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March & April Short Takes

Paul Pieper "Stories of Before", 2005 I kept scratching my head trying to recall on which Coltrane album I had heard the tune "The Story of Before" on Paul Pieper's similarly entitled CD "Stories of Before"... but, nope, this one's (as are all of them) a Pieper original. Pieper borrows Coltrane's quick-witted melodic sense to follow some very cool shape-shifting modulations on this quasi-title track. He also finds a voice sounding nothing like Coltrane on the other eight tracks, each double-tracked acoustic gems. There are shades of Alex de Grassi on "Letter to Masao," of Grant Geissman on "The Red and the Black," of Phil Keaggy on "The Secret Life of Plants," of Bireli Lagrene on "Manabi," of Oscar Castro-Neves on "Pensées," and well... you get the idea. Versatility is Paul Pieper's M.O., his own incredible acoustic voice. © Alan Fark

David Cousino "Wind Over Texas" 2005 Musical chameleon David Cousino changes genres the way most of us change our socks. Though he picked up the guitar at age 8 and has been making a living as a musician for years, "Wind Over Texas" marks his recording debut. His 11 compositions ably cover a landscape that includes rock, blues, jazz, country, pop and soul. An engaging guitarist, Cousino turns in more than a fair share of hooks and snaky runs throughout. Yet while his versatile, comfortable voice sells each style, it might be nice to hear him inhabit one form exclusively. He does sound particularly engaged in the bluesy "That's All," complete with Hammond B3 organ. A U.S. Air Force friend of his (Cousino did a stint in the service), Felita Rowe, lends stellar background vocals. High production values make this a marketable collection, especially for country radio airwaves. © Fred Kraus

Dave Nachmanoff "Wordless Rhymes", 2005 Imagine playing alongside your idol, then re-recording his tunes with the edict to re-arrange them as much as possible. During his teen years Nachmanoff was a huge fan of folk star Al Stewart, which most of the world knows by his signature hit "Year of the Cat." Well, when Nachmanoff met Stewart's long time collaborator/guitarist Peter White and asked him to jam, White brought the young guitarist to meet Stewart who hired him on the spot. Though re-interpreted and missing Stewart's colorful lyrics, "Wordless Rhymes" emerges as a fine companion to Stewart's official catalog and a pleasant listen for novices. "Merlin's Time", which actually features Stewart, boasts smart finger-picking and jazzy woodwind work that sounds like a 1930s film soundtrack. Nachmanoff's easy lead playing floats over a fat back beat in "In Brooklyn." And "Year of the Cat" is re-invented as an up-tempo rave up. There's nothing you can't make your own with a guitar in hand. © Tom Semioli

Sándor Szabó "Acoustic Poetry", 2005 The music on this CD just grows on me. On all but one selection, Hungarian guitarist Sandor Szabo plays a custom Lakewood baritone guitar, using tunings ranging as low as contra bass A. "Walk," "Equation of the Existence" and several other tracks recall Pat Metheny's baritone guitar playing on "One Quiet Night." "The Silence of Your Soul" begins with a singer-songwriter sensibility, moves into a harmonically dark and rhythmically jagged section, then returns to the peacefulness of the introduction. Similarly, he juxtaposes contrasting moods in "Autumn in California." Szabo uses two extended suites, "The Rainmaker's Suite" and Hungarian Folk Ballads," to develop ideas and explore shifting textures at greater length. For a pleasant tonal contrast he plays a 21-string Chinese guzheng on "South Korean Landscape," which closes the disc. Sandor Szabo has a long pedigree as a solo and ensemble guitarist -- "Acoustic Poetry" should both satisfy his existing base of listeners and earn him many new fans. © Patrick Ragains

Matthew McAllister, "Maelasta", 2005 Maelasta is the working name of this young Scottish duo, comprised of Matthew McAllister and Feargus Hetherington. Most of the performances on this CD adhere to the duo format, although they are joined by flute and bass on two tracks. Two works by Astor Piazzolla, "Libertango" and the episodic "Histoire du Tango", open the disc, indicating Maelasta's preference for South American music. They are equally comfortable playing the Irish traditional tune, "Calin na Gruaige Doinne" ("The Girl With the Nut-brown Hair"). Standout tracks include "Histoire du Tango" and Egberto Gismonti's "Agua e Vinho" ("Water and Wine), a quartet performance that swells with dramatic intensity. Guitarist McAllister performs mainly as Hetherington's accompanist throughout the disc, displaying a mature classical technique and a fine sense for arranging. The instruments are well-recorded and balanced. Both McAllister and Hetherington have eclectic musical tastes, including gypsy jazz and Celtic, which should be evident in their future recordings and performances. Classical chamber music lovers and acoustic guitarists wanting to explore possibilities with duos and small ensembles will enjoy this disc. © Patrick Ragains

Lisa Moscatiello "Trouble from the Start", 2005 A truly versatile artist, Lisa can slide comfortably from jazz like the Quincy Jones tune "You're Crying," to the pop "Brand New Me." (Yes, it's that old Dusty Springfield tune spruced up with Moscatiello's acoustic guitar at the center, a groovy organ, and a sing-a-long chorus.) "Come Sinfonia" features a delicately picked nylon string guitar and her clear soprano. In "Feel the Love" her voice has a flatter sound, helping to make this pop lounge tune sound like something you'd hear in a good 60's spy movie. You'll be surprised at the musician credits because it doesn't sound like there could be so many instruments in each song but yet sound so uncluttered. Lots of great variety in this well produced disc. © Jamie Anderson

Jeffrey Halford "Railbirds", 2006 Singer-guitarist Jerry Halford has an immediately affecting voice, not classically "handsome," but more in the rough territory of a Fogarty or Leon Russell. He builds one of his best songs here, "South of Bakersfield," on a chance encounter with a woman who offers a glimpse of something that might have been, and the Bakersfield sound comes to mind as if there was a little Dwight Yoakam in the air. Drums and the rhythm section are one of the keys to authenticity in this type of music, and former Counting Crows drummer Steve Bowman gets the job done on this fine tune. The leadoff entry, "Denial," rings true, too, with that thwack of a Mellenkamp backbeat, in this case laid down by Jim Norris. The whole ensemble has a well-worn, broken-in feel, and Halford's songs reveal an eye for detail and surprisingly vulnerable characters, given the roadworthy vibe of his electric and slide guitar-based music. Other standouts include "Hannah Ruth," "Jump Into the Fire," and "Safe at Home," which is powerful in its acoustic immediacy and post-9/11 uncertainty. A talented writer with a big, rangy sound, Halford and his band are worth a listen, and a second listen. © Steve Klingaman

Preeta "In This Moment", 2005 Many teen popstars like Kelly Clarkson or Britney Spears contrive to be wholesome, but that marketing ploy has a thin veneer. It's refreshing, then, to hear a young singer-songwriter named Preeta whose music is infused with a wholesomeness which is unabashedly authentic, though it seems to target an audience which might also tune into "American Idol." The difference -- and it's a big one -- is that Preeta is not just singing covers. She's a creative young woman who knows guitar and knows songcrafting. "In This Moment" is a pop tour-de-force which could well be covered by some future American Idol. © Alan Fark

Stephen DiJoseph "Hypnotized", 2005 "Hypnotized" is more than a busman's holiday for DiJoseph, best known for his spirit seeking piano work with its idiosyncratic approach to rhythm and inventive tunefulness. Here he surprises, singing a set of pop tunes on the guitar. However, while staying well within the genre, DiJoseph still puts his distinctive stamp on every song, starting with tuning his guitar two different ways, both in fourths (D-G-C-F-Bb-C and C-G-C-F-C-C). Then he puts a strong groove consciousness to work. Check out the only cover, "Knights in White Satin," which DiJoseph remakes while traveling all over the fretboard. How many pop tunes that work begin with anything like "You pushed me down an elevator shaft" ("Flyin'")? Even when DiJoseph delivers the vocals smooth and sweet ("Walk in Your Shoes") there's an edge to the performance, vulnerable with a hint of vengeance. With a little electric manipulation, he can sound downright dangerous ("No Chance"). At its best, "Hypnotized" can mesmerize. © David Kleiner

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

Joe Giacoio - I Sing the Body Acoustic
Emily White - Every Pulse
Mike Golay - Across the Bridge
Relic Rust - Relic Cuts
Roger Lasley - Adobe
Kickin' Grass Band - On the Short Rows
Chris Brown - Live at the Towne Crier
Ethan Miller & Kate Boverman - If all the Land Would Rise
Susan Harrison - Make Waves
Frequent Flyer
Ken Baldwin - Bones of a Saint

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