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January & February Short Takes

John Sheehan "Modern Man", 1999 John Sheehan, on his 1995 CD "Instrumental Solo Guitar", doesn't so much blend classical and fingerstyle blues forms as jump the chasm separating these styles back and forth and tune-by-tune. And he does it astoundingly well. On "Modern Man" Sheehan chooses to toss his hat into the ring with a cadre of fellow players who definitely tend towards rootsier things. He also suppresses his virtuosic guitar impulses to concentrate on vocals and lyrics on six of the 16 original tunes herein, as well as pick up the banjo on six. He does the latter too often in my mind, only because it makes less room on the CD for the solo fingerstyle gems such as "Old Mill Rag" and "Cliffs of Moher". His forays into the vocal arena are very successful, carrying both the biting social satire and feel-good aura of Jimmy Buffett. Buy Modern Man

Hugh Blumenfeld "Big Red", Brambus Records 200030-2, 2000 No beating around the bush: Hugh Blumenfeld is an exceptional singer/songwriter. Some of his tunes like "Rafael" and "Shoot the Moon" have the ring of ensconced folk classics, too bad for him that they aren't... but there's still time! "Big Red" presents a more sparse, less band-driven sound for Blumenfeld than his previous releases on Prime CD, understandable given that musical support to his guitar and vocals is from only two other artists, Doris Ackerman on harmony vocals and Shane Shanahan on percussion. Blumenfeld holds a PhD in English, Creative Writing and Poetics, so you know he's got the intellectual part of this craft down-pat. But as even Blumenfeld will admit, love and politics and all the stuff of poetry is more complex than astrophysics or other intellectual endeavor. No problem for Hugh Blumenfeld, he's also got the voice and heartfelt insights to pull it all together.

Jeff Lang "Cedar Grove", Wind River Records WR4009D, 1998 Rock is an inherently more brash genre, and it takes some oomph to nurse rock licks out of an acoustic guitar. Jeff Lang has found the formula to do so, delivering a one-two punch with his awesome vocals and liquid slide guitar. His guitar work straddles a world between rock, blues and folk and is dynamite. But it's his vocals that leave a lasting impression. Often sounding like Paul Rodgers, he can also one-up Donovan ("Cedar Grove") or Billy Joel ("Broken One More Time", "We Don't Ask"). Buy Cedar Grove

Straw Dogs "Any Place At All", Crafty Records CR 10036, 2000 Although Seattle is known as the land of grunge rock, Straw Dogs is one Seattle-area duo sporting a scrubbed-clean wholesome sound to make the most jaded listener feel fuzzy and warm inside. Doubled jangling acoustic guitars and ubiquitously harmonized vocals on "Any Place At All" imparts to Straw Dog's sound a very distinctive and engaging style of their own. Boomers might compare the sound to Firefall or England Dan & John Ford Coley, GenXers to Counting Crows or David Mead. "Nothing I Say" especially struts out the kind of hooks typical of Mead which pop radio DJs are likely to perk up their ears over. Buy Any Place At All

Barry Wedgle "In Your Dreams", Mad Mountain Productions, 1999 As I turned Barry Wedgle's CD "In Your Dreams" over in my hands, shrink-wrap intact, I was dubious. As it turns out, though the cover art is amateurish, the music most definitely is not. Wedgle has honed his jazz guitar skills through the years collaborating with a roster of artists who aren't exactly obscure: Joe Lovano, Paul McCandless, Jay Clayton and Steve Lacy. The music might be best described as smooth jazz with a Brasilian edge, and is produced by Kim Stone, bassist for the Rippingtons. Though Wedgle's music is made on nylon-string guitar, in places the grooves are similar to those of Grant Geissman, or especially on the too few vocal tunes featuring Anne Kennedy, reminiscent of Dianne Reeves accompanied by Kevin Eubanks.

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