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July & August Short Takes

Straw Dogs "Hum of the Motor", 2003 Straw Dogs is singer-songwriter duo David von Beck and Darren Smith. They each press their trademark thumbprint into a honed pop style via jangling guitars and mirror-image harmonies, incarnating themselves into this era as did Firefall in the 1980's and The Byrds in the 1960's. "Hum of the Motor", their second release, has a polish and fullness their first release did not, thanks to a winning roll-of-the-dice by adding guest musicians on drums, pedal steel and trumpet. (Listen to "Blinds Me Again") © Alan Fark

Mike James "Tinkling Bernice", 2002 This guy sounds like Bruce Hornsby doing a pretty good imitation of Springsteen. Or is it Donald Fagan doing Sean Mullins? It's a bit freaky and so are his lyrics, but this is an incredibly well-crafted and seamlessly produced CD. James has a strong sense of whimsy and a funky rhythmic style that is both fun and captivating. (Listen to "Spider in a Jar") ©Rob Dunne

Damond Moodie "Fishin' for Words" 2002 India.arie may have coined the term "Acoustic Soul", but she doesn't own the concept, as Damond Moodie proves on "Fishin' for Words". Moodie's buttery vocals melt all over these thirteen (mostly) acoustic tracks... heartfelt, groovin' and contagious. This is 1970's-era soul that soars with a positive message and makes you feel good, there's no sinister urban or hip-hop edge to Moodie's music. Like Donny Hathaway before him, Moodie's artistic vision is less about love songs, more about community; one of lifting people up, not miring them down. (Listen to "Fishin' for Words") © Alan Fark

Mike Errico "Tonight I Drink You All" 2002 This is struttin', primpin', in-your-face folk. Does that sound oxymoronish? Nah... that's Mike Errico. If Alanis Morrissette had sired Little Richard's son, who then mastered acoustic guitar, this is what he might sound like. This live performance catches Errico literally banging out some way boisterous tunes, egged on by a way enthusiastic audience. © Alan Fark

Tim Callobre "The Beginning", 2003 In his first project to date, Tim Callobre brings his listeners an impressive display of technical achievement and artistic focus, especially for an artist only nine years old. At the age of six this musical prodigy started to play the piano and a year later was beginning to explore the tonal beauty of the classical guitar. Here, Callobre starts off with a vibrant rendition of Chôros No. 2 by the well-known Brazilian composer Hector Villa-Lobos. This particular composer must be of some import to Callobre, for the his ability to make visible the more nuanced aspects of Villa-Lobos's music is worth noting. As the album progresses, the young artist quickly turns to showcase his own prodigious compositional skills on the piano, switching from piano to guitar and back again almost effortlessly. The style of music found on "The Beginning" is tastefully limited to a more classical repertoire, though at times the young musician/composer likes to rock-out on his electric guitar as well. The apex of the album comes when Callobre performs another one of Villa-Lobos's more technically demanding pieces. It is clear that this very young musician is exceedingly talented, but his performance of well-known pieces proves more effective for this listener than his neatly structured compositions. © Bernard Richter

Don Alder "The Acoustiholic", 2003 Most artists who arrive on the scene with acoustic guitar-in-hand proclaim themselves as either fingerstylists or singer-songwriters, but hardly ever both. Don Alder is an artist able to wear both hats quite comfortably. The former Winfield competitor and student of Don Ross can kick up his heels instrumentally (as on "Granny on the Run") but can also put his vocals and songwriting up on ear-catching display ("Haunting Me"). © Alan Fark

Doug Young "Laurel Mill", 2003 The explosion of solo fingerstyle guitar in the past decade has been nothing short of incendiary. Great players are giving workshops and teaching at camps all over the U.S. and Canada (and overseas), and small-shop guitar makers have sprung up to meet the needs of this growing market. So what do you do if you have found a niche, have some great guitars, and have some time on your hands? Record your own CD. That is just what Doug Young has done on his first recording, "Laurel Mill", recorded at home in his garage where his son’s punk rock band practices. Young has a guitar collection to die for, and he has done something right, because the Wingert and Ryan guitars used on this recording sound absolutely fabulous. The disk begins with a tune "No 2 Ways About It", sounding very much like a cut off Laurence Juber’s "Altered Reality" CD. Then we hear more of Young’s musical ideas, and he has a fine sense of melody and developing a song. While employing altered tunings (who doesn’t these days?), some highlights include the beautiful "Night Whispers" and a simple, yet lovely arrangement of "Shenandoah". While Young doesn’t get up and stomp, his clean playing lays down some nice listening. He even does passable covers of the Beatles’ "I Will" and "Rhiannon" by Fleetwod Mac. This is one of the best self-produced initial efforts I have come across, and if proof is in the playing, well, this one’s seen a lot of time in my CD player lately. © Kirk Albrecht

Wonderful Johnson "Authentic Memphis Samich", 2002 There should always be a place for acoustic guitar-driven, harmony-laden, lightly introspective pop. Wonderful Johnson's college radio-friendly sound reflects their heavy Tom Petty influence as well as hitting on some early nineties Gin Blossoms, with whom they share a producer. Vocalist and acoustic strummer Tim McGeary has written an immensely listenable disc. Your toe taps, your head bobs, and you'll cheer for the lovers in Authentic Memphis Samich to work it out. The lyrics aren't hard-hitting or obtusely poetic, but they aren't supposed to be. Much like a good country and western song, they simply tell a story that's worth listening to, even if it won't change your life. © Rick Gebhard

JP Jones "Life and Death", 2003 JP Jones snarls his way through the follow-up to "Salvation Street". "Life and Death" explores a wider variety of sounds than its predecessor. With his band Rite Tite, Jones ventures into funk ("Cum a Live"), world beat ("What in God's Name"), and metal ("Killer Instinct"). Mike Barette's guitar consistently drives the music. Check out his percussive rhythm playing and searing solo on "Pull Over." Lyrically, the album is less introspective, ambitiously attempting to tackle - as the title implies - big ideas: peace, war, life, death, sex, government, and luxury automobiles ("Flat Black Cadillac"). I'm not sure what it means, but the disc's lyrics begin and end with a variation on "come," which appears no fewer than twenty times. © David Kleiner

Clarence Bucaro "Sweet Corn", 2002 Northeast Ohio's a long way from the delta, but fortune apparently cares not a whit about geography, seeing how it saw fit to grace 22-year old Ohio musician Clarence Bucaro with a bluesy croon which lives in the same neighborhood as Ricki Lee Jones and Van Morrison. Whether he can sculpt that talent into something truly unique and memorable remains to be seen, but "Sweet Corn" is an excellent start. Bucaro occasionally falls into the trap of exploiting blues clichés so that the lyrics come across contrived ("My Georgia peach tastes so juicy and sweet"). Bucaro's at his strongest when he speaks from his own heart, as on the oh-so-humid "Sweet Laurel", rather than attempting to replicate what prior bluesmen have done © Alan Fark

Alex Wise "Front Porch", 2003 Former business executive Alex Wise shifted life’s gears to make music his full-time gig not too long ago. Hey, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. This nine-track disc represents the guitarist/singer/songwriter’s first solo release of all-original material. Wise’s admirable effort features blues-based acoustic folk with swampy overtones. Many nice touches mark this carefully crafted collection. While Wise stays true to his reflective, thoughtful mood, the overall effect might benefit from a couple of uptempo numbers. To his credit, Wise evokes a surprising level of emotion from his rather unremarkable voice. And though this work has a grounded, real feel, one can’t quite escape the notion that his drastic career change would prompt at least a few songs a bit closer to a passionate primal scream. There’s a world of unexplored potential here. © Fred Kraus

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