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May & June Short Takes

Lawrence Blatt "Fibonacci's Dream," 2008 This album follows Blatt's debut CD, "Out of the Woodwork." Here he presents original compositions for solo guitar, duos and small ensembles, all related to the mathematical concept of Fibonacci numbers. Fibonacci sequences can explain recurring natural phenomena, such as the distance between leaves around a stem or the breeding of rabbits. In Blatt's hands, this idea yields layered, although often deliberately repetitive music. That said, he plays beautifully. On the title tune he layers several guitars, including a Wingert Parlor acoustic, a processed lead line played on a custom EVD, and a Breedlove bass. A South American ronroco on "La Selva (The Rainforest)" adds even more to the tonal variety. He uses DADGAD tuning effectively on several pieces, including "I'm Leaving" and "Move Um Out." I'm divided about this music. On one hand, there's more melody here than on most "New Age" guitar recordings. In contrast, Blatt's conceptual framework appears to limit full melodic development. I recommend this CD for settings where one desires good ambient music, or wishes to meditate upon patterns in nature. © Patrick Ragains

New Roots Duo "Roots Run Deep," 2007 Ben Woolman and Dan Schwartz team up for 10 instrumental works on this acoustic collection of roots-based pop. Woolman, on acoustic baritone guitar, and Schwartz, on acoustic lap-steel, share songwriting credits on most of the original tracks. Their "First Waltz" shows a pleasant, nostalgic side, while "Blues for Buddy" features a percolating interplay between the two fingerstylists. Their reading of their lone cover, "Red River Valley," adds an evocative depth, breathing new life into this Americana musical icon, with Schwartz's moody lap steel particularly effective. "GLC" finds Woolman working out his baritone to a fine and nasty effect. It's nice to see these two talents of the Twin Cities coming together for such an enjoyable project. © Fred Kraus

Steve Means "Rescue Me," 2007 We know acoustic guitar players can groove (Dave Matthews, John Mayer), but do they have soul? The answer is "yes" as evidenced on this Nashville by way of Cincinnati singer/songwriter's percolating debut disc. Blessed with sultry croon, fluid guitar motifs, and a rhythm section drenched in Motown/TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia for those of you under 40) ethos, Means' instrumental and vocal melodies coalesce to produce a collection of intelligent and highly commercial pop. "Calm Down" is a fine example of how phrasing verses on the upbeat (reggae style) and hitting the downbeat for the choruses not only highlights the guitar parts but is a surefire way to emphasize the melody (review Police/Sting's hits for further reference). The folksy title track evokes warm thoughts of mom's old James Taylor records as Means and an un-credited string player mix and match melodies on a cut that exudes romance like... well, James Taylor in his hey-day. "Rescue Me" is a major-league record. © Tom Semioli

Steve Lin, "Imagen," 2007 The music of Antonio Lauro and Augustin Barrios Mangore has been an inspiration to countless guitarists since the early decades of the 20th century. Both composers and players - equally powerful in composition and performance -- brought the folk dances and melodies of their native lands (Venezuela and Paraguay) to the broader world, interpreted by such masters as John Williams and David Russell, among others. What Bach did for well-structured guitar music through the hands of Andres Segovia, Lauro and Mangore did for the romantic musical ideas of Latin America. Steve Lin, a young guitarist from the Boston areas, has attempted his own versions of some of their works on "Imagen," picking up part of the title of one of Barrios' compostions, "Tua Imagen". With Lauro, Lin brings out the sensitivity of "La Gatica", the rollicking power of "El Marabino", and the tempered conflict inherent in "Angostura". With Barrios, the lovely "Julia Florida" -- perhaps Barrios' best-known work -- is given the room it needs in tempo to lull and soothe as a timeless melody. The waltzing 'tua imagen" dances delicately with great clarity and focus. While Lin may remain a student (working toward his PhD at the New England Conservatory of Music), he does justice to these lovely works. Lin shows equal skill on the closing track of the CD, "Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios", revealing a fine tremolo while varying dynamics enough to take the listener through Barrios' own spiritual journey. This is a fine addition to the works of Lauro and Barrios now on the market, from a developing artist. © Kirk Albrecht

Little Muddy, "The Road to Bodie," 2008 These are brief and provocative cinematic soundscapes certain to please some, but also to puzzle some listeners. 28 tracks in all, each is mysterious and evanescent, 13 of the tracks each clocking in at under 60 seconds. By so doing, Little Muddy generates serious suspense and an atmosphere both spooky and moving. Indie filmmakers needing a soundtrack, take note. © Alan Fark

Katie Sawicki, "Time Spent Lost," 2007 There's a smooth understated quality to her voice, a little like Norah Jones, that feels like a conversation with an old friend. Her world-weary view full of heartbreak covers the rich emotions of a relationship from "I think I'm losing you" to "I'm glad I got to know you." Arrangements are built around her acoustic guitar but don't end there with driving percussion, strings and keyboards. There's even a banjo back in the mix on "Losing Ground." There are some great lyrics like, "My friends look like matchsticks in the rear view mirror," from "Moving On," but frankly, I can't understand some of what she sings, her words are slurred in spots. "Drown" has some lovely finger picked guitar and some evocative angel-like vocals toward the end. It ends with her singing "I am watching you drown." "Breaking Point" is a good cut. It sounds like she's in an open tuning, the bottom strings adding a gorgeous bass. Some kind of strings -- a cello maybe -- adds to the melancholy feel. © Jamie Anderson

John-Alex Mason, "Town and Country," 2007 "Town and Country," John-Alex Masonís newest release, is divided between acoustic "country" tracks and electrified "town" tracks. The songs are both original and "historical." Yet thereís nothing disparate about this group of tunes. Masonís haunting vocals and hypnotic guitar work are the ties that bind the tracks and the vehicles with which Mason transports the listener to a pleasantly uncomfortable place. Mason rocks hard on the electric tracks with his Lowebow and foot drums and takes us to the Delta with his National Style O on the country fare. Simply put, Masonís brand of blues moves the listener in unfamiliar ways, touching something deep and curious, maybe long-forgotten, possibly never touched before. John-Alex Mason is a true original and brings to the blues a spirit of invention born of a deep desire to communicate, which is at the heart of all good blues music. © Chip O'Brien

Fergus McCormick "I Don't Need You Now," 2007 Describing Fergus McCormick as an incurable romantic probably wouldn't draw much protest from this talented singer/songwriter. On "I Don't Need You Now," his third self-penned collection, McCormick sings thoughtfully about love, losses, beauty and ephemeral places. There's ache in his young voice, but there's hope, too, as he relates his poetic story songs. Lyrics, as this, "now the rain is like my blood running like a river through the town," from "Brown Eyes and Golden Hair," convey an emotional spectrum. Musically, his acoustic guitar and harmonica are complemented by a full band, including violin, cello, organ, piano and some fine lead guitar from Riley McMahon. Well-traveled and possessed of a spirit of emotional exploration, McCormick's agreeable blend of Americana draws from such sources as Dylan, Neil Young, Paul Simon and Creedence. He takes the essence of the '60s and '70s and distills it, making it his own. © Fred Kraus

Honeyboy Edwards, "Roamin' and Ramblin'," 2007 This collection of tracks by Honeyboy Edwards takes us on a journey back in time to a special brand of small group blues which he played from the thirties on up through the sixties. The tracks range from the solo "The Army Blues" from a 1942 Library of Congress recording to a series of duets with such harmonica greats as Bobby Rush, Big Walter Horton, Sugar Blue, Billy Branch, and Michael Frank. Edwards plays with wit and wisdom and a wry smile. His music is vibrant and lacks any of the "museum blues" feel that unfortunately plagues so many blues albums these days. Edwards never goes through the motions. He growls and shouts, stomps and romps, and brings joy to the music heís performed and loved his whole life. © Chip O'Brien

Dustin Overbeek, "I Can't Fly," 2007 With a voice a little like Merle (that's Haggard, y'all) but more polished like Vince Gill, this guy should be cutting Nashville demos. Sure, he's a singer-songwriter who inches toward rock but with a full band featuring a weepy pedal steel then boy howdy, this is country. Most songs are on the lighter side, like "Divine Intervention" where he sings "I need some heavy, heavy medication / to ease the burden of this race." Tim O'Brien adds mandolin and a harmony vocal. "Carry On" is a view from a barstool but it's a hopeful one, "Under the watchful eye of a neon sign, I will carry on." "Ounce of Simple" is an upbeat toe-tapper. "Break Free" is a more somber tune urging someone to leave an abusive relationship. The best cut is the autobiographical "Somewhere in Between" done only with his acoustic guitar and sparsely played pedal steel. © Jamie Anderson

Pete Berryman, "The Return," 2007 This collection of instrumentals is simply wonderful. The opening tune, "Columbine," recalls fingerstyle jazz more than the British fingerstyle school typified by Graham, Jansch or Renbourn. "From Here On" is cast in a similar mode. The title track reflects Berryman's thoughtful and unhurried approach. In fact, his instrumentals suggest an underlying narrative, in keeping with his achievements as a songwriter and in other venues, including theater and film. Berryman's rich chord voicings and gentle attack resembles some of John James' instrumental work from the 1970s. That's not surprising, since the two guitarists collaborated on the 1971 album, "Sky In My Pie." "New Celtic" contrasts an Irish-tinged melody with a jazzy chordal section, before Berryman melds the two approaches in the middle of the piece. "PS Waltz 2" approaches dissonance and is an effective, if pensive closer to this rare jewel of a CD. © Patrick Ragains

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

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers - Humming My Way Back Home
Roy Davis - The Dregs
Paul Thorn - A Long Way From Tupelo
Pete Madsen - Carnival of Rags
James Moors - Hush
James Varda - Hunger
Michael Veitch - Painted Heart
David Wax Museum - I Turned Off Thinking About
Tom Fuller Band - Abstract Man
Al Rose - My First Postumous Release
Kevin Danzig - Box Cars
You and Me - The Romantic and the Realist
Tam Lin Music - In the Twilight
Lauren Fincham - Perfect Pain
Lee Penn Sky - Prelude to Hindsight

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