating rotation. Closing with the live recording of "I Can't See," we catch a glimpse of a gifted performer on the way up. © Steve Klingaman

Dave Keir "Good Grief!," 2012 Scottish singer-songwriter and steel-string fingerstyle player Dave Keir began performing in the 1970s. Keir has recently resumed recording and presents twelve originals on this CD, performed solo. Surreal humor and ironic perspectives on relationships characterize his lyrics. On "Piranha," he sings, "You’re a pretty little fish, all right, with your teeth so piranha white. Owee, well, I could be a carnivore tonight." Many of his tunes include instrumental passages that depart from the song’s verse structure; some are freewheeling enough to recall the baroque-influenced interludes in Mose Allison’s blues recordings. Keir’s influences include Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, but also Schoenberg; he writes on his website: "Blues influences and modal forms elbow each other. That can cause accidents and evidence of this provided." This music may be heard to its best advantage in live performance, however, anyone can smile at Keirs’ smart observations and marvel at his musical inventions. Dave Keir’s songwriting and delivery exhibit variety seldom heard from more popular performers of any age. Listeners will be pleasantly surprised. © Patrick Ragains

Michael Coppola "Voicings in My Head," 2011 Michael Coppola’s current release "Voicings in My Head" is an innovative an inspiring collection of Jazz Standards. Coppola is an exceptionally gifted and virtuosic guitarist. He plays a nine stringed semi-hollow guitar, carefully crafted by luthier James DeCava, and aptly named the Hydra after the nine headed mythological creature. This allows Coppola to create beautifully conceived pianistic chord voicings and lush cascading legato lines. One hears the echoes of Art Tatum and Lenny Breau in the guitarist’s phenomenal improvisations and inventive interpretations throughout the recording. From the swinging "Blue Moon" to the incendiary "Honeysuckle Rose," Coppola never loses focus of the inherent melody of each composition during his masterful sonic excursions. His addition of the Beatles "Honey Pie" and Vince Guarladi’s "Linus and Lucy" make excellent arguments for their inclusion into the jazz cannon as well. The recording aptly closes with a reverential deconstruction of the enduring spiritual "Amazing Grace." Although not exclusively an acoustic album, this release is highly recommended for all listeners of timeless, improvised music. © James Scott

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

Jim Sande - Il Progetto D'Amore
Ben Lahring - My Stage
Sal Casabianca - The Sound and the Love

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