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May & June Short Takes

Townhall "The New Song", 2003 Witness an American jam band that can write songs not solely intended as vehicles for improvisation. Funky, horny, rootsy, rocky, jazzy, folksy, bluesy, and soulful, Townhall's organic idiosyncrasies serve them well on this stellar collection of barefoot fables. Akin to Dave Matthews, Taj Mahal, Phish, Widespread Panic, and Ben Harper, Townhall gathers steam by stretching tempos, employing plucky counterpoint and forging strong, linear melodies. Vocalist George Stanford carries the weight of the world in his ragged delivery as the band follows each lyrical and melodic nuance with refreshing call and response interplay. The rich arrangements coupled with earthy harmonies are reminiscent of the post-psychedelic Grateful Dead and the Band (Garth Hudson cameos on one cut) during their early 70's apex, which could only mean that Townhall and their growing legion of fans are in for a long, strange, enjoyable trip. Tune in, turn on... you know the rest. © Tom Semioli

Eric Loy "Free Hand", 2001 From the moment the laser hits the disc, it's apparent that Eric Loy is a maniacal string-slapper who is not afraid to take the road less traveled. Loy is as much percussionist as guitarist, fretboard and soundboard taking the abusive brunt of his unbridled and spontaneous enthusiasm. Loy's music seems like a free-form version of Preston Reed's, exalting in serendipity as it offers up themes as they come, and maybe even as a surprise to Loy when they take form as if by prestidigitation. (Listen to "Good Report") ©Alan Fark

John Hasbrouck "Ice Cream", Ruthless Rabbit Records RRR1961, 2001 Although new to recording (this is his first release), southpaw guitarist John Hasbrouck has been around a long time, spending over 25 years playing and studying American guitar music. The years of absorption pay off in his unique take on what he chooses to call "Acoustic Americana." This well recorded, wonderfully diverse collection was selected by Acoustic Guitar magazine as one of the Top CDs of 2002. The twenty flavors of musical ice cream offered include country, blues, jazz, ragtime, movie music, and eight original compositions. These servings are scooped out by nine different guitars, including 6 and 12-string resophonic steel bodies. With titles like "Fragment of An Unfinished Requiem for Blind Joe Death" and "Behold! Rows of Zebras Miraculously Announce Nirvana", his Hasbrouck's John Fahey influences are obvious. Elsewhere, he offers a totally deconstructed version of "House of the Rising Sun" that is full of humor and needs to be heard. One of the sweetest scoops is his version of John Renbourn's "Lady Nothynge's Toye Puffe." A second helping of his instrumental version of "As Time Goes By" is recommended. This is rich collection of sweet sounds, to be savored through repeated listening. © Patrick Grant

Jerry Krahn "No Wires Attached", Heartdance Music HDC-235, 2003 Nashville is a fertile musical community, and guitar pickers are about as common as bees on honey. The list of well-known players in Music City could fill a small phone book, so getting heard isn’t always easy. Sometimes you need a special hook. Jerry Krahn does his thing on vintage Epiphone archtops, and they sound fine. His second CD, "No Wires Attached", features both solo playing and duets with musicians helping out on various instruments. The opening cut, "Kayak", teams Krahn and accordionist Jeff Taylor in an unusual pairing gliding through a jaunty, rollicking tumble down the rapids. There are capable versions of jazz standards like "Satin Doll" and "Peg Leg Shuffle", and George Benson’s "Breezin’". Krahn adds the luscious Epi touch to Jose Feliciano’s "Light My Fire" with a trombone on the side! His ’46 Broadway mixes well with violinist Paul Kramer on "In The Morning", while he Chets us through "Freight Train". For lovers of Spanish music, there is even a solo rendering of "Caravan of Malaguenas" which recalls some of Django’s stylings. The CD ends sweetly with a tasty and mellow "Pieces of Dreams/But Beautiful". Krahn doesn’t blow us away with technique or speed, but he has a good sense of time and mood of each piece, and his arrangements, and it’s good listening. © Kirk Albrecht

Travis & Austin Nevels "Freestyle Guitar II" Travis and Austin Nevel's Fingerstyle II is halfway excellent. Half the tracks featuring Nevels Sr. on solo fingerstyle cook with quick precision hammer-ons and pull-offs that set a new standard for modern boogie blues. On alternate tracks, Nevels Sr. graciously but prematurely allows Nevels Jr. to step into the spotlight, soloing on electric guitar over dad's rhythm guitar. There's sincerity in Austin's playing that is certain to ripen with age, and a youthful skill that bodes honing in the future, but for now, dad's obviously the star. Stay tuned... this will be a formidable guitar duo with simply an investment in "family time". © Alan Fark

Clarelynn Rose "Elegant Tern" Heartwood Music 2002 Clarelynn Rose's Celtic fingerstyle tunes are steeped in mystery, lament and pathos. A forester by vocation and Buddhist by spiritual inclination, her exclusive use of alternate tunings on steel string guitar conspire with her view of the world to lead her music inevitably to a place of serenity in a listener's heart. Particularly on "Sunshower" and "Damnation Trail", unexpected chordal maneuvers and use of pause for suspense releases the mostly solemn trajectory of her music to take the most elegant of turns. © Alan Fark

Jay Howlett "American Ghost Town", BlahBlahWoofWoof 2003 A song-cycle which loosely chronicles Howlett's rural travels throughout the United States, American Ghost Town bemoans an ongoing social, economic, and environmental decline of a heartland he loves dearly. Rather than curse the future, the singer / songwriter celebrates the past with a folksy diary of tunes torn between the author's fierce patriotism and society's dispassionate conservatism. Never preachy, Howlett spins his engaging tales with a spare, low-key demeanor, strumming his acoustic guitar behind the beat as fretless bassist Myron Dove, percussionist Tim Siefert, mandolin/fiddle whiz Joe Craven join a host of harmony vocalists who weave a shimmering backdrop to the strong, plaintive melodies in each cut. With lyrics made all the more powerful by rootsy, spare arrangements Howlett's collection is essential listening for fans of Bruce Cockburn, John Prine, Louden Wainwright III and solo Bruce Springsteen. (Listen to "Debt of Honor") © Tom Semioli

Alan Goodman "Romance, Revenge, Redemption", Cancoll Music 2002 The liner notes of Alan Goodman's new disc "Romance, Revenge, Redemption" list inspirational thanks to Paco de Lucia (famed flamenco artist) and Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) as well as others. The musical influence of these musicians is heard in the original compositions included on this recording. The melancholy mood of "La Ultima" reflects the tonality of contemporary pop music. This is contrasted by the fiery performance of both "Don Ramon" and "Taming the Golem" which reflect the more traditional Spanish flamenco sound. Tonally, works like Can Coll share much with the compositional style of contemporary Latin jazz. The recording quality is clear and warm. The overall level of the performance is high although some weaknesses in tremolo do show through. I recommend this disc for any who enjoy the many sides of contemporary flamenco guitar music. © Philip Hemmo


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