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March & April 2014 Short Takes

Luke Trimble & Matthew Keating "Lines, Color & Form," 2012 This is an exquisite album that rewards repeated listening. Guitarist Luke Trimble studied under modernist American composer and guitarist Bryan Johanson and brilliantly executes this homage to his mentor's compositions and arrangements. The CD begins with the only guitar solo, "Spring, Op. 1"(1977), Bryan Johanson's first completed work, where Trimble's command of color, dynamics, and articulation and his lush warm tone bring out the languid melody lines, intricate counterpoint, and complex rhythmic passages. Johanson's transcription for cello and guitar of three sonatas by Scarlatti's follows, where, on "Sonata for Keyboard in A Major," Mathew Keating's meltingly beautiful tone is most in evidence. The balance of the CD is devoted to Johanson's compositions. "Berceuse," is a gorgeous, somber, dreamlike piece with guitar lines intertwining with those of the cello, while the exciting "A Simple Serenade for Cello & Guitar" is seven movements of dramatic music that manages to be both complex and accessible. Throughout there is a lively play of contrasting textures, with the guitar's brightness contrasting with the mellower timbres of the cello. This brilliant CD highlights the breathtaking musicality and versatility of both musicians as well as the beauty and power of Johanson's compositions. © Celine Keating

Glass House "Long Way Down," 2013 We love it when musicians who are sometimes too closely associated with name artists – in Glass House's situation that would be the legendary, ten-time Grammy Award winning vocalist and conductor Bobby McFerrin – get that rare chance to do their own thing on their own terms. Such is the case for singer David Worm, who is a founding member of McFerrin's phenomenal Voicestra, and his partner, guitar maestro Mark Vickness, who dazzles on his 8 string guitar/bass - on their third collaborative effort entitled "Long Way Down." Among the like-minded players on this set who create an intoxicating brew of world, soul, folk, blues and jazz include The Turtle Island String Quartet, tabla virtuoso Tu Burhoe, and various members of ensembles led by Charlie Hunter, Frank Zappa, Stanley Clarke, Bill Withers, and Prince to namedrop a few. Rather than let their formidable chops do all the heavy lifting, Glass House and their funky friends surrender to the groove – every track percolates with elastic rhythms abetted by melodies and harmonies. Glass House's brilliant rendition of Robbie Robertson's "Broken Arrow" is worth the price of admission alone – however you'll want to hear every track on "Long Way Down." © Tom Semioli

JB Davies "First Songs," 2009 J.B. Davies, a mainstay of the Michigan Fingerstyle Guitar Society, has produced a pleasant disc of solo steel-string guitar, comprised mainly of originals. His notes on the tunes add to one's listening enjoyment, as with "Alec's Song", written while watching his young son take his first steps. "Big Top" emerged from memories of carnivals Davies attended as a child. The set closes with soulful renditions of two instrumentals by Billy McLaughlin and Isato Nakagawa, both of whom Davies acknowledges as influences. Listen for more music from J.B. Davies - he's full of promise. © Patrick Ragains

Mike Clifford "Stay in Motion," 2013 He's a singer-songwriter who touches on a variety of styles, from pop to country, with a calm understated voice, solid songs and a great band. He excels at ballads like "Sometimes Love Don't Get Around," sung with a beautiful piano, to "Simple Things," played with a fingerpicked guitar and featuring lyrics with rich images. "Tired Age" leans toward country, with a full band of twangy guitar, fiddle and more. At the end, it breaks down to a solo gospel piano, a perfect ending. "What I'm Talking ‘bout" features a rollicking roadhouse feel, with bursts of electric guitar, driving drums and a slightly distorted vocal. The issue with some of these bigger songs is that the arrangement can overpower his guitar and voice. I listened to one of the songs, "Ballerina," on his website in a video with a simple set-up of voice and two guitars, and liked it much better. Overall, though, it's a good recording, the kind you'd buy after hearing him perform. © Jamie Anderson

Steve O'Connor "Roll the Dice," 2008 Depending on your age or generational bent, whenever Liverpool's contribution to pop music is mentioned thoughts immediately abound to Merseyside's British Invasion icons The Beatles, along with such notable ensembles as Echo & the Bunnymen, and (gulp) Flock of Seagulls. However as the great Beatnik poet Alan Ginsberg reminded us, the port city is indeed "the center of consciousness of the human universe." No finer example of Liverpool's meld of moxie, melody, and mindfulness is singer-songwriter Steve O'Connor. Akin to the great rockers and poets of Liverpool, O'Connor sings truth to power – especially in the anthem "The Needs of the Many" wherein O'Connor's guitars and harmonies are a wall of sound to be reckoned with in addition to his stinging libretto. O'Connor also emerges as a romantic troubadour - check out "If God Created Angels" – I advise you learn the song and serenade your significant other. The brilliant single, "Hail Caldedonia" is a wistful homage to O'Connor's beloved Scotland. If you favor your folk with a UK twist in the tradition of John Martyn, Nick Drake, and Badly Drawn Boy – I recommend you Roll the Dice. (Note – this album is a rare find in the US, but easily found at Aardvark Records Co UK site: © Tom Semioli

Eric Congdon "Acoustic Wanderer," 2013 Eric Congdon's fourth CD, "Acoustic Wanderer," is a string travelogue through various cultural textures on a variety of stringed instruments – guitars, bouzouki, dobro, and mandocello. This is a far cry from his first two recordings, full of alt-country strains and clanging electric guitars. Congdon seems to have moved fully into acoustic territory, but he's got chops that show through on several tunes with fingers flying. The CD opens with a Celtic-flavored tune called "Mayfair," upbeat and bright. "The Haunting of Bath Sheeba" is an ethereal, languid meditation aided by the deft violin playing of Lyndsay Pruett. It's the longest cut on the recording, at over seven minutes, but it never loses its hold on you. Congdon pays homage to a couple fingerstyle masters, Rev. Gary Davis on "Hendo Flow," and Chet Atkins on "Apples." We have the eclectic mix of African rhythm on percussion (also played by Congdon) with mandocello providing the lead melody line. Eclectic, yes, but it worked. There are several pure solo acoustic tunes, like "The Second Gift" and "Autumn Wish." Congdon is not afarid to mix cultural melodies with instruments not usually employed, and his risks are rewarded with interesting songs. The final cut, "Labyrinth," is a mild-tempered attempt at Middle Eastern fusion, with mandocello and a dobro filling the space of the oud or qanun. I liked it. I liked the whole CD. If you like things a little different in the acoustic universe, check out Eric. © Kirk Albrecht

Dave Wright "Juniper Snowberries," 2013 "Juniper Snowberries" is a brief recording from promising guitarist and composer Dave Wright. It brings to mind Pat Matheny and some of the solo multi-track recordings he did early on, particularly on "New Chautauqua." A few of the recordings collected here were spontaneous improvisations over a few chords. The result is pleasing and, above all, fresh. Wright clearly has command of his instrument, playing both rhythm and lead parts. He shows a great range of dynamic emotive power as well. "Summer Song" and "Sound Furies, Furyless," solo acoustic arrangements, both speak to Wright's gentler side, as well as his ability to craft a compelling melody. "Snorah" and "Pieces" demonstrate a flaring and gritty intensity. He is joined on both tracks by Rob Glass on electric bass and Tommaso Monopoli on drums. © Chip O'Brien

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

Remy DeLaroque - Three Cows Past Midnight
Steep Ravine - Trampin On
Matthew Cochran - Vapor Trail from a Paper Airplane
Gregory Hoskins & Gary Craig - The Map of Above, The Map of Below
Terry Holder - Flowers at Midnight
Kat Danser - Baptized by the Mud

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