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March & April 2013 Short Takes

Danny Combs "Chasing Guitar," 2012 Nashville acoustic fingerstylist Combs plays with a passionate clarity that makes the listener sit up and take notice from the very first note of "Chasing Guitar," his third release. Yet this is a contemplative, at times even somber, CD. Combs' precision and evocative songwriting is showcased in a range of compositions: "Flying Wing" leans Celtic, "Dashington" is a bluesy bent-string romp that employs superfast arpeggios, and other pieces, like the lovely lighthearted "Awaken," employ ringing overtones and pulloffs as sharp as a pin prick. Combs has an extraordinarily light touch on the strings, as if he were playing silk instead of steel. While he clearly favors sonority and emotional depth over dazzle, virtuosity is fully evident, as on the moody rumbling "Sponge Cake." Given the meditative quality of the CD, it is no surprise that several songs have religious inspirations, such as the gorgeous "The Offering" and a lovely rendition of the hymn, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing." While the CD could perhaps have used a jolt or two of the unexpected, "Chasing Guitar" is nevertheless truly mesmerizing. © Céline Keating

Hiroya Tsukamoto "Heartland," 2012 Hiroya Tsukamoto’s musical career began in his early teens when he took up the banjo and, shortly after, the acoustic guitar. During his college years in Japan, he became influenced by the South American Nueva Canción movement, stylistic notes of which are evident in "Heartland," the fifth recording to feature Tsukamoto on the guitar, and the first to prominently feature his vocal work. Some of the compositions in "Heartland" are languid, some are upbeat, and many feature original Japanese lyrics that are introspective, nostalgic, and deeply connected to the natural world. While American listeners may not understand the language, they will certainly find the melodies of the songs and the rhythms of the words as fluid, alluring, and engaging as Tsukamoto’s playing itself. This artist’s abilities are especially highlighted in the solo instrumental compositions ("La Primavera," "Gemni Bridge," "Going to Durango," and the album’s namesake, "Heartland") that are thoughtfully interwoven throughout the lyric songs and bookend the album in a neat prelude-postlude fashion. These ease the listener in and out of Tsukamoto’s more contemplative vocal pieces, and afford the best chances to really appreciate his precision, movement, expressiveness, and dynamic playing. © Ryan Fark

Bill Mallonee "Amber Waves," 2012 The opening measures of the title track of Bill Mallonee's new CD Amber Waves simultaneously pulls us back to the 1970's while unflinchingly nails down the present (musically & lyrically): "There's a highway washed in brightness with skies of indigo / the desert whispers what she knows / Neruda on the dashboard & the engine's humming true / the rearview held a harvest moon / faith is a throw of dice and the sleeping heart is stirred / after ragged sentences you'll get the last word / and it may just be the most golden that we've heard." Poetic, potent and pertinent all apt tags for "Amber Waves." Bill Mallonee's latest release proves once again he is as consistent as he is prolific in creating edgy heartland tinged Americana. This collection of tunes is steeped in the integrity, insight and revelation that has become the expectation of Mallonee since his days at the helm of The Vigilantes of Love. Jake Bradley and Kevin Heuer, former VOL members lend a hand throughout adding a distinct VOL echo to uptempo numbers like "To the Nines" and "Faith(Come Soaked in Gasoline)". Although leaning on the electric side, "Amber Waves" has plenty of acoustic gems to balance out the mix including the eloquent and flat out gorgeous "Long Since Gone". © James Filkins

Charlie Parr "Barnswallow," 2012 It doesn't get much "rootsier" than Minnesota folk icon Charlie Parr - renown for his expertise on his National NPR wood-body resonator guitar. (Note:Charlie also utilizes a 12-string and fretless banjo on this collection!) Barnswallow, named for an instrumental track Parr waxed with the Black Twig Pickers ensemble, is a doggone barn-burner of a record. Parr's side-kicks Mikkel Beckman and Dave Hundreiser render amazing accompaniment on washboard, fridge parts(!), foot, thumb piano, harmonica and jaw-harp. As you'd expect, Parr's lyrics detail the familiar themes of life's challenges ("My Wife Left Me"), life on the road ("Nowhere Fast"), and life in the fast line ("Motorcycle Blues") among others. Akin to the greatest singer song-writers of his ilk, from Dylan to Leonard Cohen, Parr's melodies and vocals could have been written yesterday or one hundred years ago. Mrs. Emily Parr adds an angelic harmony to "Jesus Is A Hobo" - a tune relevant to the tumultuous times we currently live in. Barnswallow comes highly recommended for fans of the above mentioned references along with followers of Jorma Kaukonen, Corey Harris, Keb Mo, and Taj Mahal. Note to Charlie and band: which fridge parts did you use? © Tom Semioli

Adam Brown "Without Limits," 2012 For his third full length recording, London based guitarist Adam Brown offers up a charming selection of contemporary works that bridge the classical and popular music genres. The recording offer us beautiful works by George Shearing, Jimmy van Heusen, Richard Rodgers, Thelonious Monk, John Duarte, Fred Hand, Andrew York, Paul Lansky, and Bryan Johanson. There are many high points. The arrangement of "Monk's Mood" is well done. Fred Hand's "Missing Her" offers us a wonderful interpretation of a seldom played contemporary composer. Also rewarding is Johanson's creative "Magic Serenade." Brown's tone is warm and pleasing through-out. This release offers us a nice glimpse at a slice of contemporary 'American' guitar music. © Philip Hemmo

Trout Steak Revival "Flight," 2012 Their liner notes say, "Trout Steak Revival began as a friendship." You can hear that warmth and connection in this nice collection of bluegrass and folky fiddle tunes. They’ve reworked some standards, like "Darling Corey," and added originals like the lively "Blackjack Supper Club" and the mid-tempo love song, "Bell." Outstanding cuts include banjo player Travis McNamara’s original, "Ashes to Ashes," featuring a great melody that stays with you. "Greasy Coat" is a fun traditional tune reworked by fiddle player Bevin Foley. And while I’m talking about Bevin, remind me never to break up with her, as evidenced by the bitterly sassy "Good Riddance." I wish this album had been recorded better so I could really hear their tight musicianship. The balance is off, with some instruments coming in too strong and others, buried, and vocals that sound like they were recorded in a big empty room. I’ll bet they do an awesome live show and hopefully, their next recording will reflect that. © Jamie Anderson

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

The Hawaiian Legends - Live in Concert DVD
Debra Cowan - Among Friends
Umble/Druck - Relevance
Chad Fengel - Things We Take For Granted
Alex Lubet - Spectral Blues
Paul Chasman - Basics
David Cohen - Guitar
Garrett Sawyer - Chronicles and Vanity
Gallon House
Maria Gillard - Mending
Tokyo Rosenthal - Tokyo's Fifth
Ella's Umbrella - Colors in Our Sky
Tam Lin - Garden in Flames
Will Brown - Guitar Sketchbook
Chris Vallillo - The Last Day of Winter

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