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January/February 2017 Short Takes

Monocle Band "The Clearing" 2017 I'm generally not one of those who sees auras with music but I swear I see a cool mist of blue, like the Rockies after a rainstorm, with the ballads from this top-notch Americana band called Monocle Band. It's no wonder, since they hail from the mountains of Colorado. They offer up-tempo bluegrass, too, and that conjures up a lively orange and red. With a traditional line-up of mandolin, fiddle, banjo, bass, and guitar, they relax into a great groove that's enhanced with light drums. They trade off on lead vocals, with some songs featuring a clear expressive soprano and an earnest tenor on others, always with tight harmonies in all the right places. Clean production enhances the expertly played instruments and there's a wonderful variety in the songs, from the thoughtful "On the Banks of the Stream" to the sweet up-tempo love song "Lora Lee." "Not If I Have My Way" is a bluegrass tune about a criminal, and "Medicine" is a contemplative ballad. Don't be taken aback at the length of the title cut. At eleven minutes, it could be a folk opera, but they use the time well so it's like a satisfying movie that's over too soon. It begins with the soothing drone of a fiddle and builds slowly with melodic piano, tasteful drums and more, with a crescendo of harmony vocals toward the middle, then it slowly winds back down to the fiddle. Breathtakingly beautiful. See what colors you see with this engaging release. © Jamie Anderson

Joncol4 "Aires de Andalucia" 2017 Duo Joncol is the telepathic partnership of guitarists Britta Schmitt and Carles Guisado Moreno. Their recent release Aires de Andalucia has doubled the personnel, and hence the artistic passion, of previous outings by adding percussionist Kurt Furhrmann and flamenco singer Anna Colom… hence Joncol4. This is vibrant and magnetic Spanish music, sometimes jarring in its intensity as compared to that presented by more conventional incarnations of classical guitar duos. Their catchphrase "the art of dialogue" is taken very seriously and is truly the secret of Joncol's excellence. Short-sighted Northern American audiences may however demur, should they not be open to Colom's fiery vocals which may seem unfamiliar to their native tongue. © Alan Fark

Eric Congdon "Into the Woods" 2017 Eric Congdon has released a CD titled Into The Woods, which I have been listening to for a few weeks now. It was clear from first listen that he is a master multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. This collection of songs are sprinkled with solo and ensemble work, and although all quite diverse, seem to have some common thread weaving through its entirety. There is a lot of mystery present which conjures up a feeling of being lost in some smokey, wooded mountains, but not necessarily wanting to be found. Eric tastefully adds, at times, subtle extra tracking and sometimes flat-out sensational ones as in the case of "Smokey Mountain Medicine Man" and "Becka's Train." The backing musicians and vocalists blend like a well-rehearsed entity and the song mix of solo, instrumental, vocal, group, back to solo keeps the listener ever alert. There are several surprises that I'll not give away. It's a classic CD that awaits! © Mark Bayer

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