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July & August Short Takes

Kim Simpson "Mystery Lights," 2009 In "Mystery Lights," internationally acclaimed singer, guitarist, and songwriter Kim Simpson has ventured away from his folk music background to follow his dream of recording a set of guitar instrumentals that have been playing and maturing in his mind over the past two decades. The result is a tasteful and lively mix of melodically driven fingerstyle guitar pieces. I couldn't help but feel better every time I listened to Simpson's music, and as a whole the disc is most notable for its uplifting effect. Listening to Simpson's guitar playing and reading his brief liner notes on the disc, I get a sense of a musician who understands the simple beauty that can blossom from six steel strings. Simpson plays his guitar with a touching and even tempered style that is sure to make you smile. © Timothy Smith

Angie Stevens "Queen of This Mess," 2009 Angie dips and swerves through a collection of alt country tunes intimate enough to be diary entries but universal enough to make you want to listen again and again. She's got a voice like an earthy Deana Carter and a talent for writing, with no pretense or flowery language. There's an underpinning of melancholy with a couple of exceptions and the sparse arrangements amplify the emotions. Some songs have a desperate edge, like the plea in "Hold Me Close" while some are more aggressive, like the missive "Drinking Song:" "I broke all my rules in letting you by / I made up all these excuses / Babe, you wasted my time." Co-writer Seth Larson joins her for some sweet church harmony on "Anything," one of the uplifting songs on the album, built just right for singing along. In fact, a lot of these songs have those hooky lines that'll rest in your head for weeks. The only unsettling thing was the accent that seemed to come and go. You don't need a Southern drawl to sing this type of music, just raw emotion and a good honky tonk feel and she definitely has that. © Jamie Anderson

Martin Tallstrom "Acoustics," 2009 This Swedish fingerstyle guitarist has wonderful chops, a fast, fluid touch, and a folklorist's respect for the traditional catalogue. Songs like "Jesse James" and "Freight Train" make this clear. But he shines as an interpreter when he takes on more disparate fare, like "Twin Peaks Theme" and "Whiter Shade of Pale." "Whiter" becomes, in Tallstrom's hands, an elegiac musing on a lost era -- minus the unsightly lyrics. "Twin Peaks" (yes, from the TV show, and allegedly co-written by David Lynch) is a stunner. Its weirdly haunting, semi-hypnotic repetition of the primary theme serves to illustrate the perfection of this artist's chosen instrument in bringing obscure gems to light. My only complaint: at 3:57, the song is too short. Oh, and Amanda Broom's classic, "The Rose," is too lovely for words. He offers tablature for a number of the songs on his website. Recommended. © Steve Klingaman

Joe Price "Rain or Shine," 2009 Veteran bluesman and inductee of both the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame and the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Joe Price, has delivered a smokin’ and authentic mix of original acoustic and electric country blues tracks. Half are instrumentals. The other half is doused with Price’s seasoned and gritty vocals. "Rain or Shine" was recorded on vintage gear and, refreshingly, almost the entire album was recorded live and in one-take, giving the collection a healthy helping of soul. Price is joined by his wife, Vicki, on vocals and guitar, on several tracks, and by trumpeter Al Naylor on the last track, "Rock Slide", where Price and Naylor trade blues licks with plenty of chops and a heaping side of humor. © Chip O'Brien

Derek Coombs "Guit Sense," 2009 Derek Coombs is just plain good... his playing steady as a rock. There's nary a string squeak on these 18 tracks, the composition and performance ooze confidence and poise. His rendering of melody and tempo is as effortless as gravity, and like that Newtonian force, all the more amazing because a magical phenomenon is made to appear almost mundane. His easygoing style jumps from neoclassical to ragtime to Celtic and back. © Alan Fark

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

Royce Campbell - The Art of Chord Solo Guitar
Wayne Riker - Fretology
Giacomo Fiore - Genteel
John Aldington - Songs From the Garden
Roger Lasley - Flatpick Vacation
David Solis Olson - Sketches of Latin America
Aaron Mayer Frankel - Clues
Dan Vaillancourt - Lovely Distractions
3 Ring Circus - Clean Getaway
Richard Craine - The Essence of My Life
Matt Macaulay - Wish I Could Make You Dance
The Wages of Sin - Gringo Mariachi
The Wandering Endorphin - Boxcar Man

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