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March & April Short Takes

Ellen Demos featuring Mike Nielsen "Osmosis", 2003 Think Jay Clayton plus Laurindo Almeida. Ellen Demos is a jazz vocalist whose soaring voice is sweetly mellifluous one moment, a warbling or staccato scat the next, but always impassioned. She's joined on "Osmosis" by guitarist Mike Nielsen, whose impressive resumé boasts stints with David Liebman, Kenny Wheeler and Larry Coryell. The intensity that Demos and Nielsen create is far more than the sum of each of their talented contributions. I'm sure that Jimi Hendrix would even give an approving nod to the energy generated by Demos and Nielsen's versions of "Little Wing" and "Angel", which they render electric without the benefit of electricity. © Alan Fark

Dave Beegle "Beyond the Desert", 2003 Eclectic might not be quite broad enough a term for Dave Beegle's playing on his most recent independent release "Beyond the Desert". A majority of the songs are in altered tunings. He begins with "Breaking Through the Clouds" a Balkan fusion of steel string & flamenco guitars and percussion. At times racing along, at times pausing for space, this opening cut reveals a player who weaves musical motion. Flamenco is a strong element in several tunes on the CD, including "Ecstatico", which has more pop elements like some of Jesse Cook's tunes, or the Gypsy Kings. Very danceable. Beegle also serves up a sweet version of Stevie Wonder's "Cause We've Ended as Lovers" on nylon string guitar. "Something Shared" is a duet with guitar wiz Phil Keaggy, and on two James Olson SJ's, it has a classic Keaggy sound. "Sandy's Painting" is a lovely solo steel string melody, full of openness. The heater of the CD, though, is the final cut, the raucous "Kara Kum" in 3 movements. Beegle's electric background is clear in his playing here, again drawing Bulgarian melodies into sometimes dizzying whirlwinds of sound. The music has modal elements, as well as transfixing non-western scales, all creating a very eastern European vibe. Dave is a fine player, and the production elements are first-rate. With such diverse offerings on one disk, it may never find a solid commercial market, but it's good listening. © Kirk Albrecht

John Lester "Big Dreams and the Bottom Line" 2003 I doubt Leo Fender ever imagined the bass guitar could go this far when he bridged the gap between acoustic and electric music a half century ago. Using acoustic and electric bass guitars, and an occasional upright, singer-songwriter John Lester evokes comparison to such modern minded contemporaries as Seal ("On My Own"), Ben Harper ("The Happy Man") and Sting ("Broken") with his strong melodies and deep harmonies accented by the bassist's bright overtones and jazz inspired counterpoint. Guitarists David Juriansz and Jean-Michel Hure support Lester, affording plenty of space with tempered rhythms and long sustained notes while percussionist Celso Alberti keeps time and accentuates both camps. "Reach Out" waxes political atop a fat, resonant fretless foundation, and "I Saw You" is vaguely reminiscent of Marty Balin's greatest ballad "Coming Back To Me". "Big Dreams and the Bottom Line" shows you can do a lot with a small ensemble. This disc is an intriguing listen and provides an effective template for players looking to spice up intimate gigs in small venues. © Tom Semioli

Stacie Rose "This is Mine", 2003 As an artist releasing her debut CD, Stacie Rose has already hit the holy grail of singer-songwriters everywhere. She has four songs licensed to MTV for two of their reality shows, and has placed "Shine," one of the standout tracks on this CD, in the indie film, "Closing Time." The success is well-earned. On "This Is Mine" she comes across as a gifted lyrical singer who shines in the context of these elegant folk-pop arrangements. The album production for too many young female singers sounds like something that was done to them. But on this record, the production by Robert L. Smith beautifully complements her style, and the session players deliver finely nuanced performances. In a perfect world with unlimited budgets she'd take this crew on the road. Memorable cuts include "Checking Out," "Shine," with its stand-out chorus and vocal overdubs, and the hypnotic, drum-juiced "Promised Land." Her voice is a bit reminiscent of Catie Curtis. As a writer, she has the knack for chorus hooks -- the money shot of contemporary songwriting. Definitely one to watch. © Steve Klingaman

Scotty Burton "The Bridges of Edinburgh" 2003 Scotty Burton lays down seven tracks featuring a fingerstyle technique that can only be described as exuberant on "The Bridges of Edinburgh." Think power-acoustic classical. Story goes that Kansas City-based Burton had a dream of Scotland that inspired the CD, then wrote the seven acoustic solo tracks the very next day. If that's not intriguing enough, the first track, the wondrous gallop of "A Country Lad" should hook you as if first prompts curiosity, then disbelief, then wonder. It sounds as if two, or even three players are performing, but no, it's just Burton, cranking feverishly away. The other tunes offer a not-quite-as-breathless range, from the lilting "Kite in Flight" to the rolling gentleness of "Lullaby" to the reverent "Scottish Prayer." Born in 1955, Burton grew up in a house of music lovers, and he's been trying out different styles and techniques ever since -- but I'm guessing he's a rocker at heart. © Fred Kraus

Darren Curtis Skanson (with Andrew Thomas Harling and Russel Donnellon) "A Quiet Moment", 2003 Many classical guitarists are exploring the more accessible sections of the repertoire to find the melodic gems that have mass appeal. "A Quiet Moment" is a collection of these accessible easy listening classics. The performances include solo guitar works as well as arranged works for guitars and strings. Notable tracks include a beautiful rendition of Andrew York's "Reflections" performed by Andrew Harling as well as a charming original work entitled "Without You" composed and performed by Darren Curtis Skanson . The closing track, an arrangement of "Scarborough Faire" also performed by Harling, is also a musical highlight of this disc. The recording quality is adequate. The guitars are recorded a little closely which lends to some distraction from the music. Overall the performances are quite good and the goal of a relaxing musical experience is achieved. © Philip Hemmo

Zydeco Hounds "Repeat Offender", 2003 It rocks! It's fun! This CD screams "Buy Me!" Rarely does a "genre record" project such freshness and immediacy. Multi-instrumentalist Chris Belleau has the perfect road house voice for this romp. The band is spot-on and mixes up a Zydeco roux that begs you to come on down to Baton Rouge. These guys are headliners, and they do it effortlessly. "Bourre," "Get My Money" and "Walking Back to Texas" are several must-hears. And check out the blues harp on "Walking…" The horn section is, again, fun, fun, fun, and Belleau's accordion is the real zydeco deal. He also blows a thrilling trombone solo on "Funky on the Bayou." This reviewer particularly appreciates the R&B undertones in the mix. Speaking of the mix, it's fab. Pure dancing-at-the-festival magic. © Steve Klingaman

Jonah Burstein "Rough Demos", 2003 Okay, so the title is "Rough Cuts." Jonah Burnstein's four-song demo aims for Rufus Wainwright terrain, only harder-edged, more rock. He misses the mark, but then demos are a tricky business. First, the mix. The vocal performance is ragged and not quite right. On "Reason," the lead guitar nearly bites your speakers' heads off. Do the songs shine through? Not really. But he's got something going on; a certain affecting angst, as heard in the verse to "Melody," the strongest cut on the disc. He's a band leader-in-waiting, and with the right treatment, his musical vision for this batch of songs could emerge. But expectations are everything, and industry listeners are a merciless bunch. © Steve Klingaman

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