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January & February Short Takes

Eilen Jewell "Boundary County," 2006 Eilen Jewell writes songs on the country side of Gilliam Welch, tunes rooted in the Appalachian tradition delivered with pure toned, unadorned vocals. Jewell’s retro sound is ably supported by a full band, including Daniel Kellar’s mournful fiddle and Jerry Miller’s tasteful work on guitars. The title track opens, introducing the first of many characters who suffer for the homes they need or the homes they need(ed) to leave, where "the fields / reach their arms out so wide / like heaven’s only bride." "Flood," a very angry song, lays the blame for the destruction of New Orleans on "you our leader" and other leaders who "call themselves distracted." Keep a lookout for Jewell’s next CD. "Boundary County," an independent release about native soil, led to her signing with the folks at Signature Sound Records. Judging from their track record and Jewell’s exceptional debut, expect a fruitful homecoming. © David Kleiner

Ernie Southern "Prozac Blues," 2006 Southern’s wry sense of humor, gritty vocals, and down home delta blues make "Prozac Blues" a much needed serotonin boost for the post-holiday doldrums. Joined by Bruce Johnson on smoking and omnipresent blues harp and Dan Fleming, who provides the perfect amount of percussive embellishment, Southern serves up a dozen classic blues and originals in authentic delta style. His weapons of choice: National Resophonic Delphi and Tritone guitars, and Porchboard bass. Worth a mention are Southern’s compelling workup of Robert Johnson’s "Hellhound on My Trail" and the spirited album opener and F. Floyd tune, "Rockin’ Chair Daddy." Southern’s own sardonic "Ain’t Goin’ Bald Just Gettin’ Mo’ Head" and heartfelt "Just the Way You Say Goodbye" fit nicely alongside such classics and demonstrate his creative gift and range of emotion. © Chip O'Brien

Steve Hancoff "The Single Petal of a Rose (Duke Ellington for Solo Guitar)," 2004 This collection displays guitarist Hancoff's considerable skills as a guitarist and arranger. In his musical world, microtones and polyrhythms have equal standing with melody and harmony. A careful listening of this disc reveals a joyous, barrelhouse sensibility. Hancoff uses broken meters, string bends and changes in right-hand attack to convey the spirit of Duke Ellington's music from an acoustic guitarist's perspective. Pieces such as "Hard Way," "Serious Serenade" and "Goin' to Town" exemplify this approach. "The Single Petal of a Rose," "Melancholia" and "Village of the Virgins" represent the Duke's more reflective side. It's a tough call to compare an album rooted in the tonality of American Primitive Guitar with other Ellington tribute projects by such jazz and R & B stalwarts as Ellis Marsalis, Marian McPartland and Dr. John, but Hancoff succeeds in reworking this music in ways that are both novel and entertaining. Hancoff's approach will attract many listeners. Further, guitarists who want to arrange and perform the music of major composers can learn much by listening to him - it's no stretch to call Steve Hancoff an interpretive master. © Patrick Ragains

Mike Gaito "Beard of Bees," 2006 "Beard of Bees" buzzes with inspiration drawn from the far corners of folk, jazz, progressive rock and experimental pop. With the exception of drums, Gaito emerges as an eccentric one man band, plying his craft with an arsenal of electric/acoustic guitars, bass, and keyboards abetted with the sounds of loose change, hand claps, barley shakers, and whatever else happened to be lying around. The artist's tongue is oft planted firmly in cheek as evidenced in the quirky, stream of conscious diatribe "Giant Canoe" which proclaims "you let me soar like Aladdin/hit like Dan Gladden/talk like John Madden/sing like Mike Patton/play like the Mothers in '74." Odd time-signatures, swift-key changes, layered vocal harmonies, mind-blowing interplay, and a strong sense of storytelling abound through each of the fifteen epic tracks. I could envision Richard Thompson, the ghost of Frank Zappa, or Brian Wilson digging this record. © Tom Semioli

Julie Loyd, "All That You Ask For," 2006 One guitar. One ferocious punk-folk strumming attack on the strings (see: "Make of Me"). Unusual voicings, frequent sus chords. A whole lot of attitude with a whole lot more vulnerability than you’d expect. Sexuality and politics ("The Waiting Room"). Exploration of relationships, romantic ("Fate Says He’s Sorry") and familial ("Jefferson High"). No, it’s not that guitar slinging righteous babe. Though the comparison is unavoidable, I suggest you discover what’s distinctive about Loyd in this in-performance album of her most requested songs. Start with "Birthday Song," a title track of sorts. Shiver to the gorgeous resonance in Loyd’s voice. Note the way the lyrics play with the notion of "all that you ask for." Appreciate Loyd’s candor when she sings, "When the time is right, I will let you see through me." As this record proves, Loyd bares herself on stage with all the honesty, intelligence, energy, and beauty any listener could ask for. © David Kleiner

Chris Rosser, "Hidden Everywhere," 2006 What is it about the Asheville, NC area that breeds great songwriters like David Wilcox and Chris Rosser? Similar to Wilcox, Rosser uses a crisp acoustic guitar in an open tuning in many of his songs and like Wilcox’s latest album, some of his songs amp it up a bit. He plays a kazillion instruments including acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, bass, mandolin, banjo, washtub and yep, right here in the liner notes it says "vase." He’s aided by some very capable sideplayers including the versatile vocals of Beth Wood, creative percussion from River Guerguerian and tasty bass work by Don Porterfield. And oh the songwriting! He deftly dodges tired clichés, presenting us with moving vignettes of everyday people. The disc opens with a bang, the upbeat "Favorite Part," a funky keyboard at its booty shakin’ center. "Anna Has a Secret" is a heartbreaking story of a young woman in 1923 who sees a doctor in the next town who "takes care of this kind of thing." There’s a wonderful Middle Eastern feel to "Broken Wing." This CD is so highly recommended that if you don’t buy it I’m driving to your house to change your mind. © Jamie Anderson

Luke Winslow-King, 2006 Luke Winslow-King's untitled 2006 CD delivers much more largess than its lack of title suggests. In fact, it's a veritable string-fest -- acoustic guitarwork is embellished by the lush additions of viola, violin and cello. Lyrics are uncomplicated and soothing. Winslow-King's voice has a quiet, haunting quality to it, reminiscent of Neil Young (if Neil were a great singer). Guest vocalist "Daisy" May Erlewine complements Luke's gentle tone on the duet "Staying People Stay, Going People Go". Other musical guests include bassist Dominic Suchyta from the newgrass band "Steppin' in It." The CD is artfully packaged, in harmony with the musical gems inside. This talented young musician, singer and songwriter comes to us from Central Michigan via New Orleans and New York. We look forward to hearing more from him and his talented friends. © Kate Shepard

Si Hayden "Nylon... For Now," 2006 This album is refreshingly honest - UK-based composer/guitarist Hayden plays the entire program solo and with no overdubs. His nylon string guitar is recorded with a hint of echo, thereby enhancing the drama of his flamenco-based style. Hayden flawlessly executes the genre's characteristic strums, descending single-string runs and soundboard taps, as in the opening track, "Like Fire." Yet he typically makes things more interesting by weaving more complex harmonies and smooth jazz elements into each of the tunes. "One Weekend" is a good example of this, exhibiting an original compositional sense while incorporating the flamenco devices to add energy and variety. He also fuses these elements on the uptempo "Are You Going to Eat All That?," which fades out too soon, and the closer, "Sounds Better in Red." He builds on Cuban rhythms in "Black Magic Nylon" as a springboard for a lively and multifaceted improvisation. Si Hayden's appeal comes from successfully melding flamenco with more modern sounds, and doing so without gimmicks or artifice - I'd love to see him perform. Both guitarists and general listeners will enjoy this CD; turn it up and enjoy. © Patrick Ragains

The Nick Strange Band "Stray Dog Serenades," 2006 If someone whispered in my ear that "Stray Dog Serenades" were lost Tim Buckley tracks recast in modern times, I'd believe it. Singer Dan Orcutt's expansive melodic sensibilities combined with the jazz fueled folk rock of his mates, bassist Rob Crozier and drummer Jim Latini, are most evocative of the late, great tunesmith's best recordings, but never derivative. "Your Eyes" simmers with the sweat of a live performance as the band tempers its rhythms and dynamics to compliment Orcutt's every breath. Guest backing vocalist Jessica Oberholtzer duels Orcutt throughout "Lucinda" a raging, neo-Crazy Horse romp of pathos and yearning. Delta swamp funk abounds in "Ten Dollar Date" as Orcutt's weepy slide playing pushes the rhythm section's taught syncopated beats at a furious pace. "Carrie's Orchestra" is a thumping four-to-the-bar rocker worthy of a young Springsteen. My only question; who is Nick Strange? © Tom Semioli

Justin Klump, "Something for September," 2006 23 year-old singer-songwriter Justin Klump made some very wise investment choices as a very young man. He took a road less-traveled for a teen, immersing himself in the rigors of classical guitar study and obviously earning some artistic capital in the process. Like John Mayer, Hootie & the Blowfish and Dashboard Confessional, there's an intellectual maturity to his brand of radio-ready pop which is the Holy Grail sought by every teenager with a guitar. © Alan Fark

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

Art Sulger - 12-String Cycle
Sidewalk Saints - Roots Gospel Guitar
JP Jones - Magical Thinking
Richard Elliott - From Every Angle
Scott Alarik - All That is True
Isbin/Gauthier/Walton - Venice Suite
Jason Vigil - Heart Gone Sober
Matt Angus
Dimestore Dandelion - Oil and Water
Tracy S. Feldman - Survivin' in the Burbs
Greg Taylor - All in My Hands
Woodrush - So Far From Home
Oxymora - Thundering Silence
Andrés Wilson & The Waters - Ink & Sound
Paul Hlebcar - Stand Alone
Lenka Lichtenberg & Brian Katz - Pashtes
Blitch Bango - You Said She Said




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