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March & April Short Takes

Joćo Rabello "Roendo as Unhas," 2007 Joćo Rabello's newest release, "Roendo as Unhas," should please even the most discerning fans of Brazilian music. The recording consists of ten passionate compositions, reflecting the rich musical heritage of Brazil. Rabello also skillfully integrates modern compositional elements into the framework of his native music. To say that the guitarist comes from a musical family would be quite an understatement. He is son of Paulinho da Viola, grandson of Cesar Faria, and nephew of the legendary guitarist Raphael Rabello. One can hear echoes of his late uncle's music throughout much of this recording, particularly in the solo guitar pieces like the ethereal "La Catedral" and the reflective closer "Inspiraēćo." With "Roendo as Unhas," the guitarist joins an elite register of musicians, who are keeping Raphael Rabello's extraordinary musical legacy alive. © James Scott

James Filkins "Borderline Normal," 2007 Quiet, reflective moods dominate the music on this pleasant, self-produced disc. Michigan steel-string guitarist James Filkins' music has New Age qualities, notably, effective use of repetition, resonance and silence. Some of the strongest performances include the opener, "Round Lake Leelanau," "Ambient Noise" and "Autrain River," all of which have well-developed themes in the aforementioned context. Filkins enlists guitarist Matt Harting and percussionists John Tornga and Marc Alderman on the title tune, which has a jazzy tinge and manages to hold the listener's interest without any flashy soloing. "Possibilities" also fits into a comfortable, smooth jazz groove. Filkins' music could use more dynamics, but his compositions and performances are solid and listenable. Both the solo and ensemble tracks are well recorded. This CD should sell well at his live performances and gain him some well-deserved publicity. © Patrick Ragains

Alma Nova "Debut," 2006 Bosnian guitarist Almer Imamovic and flautist Jessica Pierce comprise Alma Nova. Imamovic composed and arranged all the selections on this disc, which reflect his love of sevdalinke, a Bosnian form of romantic song and dance. Pierce supplies warm, clear melodies and broadens the music's appeal. The opening track, "Sarajevo Nights," showcases Imamovic's strengths as a composer and player, featuring spirited rhythms and overdubbed single string lines. The next piece, "Moj Golub," is rhythmically more simple, but no less satisfying, as Pierce executes a lyrical melody, broken up by both solo and double-tracked guitars. Each piece is well developed in terms of melody, shifting tempos and dynamics, often with a more popular sound than one is accustomed to hearing from classical musicians. "Scott's Guitar" is a solo piece for Imamovic, continuing the romantic flavor of the program in a slower, more reflective setting. "Tapkalinka" follows, with a pensive guitar introduction, followed by a fast section led by Pierce's flute. The duet takes time to fully develop each piece. Several tracks exceeding five minutes hold the listener's attention, thanks to the compositions, arrangements and flawless performances. I recommend this disc to casual listeners and musicians alike. © Patrick Ragains

Mary Karlzen "The Wanderlust Diaries," 2006 "The Wanderlust Diaries" is a tale of the search for stability in the face of transience, "hanging on through the heart wrenching bad days" on the road and beyond. Mary Karlzen has a voice filled with longing even when she rocks out, which she does quite well on songs like "Straws" and "Jump." Producer Jansen Press (who plays some mean electric on "Oh My") sometimes uses a lot of sound to showcase Karlzen's harder hitting side, but he knows how to keep it interesting, with a flow of instruments moving in and out. Catch the acoustic guitar duet in the cover of the Replacements' "Skyway" or Joe Pisapia's lap steel shadings on "Heart of Saturday Night" (my favorite Tom Waits song) and Pisapia's banjo and John Deadrick's piano arpeggios on "Friends Along the Way." With high powered guests like Gary Tallent of the E Street Band and her sharp and affecting songwriting, Karlzen seems poised for wider recognition. © David Kleiner

John Horrocks, "Heart and Soul," 2005 Canadian singer/songwriter and guitarist John Horrocks displays an easy, pleasant voice and a deft hand on his 12-song collection, "Heart and Soul." Four instrumental tunes on this folk-based, acoustic CD allow Horrocks to feature his six- and 12-string work, as well as mandolin and bass. Thematically, the songs (all originals) reflect a positive and religious outlook while dealing with life's trials. The simplicity of the lyrics and song structures give the feel of a children's album, somewhat in the vein of folk singer Kevin Roth. The heartfelt title track, which revolves around the impending birth of a child, is nicely done, as is "To Junior," a whimsical look at life's opportunities. "Cuz of You" turns more passionate, with a gentle reggae beat and snakey lead guitar. © Fred Kraus

Michael Jantz, "Snapshots of the Universe," 2007 "Snapshots of the Universe" is a pleasing and well-realized album that relies on Michael Jantz’s integrated talents as a songwriter, singer and guitarist. His low tenor voice is a little raw in its appeal as heard on the first track, "Love Is But an Ocean," which recalls Daniel Lanois’ plaintive higher register in the chorus. "You" illustrates Jantz’s abilities as a rhythm guitarist. In this track and others his expressive rhythm guitars recalls the mid-period Beatles’ use of acoustic and electrics blending in support of strong melodic vocal lines. "Living on Sunshine" sports a reggae-inflected verse that moves to a pleasing vocal harmony with backup vocalist Hannah Porter on the chorus. "Better Than You" employs a Beatlesque overdriven solo guitar line behind a vocal that bears overtones of Paul McCartney. The song has strong hooks and is perhaps the most radio-friendly track of the bunch. Jantz’s stable of guest musicians provide well-executed and well-mixed backing tracks. Overall, this Cleveland native has created a product worth checking out. © Steve Klingaman

23 Current, "Curve of the Universe," 2006 The heavy sounds of Steel City can be found within "Curve of the Universe." Displaying the robust musicianship that keeps progressive rock and alternative metal thriving well into its fifth decade, 23 Current is that rare guitar based band which draws influences from many sources yet maintains an indelible identity. At the center of this muscular Pittsburgh ensemble's arsenal is the almighty riff; straightforward yet buoyant, and often beckoning the greats such as Tony Iommi ("Truth and Lies," "Letters In Stone"), David Gilmour ("Skin Deep") and The Edge ("Stranger's Voice"). Band mastermind and multi-instrumentalist Shawn Burnette's proclivity for odd time signatures, varied tunings, and cinematic lyrics abetted by adroit shifts in dynamics is the stuff of classic rock mythology. Drummer Andy Reamer slips between Burnette's lithe melodies like a true jazz messenger (imagine Tony Williams sitting in with Metallica), responding to each passage with equally challenging percussive motifs. For those about to rock into the 21st Century, we salute you. © Tom Semioli

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

Legends of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar - Live from Maui
Pete Alderton - Living on Love
Shad Weathersby - The Beaten Path
Cuomo - Holiday
Moore & Sons - Us Fools
Kelly and David - As the Twilight Auguries
The Salt Miners - The Fifth of July
T. Moody - Songs of Samuel
Lucas Cates - Contradictory

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