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July & August Short Takes

Eltjo Haselhoff "Fingerstyle Guitar Solos", 2005 He's a PhD in physics! No, he's a black belt in karate! No, he's a painter and cartoonist! No, he's a fingerstyle guitar player with some killer chops, great feel, and wonderful sense of melody! Well, he's all of that - he's Eltjo Haselhoff from the Netherlands, and if this debut CD is any indication, he can add one more element to an already impressive resume. From the opening cut "Tap Your Foot" where he channels Tommy Emmanuel's "Luttrell", we find a fluid style and developed sense of time and space in his playing. "Roundback Rag" gets your foot tapping with great melody over a walking bass and subtle chordal changes, and never lets go. "Phoelix & Grimm" starts and stops like a bareback horse ride. There are two hauntingly beautiful ballads - "Myosotis" and "Snow in London," probably the most moving solo guitar ballad I have heard in a long time. This piece perhaps more than any other on the CD reveals a mature musical sense, allowing each note its place, laying feeling in just the right density, ornamenting with triplets without being flashy. For me, this song is worth the price of the disk alone. © Kirk Albrecht

Ernie Payne "Coercion Street" 2004 Payne's resonant crackling baritone, quick wit, melodic prowess, and slick finger picking deserves strong comparison to such heavyweights as John Hiatt, John Prine, Ry Cooder, and T-Bone Burnett on this rustic collection. A hearty meld of Americana, blues, and country, Payne's world-weary yet spry ruminations are rendered in earnest, especially when his no-frills rhythm section lays down a firm foundation for soulful/skillful helpings of dobro, mandolin, dulcimer, and electric/acoustic guitar passages. Payne spreads his musical wealth, getting down 'n' dirty for the Gospel tinged "Mother's Uncle," comically copping the goofy glam riff from T.Rex's "Get It On" to kick of the stompin' "Nothing Wrong With Texas That Leavin' Won't Fix," and waxes sentimental for the tender dirge "Ancient Eyes." Don't let anyone talk you out of hangin' with Ernie on Coercion Street. © Tom Semioli

Dave Dill "See You in the Sunshine", 2005 Dave Dill's songwriting has all those elusive ingredients that The Beatles, Steely Dan and Queen were able to concoct into their so-recognizable musical recipes. Catchy hooks, chorused harmonies, capable guitar work and a production that strives to enhance the music rather than the artist's ego is a formula that obviously works well for Dill. That's evidenced by the fact that a listen to "See You in the Sunshine" will have you singing along on the first spin - the ultimate "thumbs-up" for any performer. © Alan Fark

Mark Sganga "Sganga Nova", 2005 Mark Sganga made some very wise choices on his CD "Sganga Nova." He's top-loaded the CD with instrumental numbers, and one quickly hears that instrumental virtuosity is his obvious forté. He's also chosen a bass player, Leo Traversa, who knows exactly what to play to make Sganga look very, very, good. Sganga is a good vocalist, but not great, and collating the tunes such that the vocal tracks are subordinate enhances his guitar credentials. Not that these credentials need much boosting while you're listening… "Sabino's Song" and "Tokyo Rain" are compostional gems that are Brasilian-inflected and reminiscent of David Cullen's likewise engaging nylon string guitar work. © Alan Fark

Barbary Coast Guitar Duo "Suites for 2 Guitars", 2004 On this CD Florante Aguilar and Michael Walsh interpret well-known pop and rock works in classical styles. The duo presents six Lennon-McCartney tunes and three each from Jimmy Page, Sting and Jimi Hendrix. Some of their selections are obvious, such as "Eleanor Rigby", "If I Fell" and "She's Leaving Home". These tunes work well in the hands of two skilled players. The rest are surprising and sometimes risky. The Led Zeppelin Suite comes off unexpectedly well, due no less to Jimmy Page's classical leanings than to the Barbary Duo's own musical gifts. They are perhaps most successful with Sting's compositions, particularly "Roxanne" and King of Pain". Interpretations of The Beatles' "I Want You", "Dr. Robert" and "With a Little Help From My Friends" don't fare so well, since the duo fails either to capture the original spirit of the tunes or to reshape them in a compelling manner. Likewise, "Purple Haze" and "Crosstown Traffic". Some of the weaker arrangements may work better in live performance, where most listeners would take in the music more casually than when listening to a recording. The duo might consider presenting a mix of classical and popular works on their next CD, in the spirit of LAGQ or guitarist John William's recent recordings. Aguilar and Walsh should be successful in the long run, particularly if they take more calculated musical risks and avoid novelty-type reworkings of popular rock songs. © Patrick Ragains

Joe Crookston, "Fall Down as the Rain", 2004 I have mixed feelings about this CD. Standout musical moments are a little sparse, though Crookston is a talented multi-instrumentalist who plays not only guitar but also clawhammer banjo and fiddle. The primary focus of this record is old school, finger style folk, shining throughout. The hitch is that most every track is performed in the same manner, a mid to up-tempo, finger picked, modal chord progression. There are two songs that really get me going -- "Blue" and "Poor Me." The first, "Blue," compares the emotional progression of a break-up to different colors. Lyrically clever and musically diverse, the melody is subtle but infectious with a rhythm like classic Randy Newman. The second is "Poor Me/May There Always Be Sunshine" a traditional medley not unlike the work of Andrew McKnight. Crookston's voice, though, has more body, making it better suited to the task. Musically this one lets out all the stops and features Crookston on the banjo, guitar, and fiddle and is just a good ol' fashioned bluegrass tune. Bottom line? If you like old school folk, Joe Crookston is your man. New music, vintage style, no questions asked. But if folk ain’t your bag, mosey on. © Sean Lewis

Drayton Michaels "Low Stress in the Deep End", 2005 With a voice that recalls the adenoidal boy voices of the prog rock age (think Yes, or Supertramp), Michaels finds himself closer in today's terms to American Idol than the grunge bars of Seattle, where this debut CD was recorded. The opener, "Thievery," talks about his "dark side." It's hard to believe the singer has a dark side. It's a Graham Nash kind of thing. Very pleasant, with a slight Brit accent, or am I beginning to imagine things? Anyway, in pop it's all about the voice. Is it damning to say the music is merely pleasant, as in the hooky chorus to "Anyway," or in the acoustic jazz inflections of "I'm Not Waiting?" Or that this reviewer hears an off-key melody line on "Ghosts of Manhattan? On the other hand, the varied rhythm sections hang together nicely throughout the work (this must be Michaels' doing), as on "At Least," featuring the battery of the Posies' Mike Mussberger on drums and Kevin Hudson on bass, complemented by the sharp slide guitar of Dave Miller. But there is no sharp edge to the lyric or the voice. Others have raved about Michael's work, including the masters of devastating encouragement at Michaels knows how to play, and how to cut a record. I must be imagining things. But I would prefer the dark side of the deep end. © Steve Klingaman

Jay Legaspi "the.tale.and", 2005 "the.tale.and" is Jay Legaspi's clear-eyed, ambitious attempt to stretch the bounds of the singer/songwriter genre. Legaspi's soft-spoken tenor and gymnastic delivery bring neo-soul to the house. An avalanche of words nods to rap and spoken word performance. The acoustic, finger-style guitar work--gently percussive-dominates, touching on samba ("Time"), folk (the intro to "Try Wait"), jazz ("Not Tonight") and rock ("Ghost"). All of this in a concept album about the (tail) end of a relationship. Our hero begins ("Said/Unheard") desperately looking for reasons ("I'll just list them off/and you can say yes/or say no"). In the end ("Ghost"), he declares his independence from the relationship and everything trying to pigeonhole him ("I'm sick of having dictionary headings name my settings"). Sorry, Jay, but I'm going to pin one more label on you... an original. © David Kleiner

Amir Beso "Fatamorgana", 2005 The Balkans seem to be fertile ground for nurturing incredible guitarists. Whether as a sequel to the area's folk heritage or as an embodiment of the appreciation of artistic expression to counterbalance years of political strife, a queue of names of international reknown keeps streaming steadily from the region: Vlatko Stefanovski, Dusan Bogdanovic, Miroslav Tadic and Goran Ivanovic. Like these guitarists, Amir Beso's music nicely draws on the polyrhythms and modal scales indigenous to his homeland. The music on "Fatamorgana" doesn't surprise, though, and lacks the experimental edge and virtuosity of these guitarists' works. This same straightforwardness may ironically translate to a wider popular appeal, an ethnic equivalent to smooth jazz. © Alan Fark

Guitar Tab

Laurence Juber, Ed Gerhard, David Cullen, Al Petteway and others play Manicini

Read Minor 7th's review of Pink Guitar in the November/December 2004 issue, buy "Pink Guitar" at Acoustic Music Resource

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