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March & April 2015 Short Takes

Vincent's Chair "The New Vibe" 2014 Vincent's Chair is, above all, Kathie Renner, her voice, her guitar, and her songs. Next, you'll notice the divine Karen De Nardi, who places the viola square in the center of luscious pop acoustic arrangements, with a tone and presence that perfectly match the guitars of producer/band mate Sam Leske and Renner. Open tunings and chords figure prominently in Renner's music, leading to plenty of Joni Mitchell comparisons. The opener, "He Said She Said," is jazz inflected acoustic pop distinguished by staccato starts and stops that recall a bit of Ani DeFranco in the vocal phrasing. "One Door Closer," with its folk chords and pizzicato viola that almost recall the charengo, reinforce that the focus of The New Vibe is on the voice and the exquisite arrangements. Renner's singing reveals a precision you might find in a voice like Linda Ronstadt's, and her discursive lyricism recalls songwriters like Lucy Kaplansky. It's a very pleasant listen, and a very well-recorded team effort. © Steve Klingaman

Neck Bros. "Coude a Coude" 2013 The Neck Bros.'s Coude a Coude is a noteworthy collaboration between French virtuosos François Hubrecht and Arnaud Leprêtre. The two met at GIT in 1991 and began their musical journey covering jazz, pop, and blues standards. Soon they began playing various festivals throughout Europe. Coude a Coude features ten carefully crafted originals as well as a reflective reading of Stevie Wonder's ephemeral classic "Cause We've Ended as Lovers." Leprêtre primarily plays steel string; whereas Hubrecht's instrument of choice is the nylon stringed guitar. Throughout the recording they construct intricate counterpoint harmonies and chordal excursions flanked by brilliantly conceived and executed solos. From the joyous opener "Again" to the Rocking "Mc Cadden Place," and to the playful Argentinian influenced "Dame Croqu'," the album is graced by their impassioned playing. The consummate musicians complement rather than compete with each other. Their intuitive and synergistic interplay is at the heart of this striking release. François Hubrecht and Arnaud Leprêtre have eclectically synthesized jazz, blues, and international music to create alluring musical landscapes that beacon repeated listening. Coude a Coude is highly recommended for all discerning listeners of acoustic, improvised music. © James Scott

Bill Phillippe "Ghosts" 2014 Veteran of the San Francisco Bay music scene for the last twenty years, Bill Phillippe, has released his first solo acoustic album. Ghosts is a collection of 1920s blues and Phillippe's own compositions, plaintive tunes that fit snugly alongside the traditional blues on the album. Phillippe's vocal and guitar playing are understated and pleasing. No pyrotechnics or self-conscious playing here, just straight up musicality. Phillippe also has a knack for writing good songs, as evidenced by tracks like "Father's Lament," an intimate and heartfelt melody and lyric. "Broken Cup" is another keeper. Both bring to mind the music of "Mississippi" John Hurt. Honestly, after several listenings to Ghosts, I could take or leave tracks like Robert Johnson's "Come on in the My Kitchen" or Son House's "Death Letter." Both are good performances, but Phillippe really shines on his own compositions. And I'd love to hear more. © Chip O'Brien

New Latitude "Convergence" 2015 Colorado guitarists and composers Dave Erickson (acoustic guitars) and Jim Carr (acoustic guitars, electric bass) play a mean blend of slow smooth jazz on their first duo project. Just when a piece begins to feel a bit too mellow, they raise the stakes with tour de force playing, often astonishingly fluid and precise single note runs, as on "New Day" and sultry "Sunset." The interplay of the two guitars is topnotch throughout, as one might expect from two veteran guitarists, each of whom has performed in many other configurations and projects. The all-original compositions, whether by Erickson or by Carr, are more melodic than abstract, with a pleasingly subtle intricacy, and laced with blues, classical, and pop influences. Some notables among the eleven pieces are "Trailblazing," one of the more uptempo numbers; "Seven Falls," with brooding repetitive motifs; and "Reflections," which has a loose freewheeling quality and playfully incorporates a few notes of the Beatles' "Elinor Rigby." Especially lovely are "14 & Green" and "Eastern Square," which capitalize on repetitive chiming tones and captivating melodies. Although the tempo doesn't vary considerably throughout, the compositions are complex and multilayered, yet accessible. Erickson and Carr play with effortless skill and verve, bringing unusual accents and a bit of bite to their brand of smooth jazz. © Céline Keating

Toulouse Engelhardt "Mind Gardens" 2014 Toulouse Engelhardt's Mind Gardens opens with "Nierika", an exquisitely ethereal composition performed on classical guitar before launching into the "Theme to the First Annual Bluebelly Lizard Roundup", an invigorating and melodic 12-string bluegrass infused and lick laden romp reminiscent of some of Jimmy Page's acoustic work. With little chance to catch our breath Engelhardt transitions into the challenging Francis Poulenc composition "Sarabande". Not only has he arranged this for 12 string, his performance is hauntingly precise; creating an overall tone of reverence that elevates the complex melodies into pure acoustic splendor. The following nine compositions, all original with exception of "The Wedge" by Dick Dale, are a veritable roller-coaster ride on Engelhardt's undulating, oscillating and invigoratingly robust fret board prowess, complete with a flute and Spanish Guitar finale, "Dialogue with an English Rill", that brings the listener full circle. Toulouse Engelhardt's guitarra vitae speaks for itself and after four decades this finger-style master is at the top of his game. © James Filkins

Paul Tiernan & John Lester "Live" 2015 I always like to hear a CD come in at more than 60 minutes of recorded music – now that's a good value for listeners! On "Live" by Paul Tiernan (vocals and guitar) and John Lester (bass, nylon string guitar, and vocals), we get 67 minutes! The CD has a simple vibe of just instrument, bass, and voice, and it works well for these guys. The tunes are smart and the lyrics crafty, with just enough ornamentation instrumentally to give space. The two split most of the song writing credits depending on the song. The 13 songs cover lonely love, brokenness, dreams, and those strange life situations. There is plenty of pain ("Union Street"), and sad mixed with sweet on "Last Letter to Theo." An elegiac cover of "Long Train Running" (made famous in popluar rock by the Doobie Brothers) makes you really think about the repeated refrain, "without love, where would you be now?" The boys get funky about love on "So Many Reasons" while "Boxcar Ballerinas" makes you want to cry. Tiernan breaks out his mandola to suppport "The 13th Floor." The disk ends with "The Happy Man," one of Lester's songs, reminding us that life is a choice every day - "the happy man lives for today." © Kirk Albrecht

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

Shai Sebbag & Adrien Janiak - Rendez-vous
Toby Tobias - Africa You Belong to Me
Nick Dellar - The Alder Tree's Year
James Varda - Chance and Time
Bruce Hector - Moonrise
Doug Kolmar - Closed for the Season




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