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March & April Short Takes

Arron Dean "MPLS," 2010 This down-tempo collection by singer-songwriter Arron Dean captures a loving fusion of longing and vulnerability on standouts like "St. Paul on the Mississippi," with its Hank Dogs-meets-Sufjian Stevens echoes, seasoned with a little - maybe more than a little - Ray Lamontagne. Whether the small-band arrangement is built around a dobro or a Travis-picked or strummed acoustic, Dean, as producer, achieves a vinyl-like warmth to the Americana roots he so obviously respects. "Empire," with its edge-of-falsetto whisperings and elegiac instrumentation, nails the poignant vibes he intends. Other standouts include "Minneapolis" and "Happy Hour." Some may find his voice blends best in ensemble settings with his more-than-competent female backups, Debra G, Lona Heins and Christina Watson. What this outing lacks in variety it makes up in coherence. We get just a little uptempo break on the closer, "Thorn in Your Side," a little Tennessee hill music with a lovely fiddle turn by veteran Nashville session man Joe Spivey. As to the disc, there are no thorns here; love, well, that's another story. © Steve Klingaman

Various Artists "A Brief Episode," 2010 The intimate performances on this disc serve as models for instrumentalists who want to display good taste and finesse when accompanying a vocalist. Erica Miller cherry-picks tunes from the Great American Songbook, including Errol Garner's "Misty," Gershwin's "Summertime," Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia on My Mind," and throws in a few surprises, Tom Wait's "Temptation" and Darnell & Hawkins' "The Thrill is Gone" among them. My favorite track is "Summertime," which is graced with Gene Bertoncini's impressionistic approach on nylon-string guitar. Others standouts include "Georgia," with Frank Vignola providing both a gypsy-styled accompaniment and lead part, and the closer, "Route 66," featuring the agile and impish Bucky Pizzarelli. Jazz stalwart Gary Mazzaroppi handles upright bass on three tracks. The relaxed, informal quality of this disc will likely please Miller's existing fans and attract new ones. © Patrick Ragains

Chris Newman "Still Getting Away With It," 2010 The first track on Chris Newman's CD "Still Getting Away With It" seems as though it's been misnamed. "Pear Drops and Fourteen Pounds" sounds as though a drinking song is in the works, but what instead follows is hauntingly beautiful, an insistent Celtic ebb and flow as hypnotic as waves on a rocky Irish seascape. The vibe changes serially over the course of five tracks, to jig ("Buddy, Can You Spare a Tune?") to Djangoesque jazz ("Just a Drop to Steady Myself") to Spanish ("Torrevieja") to Ragtime ("Temptation Rag") and back to what seems to be Newman's natural musical home, Celtic. If Newman has set out to prove his versatility on this disc, he's succeeded admirably. But an ability to jump styles does not wholly define a guitarist of excellence... Newman's effortless touch and ear for nuance certainly does. © Alan Fark

Carey Ott "Human Heart," 2010 Chameleon-like, Carey Ottís second CD, "Human Heart," drifts from the melodic pop sounds mined by Neil Finn, Peter Gabriel, ColdPlay, Josh Rouse and Sean McConnell. Extending the same up-tempo nature of "Lucid Dream" (2007), "Human Heart" offers twenty tunes and seventy plus minutes of music. Being a prolific songwriter is a good thing. Having a strong sense of what to leave in and what to leave out is just as important. There is much to like here including the catchy opening track "Anyone" and the Peter Gabriel-ish "Bigredbutton". However, what might have been a bulls-eye, feels more like a shotgun. Ott reminds me a bit of the late Harry Nilsson who borrowed from the fairly wide palette of his contemporaries, both in jest and in earnest, while establishing a unique sound. Like Nilsson, Ott possess an ability to craft songs with keen pop sensibility and broad appeal. © James Filkins

Jack Pantazis "With the Little We Have," 2010 "With the Little We have" is jazz guitarist Jack Pantazisí second release as a leader, offering an impressive assortment of diverse compositions and impressive improvisations. Hailing from Australia, Pantazis has been playing professionally for close to twenty years and currently teaches music at the Northern Melbourne Institute of Tafe. For this recording the guitarist is backed by some of his countries preeminent players including Phil Turcio on keys, Adam Spiegl on bass, Lachlan Davidson woodwinds, and Gerry Pantazis on drums. Mike Stern also makes a very special appearance on two standards, a bluesy reading of "On Green Dolphin Street" and a burning version of "If I were a Bell." Sternís heavily chorused runs offer an excellent counterpoint to Pantaziís crisp, immaculate electric lines. The recording also features some great acoustical guitar performances. "The Path" showcases the guitaristís flawless acoustic in a dramatic piece inspired by decisions one makes in life and the pathways they lead us on, not unlike the Frost Poem "The Road Not Taken." On the duet, "Winds of Change" the guitaristís pairs his pristine electric with beautifully conceived arpeggiated chords on the acoustic. Jack Pantazis "With the Little We Have" is a great second effort by a consummate jazz musician and is highly recommended for all fans of contemporary instrumental music. © James Scott

Tonos Triad "Typewriters and Tarantulas," 2010 Tonos Triad is 3 guys -- Rod Schindler, Aaron Ransdell, and Yevgeny Baburin, and they play a lot in Indianapolis, IN. They play really cool acoustic music. They have just come out with their second full-length CD, "Typewriters & Tarantulas." What would you call it? Some songs seem rooted in European folk idioms, while others I would call "Heavy Nylon," with a driving metal sound anchored in a nylon-stringed guitar, like "Porthosí Belt." Itís a not-so power trio of guitar, bass, and simple drum, but itís rockiní and rolliní. "Skunk Paste" is another nylon rocker -- funky and grooving, then swinging for a few measures before going back to the funk. "FWBT" begins in one moderate rock voice, then shifts into power mode, then goes a little western, taking simple themes and repeating with subtle textures so as not to snooze the listener. The folk songs use a lot of accordion for the melody, but theyíve often got a jazz underbelly, like on "Someplace You Forgot." The opening cut "Dekabr" uses tasteful duet picking between guitar and mandolin in a breezy waltz. A lovely waltz is "Ballo Della Ossa." They take it up a notch on "Yclept" where tempo and style gets downright hot. I take it these guys are smiling while theyíre playing with their instruments and us. Itís hybrid-schizo music, but it works. You wonít find an easy category for Tonos Triad on your iTunes playlists, but if you give them a listen, youíll probably keep them in rotation. © Kirk Albrecht

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

David Roon - Skies Full of Seas
Emma Hill & Her Gentleman Callers - Meet Me at the Moon
Bach Reformed - In Double
JP Jones - Revelation
Billy Rogan - A Loss for Words
Will Echo - Fragile
Kerry Arista - 50 Different Ways
My Sweet Patootie - Patootified!
Tas Cru - Jus' Desserts
Ivor Game - Then

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