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January & February Short Takes

Mike Pachelli "Acoustic Painting", 2004 Mike Pachelli turns in a thoughtful collection of instrumental gems with his 10th CD, "Acoustic Painting". Classically trained on guitar, Pachelli has threaded his way through a number of genres and projects -- from rock to blues to jazz to Christian, from advertising jingle creator to TV-show host. He chooses here to his combine his classical and fingerstyle techniques to fine effect. Pachelli assembled over a period of six years these 15 tracks, most of which are his own compositions. His sense of melody impresses, especially with "Finally, Sun", "Let the Children Frolic", "County Fair" and "Young King David", all of which sound exactly like their titles (I love it when this happens). The talented guitarist and arranger gets more playful with "All Night Long" and "Peace Piece", his two strongest tracks. Covers include his sensitive revisit to "Amazing Grace". Pachelli’s ease of movement as he glides from genre to genre to genre -- often within a single composition! -- provides much delight. © Fred Kraus

Daniel Carlson "Now" 2004 Daniel Carlson is the son Burt Bacharach and Radiohead don't know they have, first cousin to Brian Wilson. "Now" has a sound as distinctive as it is unswerving. Recognizing the limitations of his voice, Carlson keeps it very velvety within a small range, adding layer on layer of sound. And what sound it is. All gorgeous: mellotron, strings, French horn over a foundation of synth and acoustic guitar. The effect is visceral: mellow, downbeat, and hypnotic. The EP meanders -- a verb from Carlson's bio -- from one cut to the next and you don't know it, an effect enhanced by little or no space between most of the tracks. The lyrics sound pretty, too, but they're incidental as they float by listeners carried along on luxurious waves of smooth. © David Kleiner

Steve Barney "Treeline", 2004 Steve Barney plays six and twelve-string guitars and composed all selections on this, his debut recording. His style recalls an earlier era of fingerpickers, chief among them John Fahey and Jorma Kaukonen. As one might expect from these comparisons, Barney's strengths are his strong melodic articulation and rhythmic drive. Two of the CD's best pieces are "When the Snow Flies" and the minor-keyed "If I Close My Eyes", the latter making good use of dynamics. Barney presents a cohesive, well-played and listenable set of performances. With more variety in tempos, volume and tone color, he could be among today's top steel-string fingerstylists. "Treeline" is a solid effort and deserves to sell well at his gigs and among his growing audience. © Patrick Ragains

Erik Balkey "While the Paint Dries", 2004 There's a whispery quality to Erik's voice and a quiet intimacy to his songs that makes you want to lean a little closer to the speakers. With sparse but not stark arrangements of guitar and vocals mostly, there's a great variety of topics here, from the uplifting "Give Love Amen," with gorgeous back-up vocals from Tom Prasada-Rao and Cary Cooper, to "Baseball Is In My Blood." The standout song is "God's Poet Now," written for Dave Carter; it wraps loving words around a likable melody that sounds like something Dave would've written. The distorted vocal and guitar on "Silent Night" are too harsh - it seems out of place in this collection of contemplative songs. Lean close and enjoy this fine release. © Jamie Anderson

David Matthews, "A Fall Too Far", 2004 David-with-a-D, not Dave, Matthews, might get away with it were it not for the quirky phrasing, extended lyrical interludes, hypnotic repetitions, successions of movements, and rhythmic collisions that remind you of... well, Dave Matthews. But if you can get past that, the guy makes enjoyable music. Some of it, were it to receive big league-style payola promotion, could even qualify for the next big indie thang sweepstakes. Take "Knock Out", for example. Or "Ready or Not". I feel radio vibes here. But I'm not going to tell you who his voice reminds me of. Aside from you-know-who, there's a strong Michael Hedges thing going on in his angular acoustic guitar playing. I like it when he colors outside the lines. Here's my advice, cheap as it comes: a) change your name, b) change your music, c) add a middle initial or name (David St. Matthews?), or d) join a band. © Steve Klingaman

Ben Burdick "Acoustic Musings", 2004 Solo instrumental guitarist Ben Burdick says that his specialty is diversity. The excellent double-tracked compositions on "Acoustic Musings" eloquently speak to explain this ambiguity. The title track is an intricate and ethereal jazz outing. "Let it Slide" is a hammering blues which modulates from brazen boogie to a Dickie Betts-like melodic sweetness. "Jazzy Country Thang" seems an homage to Chet and all the other country gentlemen. Burdick contradicts the jack-of-all-trades aphorism: he truly is master of all. © Alan Fark

Jon Wood "One to Five", 2004 "One To Five", the latest release by UK guitarist/songwriter Jon Wood, is a glorious work of acoustic imagery and composition. His fingerpicking style touches a variety of formats that blend together and complement each other to perfection. On "Slow Burn", Wood travels up and down the fretboard, and each note resonates a deep tone and texture you can almost feel. He’s joined midway through by Eamon McLoughlin on violin, who adds depth to the imagery as both instruments mirror one another, changing tempo as if they’re dancing. "Horse Nails", is a country roots, folksy blues style ballad, with Tobias on vocals, who penned the lyrics. Phil Mills on lap steel guitar gives this tune its haunting sound and old west flavor. Wood changes course with, "It Means Everything To Me" a jazzy blues number with a great opening sax solo by Josie Owens. The highlight is Lenna Santamaria's vocal performance, her smooth and sultry vocals conjure up images of a smoke filled nightclub. The crowd suddenly becomes hypnotized the moment she’s up on stage as her soulful voice slowly consumes the entire room, an enjoyable change of pace. Another great track is "Maybe Girl", a contemporary acoustic pop style tune you could easily find playing on the radio, like a frequently requested song with a top ten feel, it’s got everything working here. David Jordan delivers a solid vocal performance, Linda Game adding her magic on violin and Jon Wood providing a steady acoustic beat. "One To Five" is a genuine masterpiece, reaching deep down into a well of emotion and stirring the soul. © Pam Dow

Myrrh Larsen "Unstrung", 2004 A breathy tenor and songs of young, dislocated love mark this seven-song debut by Myrrh Larsen. This is acoustic angst for teens. The settings, as well as his voice, remind this reviewer of David Crosby, especially in "Here in My Arms"-and that's a good thing. Alas, it belies, as does Crosby, a certain cloying sentimentality. Lyrics can be nasty critters, they'll come back and bite you, and this type of music requires their notice, so one had better get it right. A pop sensibility fuels the writing, underscored by the inclusion of the Blondie hit, "Call Me." But channeling Deborah Harry is risky and it falls flat. The recording retains the ambiance of its home-studio vocals, with some nice nylon and steel string fills, as in "January." The settings are the strength of this record, and Larsen's voice shows promise. It's never a bad thing to be young and hungry. © Steve Klingaman

Brendan Thomas "Forever in Motion", 2004 Written, performed, produced and recorded entirely in his bedroom, this album is a testament to what you can do with home equipment. His stream of consciousness lyrics coupled with ethereal vocals remind me of Moby, without the pounding bass so prevalent in club music. A rhythmic guitar is the driving force in "Dreamscape of a Romantic"; there's an interlude of delicate finger picking, then more of the strong strumming culminating in a crescendo of guitar and keyboards. Many of the songs use electronic or found sounds, like the heartbeat that begins the melancholy "You Always Wanted to Fly." Touching on familiar themes of life's lessons, his lyrics wander a bit but fit into the sonic scheme of this songs © Jamie Anderson

Marlee Grabiel "Ready or Not", 2004 Tiny Jasper, Indiana isn't exactly the Mecca for musicians. The flipside to this stark reality for singer-songwriter Marlee Grabiel is that she's got to be the most talented person in town. In "Small Town Blues" she sums up the dilemma of every creative person yearning to fulfill their destiny: how does one balance economic (and hence, geographic) circumstance with ideas which brim over to be shared? Although her guitar work is still a bit unpolished, her bluesy voice is commanding, and at age 23, time is on her side. Like another famous small-town Hoosier before her, John Mellencamp, Marlee has the voice, songwriting talent, and the song subjects right in front of her to connect with Everyman. © Alan Fark

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