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January & February Short Takes

Michael Fix "Something's Cooking", 2005 I'll tell you what's cooking -- some fine guitar playing on the latest CD from Australia's Micheal Fix. This collection of originals and covers reveals fine musical sense, refined chops, great time, and a driving thumb, which any Nashville picker would be proud to call his own. The cooking theme is introduced by the first cut called "Slow Food", a bluesy tribute to the movement in Europe against fast food, supportive of the Continent's tradition of making a meal an occasion. While "Primo Incontro" was inspired by a visit to Italy, it owes an equal portion to Celtic roots in structure and feel. The title cut "Something's Cooking" reminds me of early Tommy Emmanuel and Chet Atkins melodies. A couple gentle ballads ("True Hearts", "Thinking of Home") balance against the hot picking of "Heat of the Moment" (with excellent fiddle work from Jo Lack). Fix also includes some duets on the recording: trading virtuosity on "Blue Angel" with Muriel Anderson, and a playful cover of the Chet Atkins standard "My Guitar is My Sweetheart" with Stui French on electric. The Aussie pays homage to his native land on the final track "Waltzing Matilda", rounding out a fine disc of acoustic guitar music. © Kirk Albrecht

Jamie Stillway "Mell of a Hess" 2005 From classical roots to gypsy jazz, Jamie Stillway is a genre bender who makes you wonder what is in the Portland rain that makes this town rip. What stands out in this solo-plus-friends outing is Stillway's marvelous inventiveness. Her Djangofication of an eclectic mix of tunes is a constant sidebar to the action at hand. Her Hot Club verve plucks the marrow out of Mike Marshall/Darol Anger universe, and blends it all up in twelve strong, succinct tunes that beg repeated listening. Oh, and did I mention Julian Bream on, what, pot? Absinthe? An old world, old soul, Paris-to-Argentina axis pervades tunes like the break-out "Stout Street Rag," with its diminished-to-minor progression and fluid legato lines. Inventive, intimate, intimidating -- if you dare to try it-it's quite simply wonderful. The elegiac opener, "Domisomido," features a beautiful counterpoint movement about a minute into the song, performed with violinist Enion Pelta, whose thin, European tone and classical framing of notes announce a very strong presence in the blend to follow. "Home: Part One" again, an Enion Pelta collaboration, is guaranteed to please. The lush chordal palette of "March of the Drunken Flies" bears notice, as does the "My Favorite Things" echo in "Elsie's Cemetery." "Home: Part Two" shows Stillway bringing it all back home in a Ken Burns panorama that grounds the work in an American folk idiom. © Steve Klingaman

Todd Martin "Time for Good," 2005 Though the cover art professes "next big nothing," singer songwriter Todd Martin's winning combination of seasoned song-craft, cinematic lyrics, and plaintive veneer are sure to attract adult alternative fans (think NPR) with wider exposure. Arranged and recorded with a warm, organic resonance reminiscent of the best work of artists ranging from The Band to The Wallflowers to David Gray (to whom Martin shows a distinct artistic kinship) Martin's hum-able melodies float over a mellow back-beat like a summer breeze. But the boy can rock too, as evidenced by the jagged "Diamond Friendships" which features a very funky old-school organ break by Keith Karlson who must have some Stax records in his collection. Steven Kellogg's ragged vocal duet with Martin on the two-step country flavored chorus of "Punchline" is the stuff of Ryan Adams' claim to fame. There's gold buried here I'm sure. © Tom Semioli

Forastiere "Circolare", 2005 Pino Forastiere has recently emerged as a new member of the ever growing community of highly skilled new-age fingerstyle guitarists. His 2005 release "Circolare" features all new compositions written and performed by the Italian guitarist. Many of the tracks some might liken to the Michael Hedges solo acoustic works of the 1980s, except with a slightly stronger jazz influence and a greater emphasis on melodic content. Contrary to the in-your-face approach taken by many of his peers, Forastiere opts to delay overt flexing of his guitar muscles until quite late in the disc, thus drawing the listener in with his gentle musical narrative rather than with garish technical displays. This disc is truly exceptional because its virtuosic qualities are secondary to its inception as a piece of fine art. © Timothy Smith

Matt Woods "Something Surreal", 2005 Adult-alternative rock singer/songwriter Matt Woods displays a flair for the dramatic on "Something Surreal," an explosive, multi-guitar driven collection that would sound just as intense if he were simply strumming his acoustic to a small circle of friends. Woods' muscular rhythm section inflates his catchy melodies and clever, earnest lyrics into arena rock proportion. If you go no farther than the first three cuts; the John Mayer-ish "Bottle Up Inside," the go-for-broke fervor of "Misconception," and the metal grandeur of "Lyndall" he's already scaled more heights than most Top-40 artists do on one disc. The neo-psychedelic Sus-chord intro to "Hiding" and the pure power pop of "Gone" show Woods' keen capacity to shift gears without losing his identity. Is bigger better? In Woods' case the answer is a definitive yes. © Tom Semioli

Mike Pachelli, "Simplicity", 2005 Mike Pachelli shares some historical parallels with long-time friend Phil Keaggy, with whom he recently recorded an acoustic guitar duet. Both are from Youngstown, Ohio. Both started as electric guitar players with reputations for searing, yet melodic, chops. Both have drifted over to favor acoustic fingerstyle later in their careers. No surprise, then, that "Simplicity, " Pachelli's second acoustic release, has a sweet flavor much like Keaggy's landmark recordings "Beyond Nature" and "Acoustic Sketches." The title "Simplicity" is apt, the tunes beautiful in restraint and opposite in theme to the Holdsworthian style of his likewise excellent 2001 CD "Noise Travels." © Alan Fark

Don Alder "The Best of Don Alder", 2005 Top-notch guitar fingerstylist Don Alder compiles a dozen gems from his formidable collection that's as pleasant as it's impressive. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Alder intertwines his fingerpicking with percussion on his soundboard for a smooth but surprisingly propulsive effect. This solo, acoustic, instrumental disc features Alden's own compositions, which are invariably marked by their expressiveness. They range from the galloping Western of "Nutberry Farm" to the bittersweet "Marshall's Lanai" to the swinging "Granny on the Run." His liner notes reveal compositional tidbits, adding to the fun, and also offer a glimpse into the huge heart of this versatile musician. © Fred Kraus

Mary Sue Twohy "Songs to Hang on Stars", 2006 Her airy soprano shines through these introspective songs like light on a winter's night. Whether she's singing her own lyrics or using the words of Emily Dickinson, I loved her beautiful songs presented with touches of acoustic guitar, piano and more. Especially gorgeous is "Snowing" where she sings "Hope is a thing with feathers / That perches on the soul." The words are Dickinson's but they are so well matched by Mary Sue's melody and arrangement that you swear they were in the same room. "Missionary Ridge" sounds like a traditional American folk ballad but it's an original by Twohy and Daniel Greenberg (who also produced the album). A clear finger-picked guitar complemented by a fluid cello is central to "Twas the Old Road." The disc concludes with one more Dickinson poem set to music. It's beautiful, as is the whole disc. Highly recommended © Jamie Anderson

Kastning/Siegfried "Scalar Fields", 2005 KastningSiegfried newest offering of experimental acoustic guitar duets is both challenging and compelling. This recording consists of 20 interrelated compositions flawless performed by Siegfried on acoustic 6-string and Kevin Kastning on mandolin, 12-string, baritone, and a variety of classical guitars. The interplay and dialoguing between the two is so complimentary that both extraordinary musicians appear to merge into one unified voice. With "Scalar Fields" Kastning and Siegfried have created a unique collection of exploratory "sound paintings" redefining the parameters of acoustic music. While traditional "New Age" audiences with limited listening scopes may want to forgo this alluring album, more adventurous listeners wanting to broaden their musical spheres will find this recording truly rewarding. © James Scott

Guy Buttery "Songs from the Cane Fields", 2005 Put on this CD and you can almost feel the warm breezes off the Indian Ocean. Guy Buttery's music is all about atmosphere and contrast, and he's drawn from the sights and sounds of his South African surroundings and culture to conjure it all so magically. "Driving North for the Sun" is a fingerstyle journey which sets out on a balmy vibe, but then swells furiously as Angus Kerr's piercing violin riffs are interjected. Somewhere halfway through "Cane Fields" a smooth transition from fingerstyle to ambient acoustic tone poems occurs, experimental ground cleverly foisted as traditional. © Alan Fark

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

Shane Hines - Zoe
Christopher Monti - Locust Grove
Phil Kellogg - Gravity Can Bring You Down
Amilia K. Spicer
Rolf Sturm - Shawangunk
Dan Vaillancourt - Melodic Snapshots
Nate Cooper - Stories Between the Strings
Woody Russell - Salt
Rooster Kiev - Music for Planetarium Operators
Dafni - Drifting in Circles

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