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January & February 2013 Short Takes

Ben Kyle 2012 Romantica singer Ben Kyle's solo debut relies on his band mates to back him up, but it's his show all the way, and that show is about his songwriting and his voice. Direct, powerful lyrics. The Minneapolis-based Irish-American celebrates the Twin Towns in "Minneapolis" and "The Turf Club." Both tunes imbue the cities with an emotional sheen to be proud of. He digs deeper in the Cohen-inspired "Mercy," also "Don't Settle," and "Trust." If you are not familiar with his voice, it hails from the territory inhabited by Ray LaMontagne and Bon Iver, but seriously, his pipes are better than both. It would be unfair to tag him with the emo label, because the integrity of the songs bear the weight of stalwart masculine emotion with no strain whatsoever. And Kyle goes straight at the emotion here, no playing clever - it's a little shop of wonders he runs and he runs it well. Like an extended meditation, the emotional core of this album just keeps taking you deeper, without extraneous, or unnecessary variation. It is, at its best, profoundly moving. Sparse, well-crafted settings emerge from Kyle's own Slow Studio, where he served as his own producer, a task at which he excels as much as he does behind the mic. His style behind the board is an essential ingredient the mix of elements that make this a stand-out album. If you find yourself in need of a little beauty in the new year, pick this up and I predict you'll put it heavy rotation in no time at all. © Steve Klingaman

Derek Stroker "Love & Colour," 2012 Listen, I only have a shorttake's worth of time to talk and I've got big plans. Help me make sure I've taken care of everything. Got the fire going. The wine is poured. What about the music? Let me check out Derek Stroker's latest. Silky tenor? Check. Smooth falsetto? Check. Soul? Neo-soul with a touch of reggae… check. Tasty electric, with a hint of Curtis Mayfield ("Spending Time")? Sensuous oh-oh-ohs? Oh, yes! Knowing arrangements? All over the place, subtle and sweet. Listen to the acoustic guitar's broken arpeggios in the intro to "Blue Skies." Or the way electric chords punctuate the three in "Slow Motion." Memorable hooks? Listen to "Why We Fall in Love." Checked and re-checked. Forget about the Eisley Brothers, Barry White, and even Chet Baker. Here comes the missus, looking fetching in sweatpants and an old sweater. Normally, I'd ask you to wish me luck at this point, but tonight all I need is "Love & Colour." Yes, Stroker is his name… and don't forget it. © David Kleiner

Jana Herzen "Passion of a Lonely Heart," 2012 It's not often you hear a jazz singer-songwriter, especially one who's a guitarist. Jana Herzen pulls it off well and it's no wonder - as head of Motema Music, a label with over 100 releases, including 3 Grammy nominees, she knows great music. Her velvety voice has hints of Ella Fitzgerald's phrasing and her rhythm guitar provides great back-up; she's joined by bassist Charnett Moffett, a guy who's also lent his considerable talents to Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr. and Anita Baker. Their complex arrangements are delightful and perfect for Herzen's seven originals and four covers. "'Tis Autumn" features only her smooth vocal and Moffet's expressive bass. His bass takes center stage in most songs, like on "Bali Holiday" where he breaks out in a really nice solo. "My Baby Cares for Me" is a swing tune made famous by Nina Simone, while "Secrets Are Safe with Me" is an original that leans toward blues. The most beautiful piece is "Sodade." Presented with finger-picked descending chords, it's a gorgeous ballad sung in Portuguese, with a lovely melody made even better with their arrangement. © Jamie Anderson

Si Hayden "Acoustic Lines," 2012 That "Acoustic Lines" is Hayden's 27th recording is just one of this British born virtuoso's intimidating achievements. Largely self-taught, Hayden has illustrated a restless temperament in his career, exploring a dizzying variety of techniques and styles, from Celtic to fingerstyle to jazz to Flamenco. His compositions incorporate percussive taping, hopscotching harmonics, fast runs, and intricate picking spiced with impressive right-hand techniques typical of classical guitar, such as tremolos and rasgueado strumming. On "Acoustic Lines"' collection of nine standout originals, he displays more of his soulful side, highlighting his sure, graceful playing. Hayden has experimented in the past with a fretless guitar, using fingertips (rather than a slide) on individual strings; this novel technique is beautifully illustrated on the lovely "Coasting." "Nowhere to Run" is another knockout; moody and evocative, it begins with a Mid-Eastern vibe that transitions into a bluesy romp. On this arresting, eclectic collection, Hayden proves he should be much better known on this side of the Atlantic. © Céline Keating

Ken Navarro "The Test of Time," 2012 While it's common to make a clear distinction between the realms of classical and fingerstyle guitar, the truth is that there are quite a few musicians blurring the lines between the two, borrowing techniques from both to develop their own unique musical voice. Ken Navarro's disc "The Test of Time" is a collection of his arrangements for solo guitar, featuring music ranging from The Beatles to Carlos Santana. All of the arrangements are as clever as they are charming, and Navarro accurately executes them with a sense of ease and delight. A highlight for this reviewer was a medley featuring three Beatles songs, "8 Days a Week/Ticket to Ride/Day Tripper", which flowed beautifully from one tune to the next. This disc is perfect for the listener who enjoys classic and familiar melodies performed with a unique twist! © Timothy Smith

Steve Katz "Barricades," 2012 I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life. - Abraham Lincoln. Credit is due to this singer-songwriter’s mom - who turned her son on to Supertramp, Pink Floyd, Santana, and the Eagles during his formative years. Akin to the above mentioned artists, Steve Katz composes songs with lyrics and melodies that will touch your heart – hence the title "Barricades" – which refers to his struggle to overcome fear and doubt to achieve personal goals. The title track certainly evokes Floyd - the influence of Nick Mason’s swing rhythms, Rick Wright’s orchestral keyboard motifs, and David Gilmour’s under-stated licks abound as Katz’ warm baritone croons "a thousand barricades won’t compromise me…" (Wish You Were Here meets Obscured By Clouds). If rock anthems are to your liking – check out "Thrive" – which affords Katz and his rhythm section a chance to flex their chops without going overboard (reminds me of that band with Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson). The fret work throughout this mini-album (five tracks) is superlative. Guitarists Katz and Erez Lev-Ari perfectly balance acoustic and electric with arpeggios and stirring counterpoint while bassist Arthur Eli throws a slide or grace note in all the right spots (think Carlos, David Brown and Neil Schon). "Today I Saw Hope" features fine three-part harmonies from Keren Taylor and Jeannie Reed – most evocative of Frey, Henley, Schmidt and Meisner. Mother knows best… © Tom Semioli

Jim Carr "The Space Below," 2012 On first listen to Jim Carr's CD "The Space Below" I closed my eyes and had the distinct sensation of gliding down a highway behind the wheel of a luxury automobile. Carr's ability to layer and mix rhythm and lead guitar in these acoustically tinged compositions reveals the skill of a consummate composer. The polished and refined flow of the opening Track "Nick's Web" sets the table for the kinetic vibe that permeates this collection of mostly original compositions. "Mother" and "Child" stand out as does Sting's "I Burn for You". "The Space Below," crafted with care and executed with precision, ultimately adds up to a satisfying listening experience (albeit relatively brief at just under 30 minutes) © James Filkins

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

Melissa Phillips - Fits & Starts
Larry Kolker - Awful Smart Man
Dallas Sutherland - Silver Birch Sessions
Rick Demers - Devil's in the Details
JR Rudd - Red oak and Ash
Jesse and Noah Bellamy - Driven Back
Chung Yen Twins
Kyle Fosburgh - The Traveler's Journey
Daryl Shawn - In Place
Tyler Flowers - Some Things Never Change




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