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January & February Short Takes

Nick Pynn "In Mirrored Sky/Music From Windows," 2007 A re-release of his 1995 debut CD "In Mirrored Sky" and his 1999 CD "Music from Windows," this double CD by Nick Pynn is a tour-de-force of multi-instrumentalism. Pynn performs his own music on violin, guitars, lap dulcimer, mandocello, bouzouki, 5-string banjo, theremin and bass pedals. Other musical collaborators add such unique instrumentation as cello, hurdy gurdy, darabhuka but also the more standard sounds of flute, sax, and clarinet. Although Pynn refers to himself as a "folk" musician influenced by traditional music of the British Isles, the all-instrumental compositions herein are too complex to be labeled folk, too accessible to be labeled jazz. Perhaps it's best merely to call it what it is: a very beautiful sonic tapestry. © Alan Fark

Keith Morris "Songs from Candyapolis," 2007 In "Candyapolis," the fears ("Little Cameron"), fantasies ("Rainbow Rollercoaster"), and follies ("Candy Apples") of the child mingle with the part in everyone that never grows up. Childhood wonder ("Snow Day") co-exists with loss of innocence ("Billie Weir's Dress"). Keith Morris' album of twisted lullabies evokes that intersection in toe-tapping barnburners with raucous choruses and in quiet melodies ("October Lullaby"). Morris has found a perfect partner to realize his gentle lunatic dream in co-producer Jeff Romano and his Charlottesville regulars. Morwenna Lasko's fiddle alternately swings hard and sways gently ("October Lullaby"). Sandy Grey (electric guitar) and Romano (harmonica) catch fire in a duet (Daniel Johnston's "Caspar the Friendly Ghost") over Jennifer Morris's perfectly screwball la-la-las. Richelle Claiborne's backing vocals are a force of nature ("Cross-Eyed John, Ain't Got No Brain"). Part-if not all-of Morris lives in Candyapolis. You live completely in the real world. But when you catch yourself humming, "Cross-Eyed John," better check your address. © David Kleiner

Mike Farley "Moments and Memories," 2007 Nashville-based singer-songwriter Mike Farley offers this acoustic-based CD to showcase a collection of tuneful songs based on sturdy strumming and melodies. You can hear the Nashville spirit of songwriting in this collection, with a focus on well-constructed tunes that resolve themselves in three minutes and change. "Picket Fence," which can be heard on his MySpace page, demonstrates his ability to write with a clear point of view on the changes that occur very slowly over time, until things seem just out of reach. You’ll have to buy the CD or go up to iTunes to give a listen to "Gone," with its lovely urgency. One could easily imagine it recorded by Rob Thomas to great effect. Check out also the acoustic Allman Brothers feel on "Like Saturday Night Needs Sunday Morning," co-written with Aaron Brotherton. Farley serves as head of PR firm Michael J. Media Group in his other life, helping other emerging artists to gain the audiences they deserve. © Steve Klingaman

Jon Watts "The Art of Fully Being," 2007 A Quaker (Religious Society of Friends) rap artist, Jon Watts' "The Art..." is an enjoyable and spiritually enriching lo-fi / high energy effort melding several genres -- folk, punk, funk, hip-hop, and alternative rock. Watts is a one-man band, overdubbing all the instruments with electric bass and acoustic guitar firmly in the forefront. "Songs That I've Released" features intriguing countermelodies rendered on bass and guitar -- think early the Grateful Dead's smoky jam tandem of Garcia and Lesh. The rap-dirge "I'm Sorry Brian" finds Watts spitting out his resentful dialogue in double-time, deftly navigating druggy arpeggios, incidental feedback, and lumbering bass passages. Addressing a fallen Quaker taken hostage and consequently killed in Bagdhad, "There's A Spirit In Iraq" emerges as a chilling diatribe abetted with haunting Middle Eastern backing vocal passages that illuminate Watts' mournful tale of Tom Fox, a member of the Christian Peacemaker Team. Thought provoking and original, Watts will appeal to those whose tastes gravitate to music with a social conscious. © Tom Semioli

Mike Dougherty, "Southern Comfort," 2007 You will discover peace and comfort in these 14 instrumentals. Solo fingerstyle guitarist Mike Daugherty composed and recorded these tracks live during a dark period of his life, wrestling with life's unanswerable questions. What emerges is a tentative optimism as he progresses acoustically through blues, folk, ragtime, rock and gospel. The squeaky-clean production (a little too squeaky sometimes, as his left hand grips the fretboard) brings his smooth execution to the forefront. Based in Washington DC, Daugherty's favorite steel string axes include a Taylor 314 and a Martin OK 16. "Southern Comfort" is mostly played in standard tuning, except for the slide guitar. This pleasant collection will drain your tension like a Sunday in the hammock. © Fred Kraus

Arnaldo Lopez, "Live Life," 2007 Dutchman Arnaldo López plays steel-string acoustic guitar on this impeccably-recorded disc of original music. He dedicates the CD to his stillborn son, Silvan, yet the music consistently conveys optimism and even humor. He is accompanied by his partner, Irene, who sings on one track, and by Heino Sluet on harmonica on two. There is only one vocal on the CD ("I'll Give the World to You"), but many of his melodies are strong and would work well with good lyrics. "Listen with Your Heart" reveals López's superb fingerstyle technique, with an approach perfectly suited to the nuances of the tune. A more upbeat piece, "The Sun Always Shines," is another highlight. The closer, "Improvadja," is a multi-tracked, uptempo blues, with López playing swing rhythm and bass runs underneath his single-string and octave lines. López's chord progressions often recall James Taylor's middle-to-recent work, which is to say they're eminently listenable. Here's hoping for his continued success. © Patrick Ragains

Sándor Szabó & Kevin Kastning, "Resonance," 2007 Sándor Szabó's and Kevin Kastning's first collaboration, "Resonance," is a remarkably accessible collection of modern experimental guitar duets. The release is also the first-ever recording featuring the extended 12 string baritone guitar in a duet setting. Kastning has recently released several critically acclaimed albums for Greydisc, while Szabó is a Hungarian virtuoso with over twenty solo albums to his credit on European labels. On this recording the two kindred spirits adventurously explore a variety of musical pallets from chamber to symphonic and from modern to traditional folk. Together they construct beautifully written and performed compositions which feature sensitive dialoguing and improvisation. All of these sonic explorations are captured on 24-bit digital technology resulting in a recording that is as rich and lush as the spacious musical sketches the musicians create. This album is highly recommended for all listeners wanting to hear music that challenges the boundaries of acoustic guitar in a provocative but thoroughly engaging manner. © James Scott

Gypsy Soul, "Beneath the Covers," 2007 This amazing album encompasses folk, jazz, pop and a few genres in between with Cilette Swann's emotional vocals and Roman Morykit playing almost everything else including some damn tasty guitar. He never overplays, letting each song breathe. I admit I have a bias when it comes to cover tunes so when I saw seven covers, the alarm bells went off. No need to worry though. Not only were there no note-by-note attempts to sound just like the original but the refreshing way they did them made me look at each song in a new way. I never realized the words to U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" were so poignant or that "Nights In White Satin" could be so passionate. And "Wicked Game" by Chris Isaak! Wow. With an ethereal string section and that little cry in Cilette's voice, its perfect. The best cut is Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" with a swampy groove and that luscious soulful voice of Cilette's. "Take Me Home Country Roads" is wonderfully presented with only an acoustic guitar in open tuning and layered vocals. There's a funky acoustic blues guitar at the center of one of the originals, "Lovin' Me," that grows into something jazzier. Roman really knows his way around a fretboard. Show that you know your way around great music and get this CD. Highly recommended. © Jamie Anderson

Peter Janson, "Winter Gifts," 2007 Holidays are best unhurried, warmed by family and friends and the reason for the occasion. Peter Janson's latest CD, "Winter Gifts," captures that spirit of the winter season in a brief seven songs. Though short on time, these tunes are rich in the tapestry of contemplative celebration. The opening track, the traditional "Greensleeves," perhaps best exemplifies Janson's sensibilities. Framed by the song in the scratchy tones of an old phonograph, capturing the timeless quality of the tune, Janson weaves it with subtle eloquence, adding his own tasty tangents of melody that only enhance the song's beauty. Two other traditional Christmas melodies are given the time they need to imprint the soul: the familiar "Angels We Have Heard On High," made less familiar by his liberal playing with the melody, yet calling us to follow as those angels did centuries ago; and the lesser-known "Christe Redemptor," a flowing interpretation of a 6th-century Celtic Christian chant. "Snowflake" delights us with the brightness of mandolin as an accent, and "Waiting for Winter" is Janson's chance to showcase the various moods of his playing on 5 different guitars. We end as we began, with "Greensleaves," this time without the old sound, but filled with an artist's brushstrokes. Cold outside? Warm yourself by the fire with the light of "Winter Gifts" this season. © Kirk Albrecht

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

Tom Ball - Music From Films
Marcos Ariel - 4 Friends
Steve Fisher - River
Mario Martin Zelaya - Calafia's Moods
Gary O'Connell - Guitar
Kevin Hutchings - Songs of William Blake
Tom Lockwood - Point of View
Jason Ayres - The Acoustic Sessions
MOTU - Going Back to Memphis
Keith Greeninger - Glorius Peasant
Dave Patten - Fly Away
Spook Handy - Whatcha Gonna Do?


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