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July & August Short Takes

Arlen Roth "Drive it Home", Solid Air Records SACD 2022, 2001 Presented as a tribute to the loss of his wife and first daughter, Arlen Roth's latest acoustic conception, "Drive it Home", offers his listener a spectacular mixture of classic rock standards, traditional rhythm and blues, and slide guitar. Roth's own legacy spans from touring with such masters as Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, and Ry Cooder to the publication of several highly reputable books on guitar technique, phrasing, and chord building. Listeners will especially enjoy how Roth's fresh playing style artfully exploits the treble and upper highs while allowing the deep, bold base notes to come forth as well. The focus here is not to show off how fast Roth can move his fingers, instead he wants to prioritize the melodic structure of each tune, allowing the songs to stand on their own. But most importantly is how the relaxed, very personal dimension of this work never once interferes with Roth's explosive energy and signature sound. Nearly half of the eleven tracks are upwards of four minutes in length, and with the exception of Roth's excellent version of Davey Graham's "Anji" and a very remarkable version of Clapton's "Layla", all of the compositions are of Roth's own making. ©Bernard Richter

JL Stiles "Solo Sessions", Shoeless Records SS1135, 2000 He may be a white, Jewish singer-songwriter raised in Connecticut who only started playing guitar at age 18, but as a self-confessed "diligent son of a bitch", J. L. Stiles spent the next fourteen years (five in New Orleans) mastering the acoustic fingerpicking folk/blues styles of Mississippi John Hurt, Bob Dylan and others. While his first CD "Sanctuary" presented him in a band context, "Solo Sessions" is exactly what it states: Stiles accompanying himself on 6 and 12-string guitar and harmonica on eleven of his compositions and one by Mississippi John Hurt ("Trouble I Had All My Days"). Stiles is more than another accomplished folk/blues fingerpicker with a pleasing voice and harmonica rack around his neck. "Fall by the Wayside" and "Slow Rider" each demonstrate his capabilities on more complex, Leo Kottke-ish guitar work, while "Renewal Song" and "Never To Grow Old" are standout compositions. ©Patrick Grant

Kathy Compton "Recovering Humans", Frosty Orange Records, 2001 Kathy Compton's vocals on her debut CD "Recovering Humans" carry the same pleasant seductive embrace as Madonna's, especially on the throaty tune "Wanted". But where Madonna is an exorbitantly paid technician hired only to step up to a microphone for the corporate dole, Compton is a complete package. She can wield an acoustic guitar very respectably and more importantly, has the innate creative songwriting talents which, in a just world, should propel her to a fame equal to Madonna. "Recovering Humans" is a well-done blend of alt-rock and radio pop which soars with fun, sensuality and emotion. ©Alan Fark

Jeff Elstad "Cedar Moon", Wildwood Music 2002 Cedar Mood, Jeff Elstad's first release to date, contains an impressive display of the artist's own compositions, whose style borrows from a wealth of different folk and jazz traditions. Governed by Elstad's solo acoustic guitar playing, many of the selections revolve around a very soft aesthetic, due in part to the slow tempos that most of Elstad's compositions employ. The high quality of sound fidelity mixed with the more lively tunes, such as "going out", which features Doug Kuehn on Soprano Sax and Gary Petersen on Congas, helps in making the overall work smooth and well-balanced. Most fascinating for me was the way in which many of the tunes begin with a light, open sound but then subtly transform into something a bit darker, allowing a more complicated feel to emerge. Elstad's performance on a 1996 Larrivee is very precise, he takes great pains to articulate every nuance; thus an important aspect of Cedar Moon is getting lost in the playing itself, letting the rhythms, the purity of the guitar, and Elstad's crisp playing overtake the listener. ©Bernard Richter

Bill Mize "Joyful Noise", Moon Pie in the Sky Music MPS004, 2002 It takes an imaginative player to turn Robert Knight's soul classic "Everlasting Love" and The James Gang's "Funk 49" into great fingerpickin' tunes... and who better than a Winfield Competition Champion? Bill Mize uses some interesting accompanists on "Joyful Noise", including Beth Bramhall, who adds her accordion to Mize's guitar on his original "To a Friend". This tune and another original, "The Last Dance", capture the same slow, ethereal groove that Mark Knopfler has been known to find on an acoustic guitar. ©Alan Fark

Roberto Menabo "Il Profumo del Vinile", Blue 021, 2001 In our mind's jukebox, each of us has access to the soundtrack that carried us through our formative years. For Roberto Menabo, who hails from Bologna, Italy, his formative collection is "Il Profumo Del Vinile," translated as "The Vinyl's Perfume." Curiously, Menabo's chief muse turns out to be Delta-style blues, which he performs with a heartfelt sincerity. While his fingerpicking sounds a bit more studied than inspired and his Italian accent rather incongruous, there's no mistaking his love for this music. Menabo's relationship with these songs was cultivated through the vinyl records he played on his turntable -- and he takes us on a journey back into those heady days. He whirls us through somewhat eccentric arrangements of "St. James Infirmary," "Mean Old Frisco," "Farrell Blues," "Trouble in Mind," and even "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." Menabo sounds more comfortable with his own compositions, of which he offers nine. While nothing remarkable emerges, the combination of backgrounds, influences, and, really, just the pure unlikeliness of it all will intrigue those up for a gentle musical adventure. © Fred Kraus

Peter Neri "Dreaming of Home", New Guitar Music 0949, 2002 In another lifetime, Peter Neri played guitar for a rock band in the 1970s and performed with acts such as The Lovin' Spoonful, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and Iron Butterfly. In recent years he has turned his focus on classical and acoustic steel string guitar, receiving airplay on NPR from his first CD "Night Visions". His new CD "Dreams of Home" is a concept album, exploring the course of raising children from birth to adulthood. Largely working from open and altered tunings (only three of thirteen cuts are in standard tuning), Neri creates musical impressions of the stages of life. "Land of the Awakening" opens the album beautifully, capturing the experience of birth into consciousness. Subsequent tracks depict various stages of development such as a first kiss ("Day After the First Kiss"), driving ("Pizza Delivery"), heartbreak ("Blue Night"). Neri is perhaps at his best on slower, moving emotional tunes like "Dreaming of Home", "The Long Goodbye" and "Leaving the Nest". Neri is an excellent guitarist and this well recorded CD shows his talents to full advantage. ©Patrick Grant

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