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March & April Short Takes

Down The Line "For All You Break," 2007 The only voltage-enhanced instrument on this record is the bass, but that doesn't mean For All You Break fails to electrify. Pure, unabashed pop sensibilities abound on DTL's high-energy third outing by way of lush but not overbearing vocal harmonies from all the band members, warm melodies, and tight performances. Witness the re-birth of the acoustic power chord in "Slip On Through" and "One Bottle of Bourbon." Bassist Dave Rothkopf's brief solo introduces "She Wears The Sun" -- a cut that could have inspired Blind Faith stay together a little longer. Jazzy guitar licks punctuate "Where I Once Had A Heart." Can a mandolin rock? The answer is yes, as evidenced in "Melody." Though their modus operandi is rather simple, there is no other band out there that sounds quite like Down The Line. © Tom Semioli

Rupert Wates "Coast to Coast," 2007 Remember the days when Joni, Jackson, James, and Neil lived in the Canyon? That's exactly what you get with Rupert Wates' winsome song-cycle "Coast To Coast." Though the veteran singer songwriter has released several albums in his native UK, this is his first American release and you'd swear the aforementioned references were all in on the sessions. Unforgettable melodies are in no short supply throughout Wates' breezy audio travelogue which details life on the road, relationships, and social concerns. Yet it's the little elements that make "Coast" special: the funky Fender Rhodes and Beach Boys inspired harmonies beneath "And The Wave Will Sing," or the warm slide licks evocative of George Harrison and Ry Cooder on "Goodbye To The Old School." Long may he run, to quote an old California phrase... © Tom Semioli

Jenny Goodspeed "Under the Ash Tree," 2007 This is a sparkling folk-pop album guaranteed to brighten your day and sure, there's a few sad ballads but nothing so maudlin it'll drag you down. With a style reminiscent of Catie Curtis but with an airier soprano, her wry comments about relationships seem personal but universal enough that you'll find yourself nodding your head and thinking, "How did she slip into my life?" Her creative melodies often go where you don't expect but without sounding incongruous. Standout cuts include "Compass," with its rolling finger picked guitar over a bed of cello and "The Good Daughter," about casting off expectations. The latter features a cool banjo played by Duke Levine (Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jonatha Brooke) who also offers electric guitar and mandolin. At the end is "S-Curve Roads," an upbeat piece about going home. © Jamie Anderson

Andy Wahlberg, "Sun Moon Star Sky," 2007 "Sun Moon Star Sky" represents a bit of a departure for Florida-reared, harp-guitarist wizard Andy Wahlberg. This 16-song collection revolves around pop standards from the 1920s, '30s, '40s and '50s whose titles contain some mention of the words in his CD's title. Hence, "Blue Moon, " "Swinging on a Star," "Sunny Side of the Street," "Blue Skies" -- you get the idea. It's surprising how many such songs exist, which makes this effort at the very least a thematic success. Wahlberg ably revisits the familiar -- Irving Berlin's "Got the Sun in the Morning" from "Annie Get Your Gun" is pure fun -- as well as the somewhat less traveled, such as Hoagy Carmichael's campy "Ole Buttermilk Sky" and a thoughtful reading of Brooks Bowman's "East of the Sun." The revelation within is this: Wahberg's a serviceable crooner, and plays it straight, for the most part. His guitar, a visual piece of artistry, largely serves to showcase the stellar compositions, as well as his pleasant, if somewhat limited voice. Still, he coaxes such a wonderful tone from his guitar, with inventive (but not intrusive) arrangements that feature walking bass lines, rhythm, and lead virtually all at once. As if that's not enough, he plays harmonica, whistles, and occasionally brings out his "lip trumpet." It all makes for a nice, laid-back package, though one gets the impression that Wahlberg yearns for a bit of the madcap, which he hints at with a couple of over-the-top voice impressions. © Fred Kraus

Michael Monroe, "Wintersong," 2007 Michael Monroe wrote most of the tunes, played most of instruments and recorded, and mastered this elegiac meditation. Among many albums named "Wintersong" (Sarah McLachlan, Paul Winter, and others) and 144 covers of Joni Mitchell's "River," Monroe dares to look for something new. He makes two interesting moves. First, an air of melancholy pervades Monroe's search for solace in winter. The covers seem chosen for their sense of longing ("I may as well try and catch the wind" -- Donovan's "Catch the Wind"). Then, Monroe goes all out to prettify the proceedings. He performs his lovely guitar arpeggios on a variety of rich David Seaton guitars (classical, baritone, tenor, acoustic steel), overdubbing them to great effect ("Hibernation," "Hey Ho Nobody Home"). He also weaves other mellow instruments through the mix (harmonica on "Winter Embrace," flute in "Snow Leopard"). Monroe's voice is pleasant enough, a rough-hewn Gordon Lightfoot. The lyrics brim with imagery both expected ("sea of sparkling white") and unexpected ("whispering train on a snowy rail"). Listeners in a warming world should welcome this melodic contemplation of winter. © David Kleiner

John Bellar & Ron Neilson, "Two Guitars, One Heart," 2007 You're on horseback, along a ridgetop trail, more than a little rocky; the sky, bursting unbearingly blue, levitates, punctuated by an armada of billowing clouds, pushed by a big sky sun. You listen, first to the everpresent breeze, then to the soundtrack in your mind. What you hear seems uncanningly similar to "Two Guitars, One Heart," unfolding like a musical rolodex. First wistful, then optimistic, then achingly beautiful, then playful, and so it goes, this gently undulating journey over evocative peaks and valleys. Ron Neilson and John Bellar coax a ton of emotions out of their Weissenborn and resonator guitars, producing acoustic duets of multi-layered depth. Swirls of influences abound: Western, Pacific, American roots, echoes of the Heartland. The beauty lies in the unique blend of Bellar's resonator and Neilson's Hawaiian acoustic. Impeccable technique and balance make this collection a thoughtful, heartfelt ride. © Fred Kraus

Aaron English, "The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon," 2007 For those who enjoyed Paul Simon's foray into African and Brazilian music (Graceland / Rhythm of the Saints) or Robert Plant's latter day Middle Eastern inspired recordings (Mighty Rearranger, Dreamland), "Sun and Moon" is a must. English's firm baritone navigates through a myriad of world beat grooves which weave their way through arrangements brimming with exotic instruments (bouzouki, dideridu), cinematic lyrics, and rather memorable melodies. Whether he's bordering on the bombastic, as in the arena rocker "Like Smoke," or pushing his falsetto to the limit in the tender ballad "Lovers In The Red Sky" English never fails to impress. And despite the fact that he uses a different line-up on every track -- all extraordinary players by the way -- the album maintains a consistent feel. More exposure could make English a household name. © Tom Semioli

AJ Rosales "Ultramarine," 2007 It’s clear from the first note that Rosales is his own guy. What strikes you first about "Ultramarine" is the diversity of musical ideas incorporated into a single program. Next, is the fact that this guy is about chops. Third, he’s a strong singer. Guitar-wise, on some cuts, it’s as if Trey Anastasio traded in for an acoustic and went after Dave Matthews’ niche. On others, you hear the extended progressions of Gen X rock, but they’re fused to a jazzbo extended chordal palette as well, almost in di Meola land. So what is this? Folk-rock fusion. Guitar fans of both forms shouldn’t be disappointed with either side of his coin. Vocally, he’s a bit of a chameleon as well. On "Alone Again" and "So Sad" you hear overtones of the great journeyman rocker Robert Palmer. Then on "What’s With All the Heartache" he marshals a pure falsetto reminiscent of Martin Sexton. I could do with a bit more of that. As a lyricist, he creates some unusual constructions that are consistent with his genre-bending musicianship. Once you’ve given it a good listen it takes a while for it all to sink in, but it mostly does. © Steve Klingaman

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

Dan Sistos - In the Midnight Hours
David Newbold - Big Red Sun
Lawrence Blatt - Fibonacci's Dream
Bob Martin - Midwest Farm Disaster
Dave McCullough - Pharr
Tom Bolton - When I Cross the River
Dead Eddie - Rock n' Roll is Killing Me
D. Gross - Pirate Love Songs
Nebojsa Buhin - Guitar Language
Dunstan Morey - When I Had Wings
Laura Bruno Lilly - Unexpected
Juviley - How to Miss the Ground
Raison D'Etre - Heart's Content
Pi - Curse of the Songwriter
Nick Strange Band - Yesterday Was Better
Peter Laiosa - Ace in Your Hand

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