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November/December 2017 Short Takes

Dan Cunningham "Christmas Guitar" 2017 Confession: I was dreading this review a bit. I just couldn't get my head ready for a Christmas CD on a sunny 70 degree autumn afternoon. Then I popped this CD into my car player. I was instantly charmed. Yes, this is a holiday CD, but the musicality, arrangements and sonic beauty in these performances make it appropriate listening anytime of year, really! With Christmas Guitar, Dan Cunningham, adds to his rather eclectic discography and repertoire. In fact, he quite simply nails the "Christmas Album" genre in this release. With the help of Jenny Wilson on flute, Cunningham mixes his seemingly limitless talent on guitar, flute, bass, cello and mandolin into a tapestry of acoustic splendor that will put you in a holiday mood with the first notes from his mandolin 15 seconds into "The First Noel." He brings a new life and spirit to these carols that I was not expecting. My favorites included the refreshing fretwork on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and the incredible synergy created from the guitar and cello on "O Come All Ye Faithful," which takes this classic melody to a new level. Christmas Guitar is an impressive and inspiring recording throughout! In a related note, check out Cunningham's 2011 CD River Flow, if you want to hear some exquisitely performed fingerstyle compositions. © James Filkins

Dennis Johnson "Rhythmland" 2017 From the rollicking opening bars of Dennis Johnson's Rhythmland, you know it's going to be a fasten-your-seatbelts type of ride. Johnson kicks things off with a rollicking, high-energy take on the classic "Walkin' Blues," giving notice that this slide guitar master is not afraid to put his stamp on a blues classic. It sets the tone for the remaining nine tracks, all composed by the San Francisco native. Johnson's technique combines a bluesman's earthiness with a virtuoso's precision, paying homage to the genre, but with a contemporary leaning as he and his hard-working mates dig into Americana, rock and folk. © Fred Kraus

Wyatt Easterling "Divining Rod" 2017 This is a man who knows good songs. Not only is he an accomplished songwriter but he was the head of A&R for Atlantic Records for a spell. His gentle tenor is a perfect vehicle for this collection of originals, many co-written with others, and one cover. Chris Rosser lends his considerable talent as producer and engineer, giving us a clean recording of acoustic arrangements that gently wrap around well-crafted songs. Wyatt offers a heartbreaking story with vivid images in "An American Dream," about a young woman with two children who makes a run for the U.S border. Unfortunately, they are caught: "She stood clutching those two tiny hands / Frozen as the others ran." "Scars" is another story song, a moving tale about a boxer. "Sure Smells Like Rain" and "Don't Cry for Me" are more personal stories, both about a breakup. In "Some Days" he tries to understand the world and in "Came to Believe" there's a spiritual story. Each song is anchored with a clear acoustic guitar and touches of a weeping fiddle, subtle percussion, and smooth-as-silk harmony vocals. A beautiful album. © Jamie Anderson

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