Minor 7th March/April 2007: Lindsey Buckingham, Antoine Dufour, Carey Ott, Michael Chapdelaine, Steppin' in It with Rachael Davis, Andy McKee, Erik Balkey, Goh Kurosawa, Bruce Gaitsch, Juan Carlos Quintero
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Reviewing the best in non-mainstream acoustic guitar music

March/April, 2007

Lindsey Buckingham, "Under the Skin," Reprise Records, 2006

Requiem for the heavyweight guitar player? Though he was the mastermind behind the iconic, multi-platinum incarnation of Fleetwood Mac in the 1970s, singer, song-writer, producer, arranger Lindsay Buckingham was overshadowed by two very powerful female band-mates: Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie. Later, his two erratic yet intriguing 1980s solo albums seemed more like sketches for ideas that would later reach fruition in subsequent Mac projects. And Buckingham's brilliant "Out Of The Cradle" (1992) was ignored in favor of the grunge and the Lilith Fair movements (the latter for which Mac was a prime inspiration) which were then in full swing. Even during Mac's heyday, Buckingham was never given his due as a true guitar hero as his band's immense commercial success coincided with the demise of FM radio's street credibility when stations sold out to mainstream advertisers. Now with all that heady stuff out of the way, including a couple of high profile Mac reunions, Buckingham's first solo release in fourteen years affords pop music fans an opportunity to rediscover one of rock's resident geniuses. Inspired at a young age by the finger-picking (sometimes referred to as "travis-picking") prowess of the Kingston Trio, Buckingham's utilization of banjo methods on a nylon string guitar provide the anchor for the majority of tracks which comprise "Skin." "Down On Rodeo," which features familiar faces Mick Fleetwood on drums and bassist John McVie, is the most overtly countrified offering as Buckingham's lithe vocals weave their way thorough complex arpeggios and bouncy rhythms. An avowed disciple of Brian Wilson and George Martin, Buckingham, who is essentially a one man band on this outing, employs studio technology to its fullest, opting for organic sounds rather than manufactured ones. "Show You How," which is based on a melody eerily similar to Bob Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom" is skillfully constructed entirely of multi-tracked vocals and a percussion loop. "Someone's Gotta Change Your Mind" again features Fleetwood along with string arrangements by David Campbell, is surrealistically augmented with the joyful sounds of children at play, emphasizing the singer's woeful legato plea for love. Buckingham's intimate reading of an obscure (and foreboding) Rolling Stones cut "I Am Waiting" and the frenetic guitar interplay which bolsters a spirited remake of Donovan's "To Try For The Sun" display the artist's keen ability to adapt to any musical situation which arises. Still in great voice and at the top of his game as a guitarist (Buckingham is the rare player who is instantly identifiable), perhaps a more apt title for the 57 year old whiz-kid's comeback could have been "Comfortable in My Own Skin."
© Tom Semioli

Lindsey Buckingham's Website Buy it at Amazon.com

Antoine Dufour, "Development," Candy Rat Records, 2006

Over the last three years Canadian Antoine Dufour has emerged as an exciting guitarist and composer, having placed in the competitions at the 2005 Canadian Guitar Festival and the 2006 International Finger Style Guitar Championship in Winfield, Kansas. "Development" is Dufour's second solo CD and it exhibits his impressive strengths as a player, composer and arranger. The title tune typifies his approach, with a rapid tempo, an arpeggiated melody, soundboard tapping and strong bass lines, often involving double stops in the lower register. He uses several different alternate tunings and takes advantage of open strings and chiming harmonics, incorporating them into the music without using either device as a crutch. Strong solo performances on the disc include "Melancolie Du Changement," which evokes open landscapes, and "Memories Of The Future," both in a style reminiscent of Pierre Bensusan. "Inspirations" is perhaps the most impressive of the faster pieces. Two tracks, "Spiritual Development" and "Passage," feature violinist Tommy Gauthier. Dufour plays a fingerpicked background and adds two deft lead lines to "Funky Tonk Guitar Trio." "Oh Yeah!" closes the disc with a kinetic rhythm, bluesy treble lines, more harmonics and close, jazzy chord voicings. His obvious influences include the solo work of Michael Hedges and Preston Reed, but the ensemble tracks reveal a well-developed arranging sense. Listeners will find both drive and maturity in Antoine Dufour's music. "Development" is satisfying on every level and leaves me anticipating this artist's further development with great interest.
© Patrick Ragains

Antoine Dufour's Website Buy it at Candy Rat Records
Listen to "Development" (mp3)

Carey Ott, "Lucid Dream," Dualtone Records, 2006

A great songwriter once opined, "In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." Carey Ott's love for pop music runneth over on the kaleidoscopic "Lucid Dreams." Ott, late of Chicago alternative rockers Torben Floor, has waxed an engaging debut disc akin to the way artists used to make records in an era before marketing research executives overtook A & R (think back to classic Lennon/McCartney, Matthew Sweet, Ray Davies, Elvis Costello, Big Star). Ott assumes a varied persona in just about every track yet he still manages to forge a cohesive statement that indeed lives up to the album title. "Am I Just The One," which you may recognize from two episodes of "Grey's Anatomy" represents Ott at his most romantic as his crackling falsetto nimbly navigates through doo-wop back-up harmonies and slide licks worthy of George and Eric in their respective heyday (ditto the slide passages on "You Got Love"). The mid-tempo rocker "Shelf Life" emerges as a sterling example of Ott's tendency for ornate arrangements that are deceptively simple in execution, employing unadorned pedal tone bass lines, an occasional car-radio effect on the voice, cheap keyboard pads, and a scattering of syrupy Beach Boys references that are far more reverential than retro. The dramatic breaks and m7 chords which punctuate the dirge "Virginia" display the artist's penchant for the blues and classic soul (aspiring songwriters should take note, this effective modus operandi worked wonders for Mick & Keith, Elton & Bernie, and Steely Dan, among others). Ott handles most of the guitar chores, expertly affording rhythmic and harmonic counterpoint to his catchy melodies. With the tracks clocking in at no longer than four minutes, "Lucid Dreams" is devoid of filler or noodling. Ott lays down fine finger-picking in "Kickingstones" and the in the title track while taking liberty with the tempo, which is another rarity in the Pro-Tools world we live in. It's no surprise that the early, digital release of this collection entered in the top five downloads along with The Raconteurs, Sufjan Stevens, Dashboard Confessional, and Johnny Cash. You can judge the worth of an artist by the company he keeps!
© Tom Semioli

Carey Ott's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Mother Madam" (mp3)
Listen to Carey Ott at our podcast

Michael Chapdelaine, "re-replay," 2006

Dude, this classical guy rocks out. On his 12th disc, "re-reply," Michael Chapdelaine again abandons his tux to embrace -- and re-record -- 15 songs that profoundly influenced his youth. He transforms tunes that have been hammered into our pop consciousness into impressive odes of guitar virtuosity: "Pipeline," "Classical Gas," "Secret Agent Man," "Come Together", "Walk Don't Run". Funny thing, Chapdelaine covered all 15 of these tunes on his 2001 CD "replay;" still, he chose to revisit them here using a different guitar, different mixing and recording techniques, and five years of performances under his belt. No questioning the result -- it's aurally perfect, his technique is impeccable and his arrangements are nicely done. What distinguishes Chapdelaine -- in addition to his jaw-dropping ability -- is the passion with which he treats these familiar, though somewhat hackneyed, pop/rock standards. He clearly loves these songs, and it shows. He infuses "After the Gold Rush" with a wonderfully soulful ache, "California Dreaming" haunts, "Pipeline" rollercoasters with echos of Segovia-inspired Spanish guitar as well as a few other '60s melodies woven in, the Stones' "As Tears Go By" never sounded this good, and his Lennon-McCartney interpretations hold their own. One would think he might have added a few bonus tracks to further distinguish this disc from its predecessor; actually, he did the opposite, deleting one track, Hendrix's "Third Stone from the Sun." One clue may be found on his website, where Chapdelaine describes his typical touring two-set repertoire: "lots of oh-my-god-how-can-he-do-all-that-on-one-guitar covers like "Come Together", "Heard it through the Grapevine", "Wipeout" (complete with drum solo), some lovely ballads like "Wonderful Tonight", "Sonny Came Home", "Something" ... then lots of originals for solo guitar, and finally, some really amazing pieces from the classical/Spanish rep." At any rate, Chapdelaine knows he's good, and he certainly has the chops; and think about this -- he's the only guitarist to win First Prize in the world's top competitions in both the Classical and Fingerstyle genres: the Guitar Foundation of America International Classical Guitar Competition and the National Fingerstyle Championships at the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival in Winfield, KS. He has studied under Andres Segovia and has been professor of music and head of guitar studies at the University of New Mexico for a decade and a half. Previous releases include "Bach is Cool" (2004), "Guitar for Christmas" (2003), "Spanish Roses" (1999), "Gravevine" (2005) and "Mexico" (1992). It boils down to this: On "re-replay," Chapdelaine sounds as if he's having a blast -- and it's darned infectious.
© Fred Kraus

Michael Chapdelaine's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "California Dreamin" (mp3)
Listen to Michael Chapdelaine at our podcast

Steppin' in It with Rachael Davis, "Shout Sister Shout," SSS-1, 2007

Rachael Davis lists Etta Fitzgerald as an influence and baby, you better believe it. Clearly, she studied her phrasing and emotional presentation but those smooth-as-butter vocals are all Rachael. The band ain’t no slouch either, delivering arrangements that don’t veer far from the originals but adding some refreshing differences, with guitar, upright bass, harmonica, steel guitar and horns. From the title cut -- a Sister Rosetta Tharpe number -- to Billie Holiday, the band covers a lot of ground. I love the title cut, with its chorus of "Shout Sister Shout" from the men, eliciting a lively response from Rachael, her voice bending and winding around theirs. "No Sale" features an incredible steel guitar solo from Joe Wilson, starting out slow and dreamy, then building up to a flurry of high notes. A steel guitar is not something you’d expect to hear in these classic tunes but Wilson makes his instrument such an integral part of the songs you’d swear you’d heard it on a scratchy 78 somewhere. You’ll recognize some of the pieces, like "Moonlight in Vermont," "Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying" and "It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie." They even tackle "God Bless the Child," Rachael’s honeyed voice revealing a hint of Billie Holliday. Absolutely gorgeous. "Carolina Moon" features more of Joe Wilson’s weeping steel guitar plus a mournful harmonica (played by Andy Wilson) and a solid boom-chucka guitar. The disc ends beautifully with "Don’t Let Your Eyes Go Shopping for Your Heart." With only Rachael’s emotional vocal and expressive guitar by Joshua Davis, it’s a masterpiece. This recording is an absolute must for any fan of classic jazz, the kind that Ella and Billie made.
© Jamie Anderson

Steppin' in It's Website | Rachael Davis' Website Buy it here
Listen to "Slow Down" (mp3)

Andy McKee, "Art of Motion," Candy Rat Records, 2005

Playful. Spunky. Fluid. Driving. These are some of the qualities that Andy McKee brings to his new CD "Art of Motion". The twelve tracks cover a range of styles, though the influence of fellow Canadian Don Ross can be seen in much of McKee's playing. I first learned of Andy's playing through what is now a ubiquitous presence for budding musicians -- YouTube. Great chops, I thought -- I wonder what else he can play? Well, "Art of Motion" clearly answers that question with style. Fingerpickers won't be unaware of McKee -- he won the Winfield Fingerstyle title in 2003, and this is his third released CD. McKee is one of the most fluid two-handed tappers I have heard, weaving multiple textures while laying down a solid groove that drives that style. As the liner notes reveal, these songs come from life, so they are infused with personality. The title track -- which also leads off the CD -- stands as a showcase for McKee's melodic sense while tapping, alternately picking the melody. He intersperses a signature Don Ross lick of a triplet throughout the tune. "Heather's Song" is playful, jumping and darting like a cricket on a spring afternoon. "Drifting" pulls us, never straying too far from the anchor of melody, and away we go. The lilting "For My Father" is a sweet homage to a Dad since passed, but whose spirit lives on in the son. "Nocturne" takes us slowly through the night sky, finding our bearings in the whispers and shadows. The disc ends with "Rylynn", (the longest tune on the CD), a Tommy Emmanuel-like tribute to an unknown little girl who "came and went through this world so quickly". My CD player won't let the same thing happen to "Art of Motion".
© Kirk Albrecht

Andy McKee's Website Buy it at Candy Rat Records
Listen to "Art of Motion" (mp3)

Erik Balkey, "My Sacred Heart," Hudson Harding Music, 2007

A synthesizer note swells and floats through space, the first sound you hear on "My Sacred Heart." It declares that Erik Balkey (produced on this release by the still-underappreciated Tom Prasada-Rao of The Dreamsicles) will use a wider sonic palette than before. Balkey still writes lovely, instantly hummable melodies and delivers them in a sweet, high hush. But there’s more work here with dynamics (the full stop in "Eyes Wide Open," the tempo changes for the middle section of "From New Jersey") and some suitable genre-hopping (the old timey feel of "Second Place," a ragtime vibe for "Peace Come Christmas Day"). Balkey has also shifted the focus of his precise lyrical lens. He looks within in this album, in a turn from the socially conscious story songs of his last album, The Mission Street Project, to more confessional writing. There are some strong autobiographical elements. Balkey did run a marathon ("My Own Reasons Why") and he is "From New Jersey." But the central theme of the album finds Balkey’s sacred heart seeking answers to life’s most persistent questions. To put a stamp on that search, Balkey opens the CD by revitalizing the relatively obscure Dylan tune "What Good Am I?" from "Oh, Mercy." (The other cover, Paul Simon’s "Homeward Bound," is less revelatory.) The gospel influenced "If God is an Apple," asks a different set of questions. "Eyes Wide Open," the standout number, wonders, "Could I walk these streets eyes wide open?" with lovely harmony from Cary Cooper (The Dreamsicles’ other half and Prasada-Rao’s better half). The album also showcases Balkey’s lighter side with humorous songs like "Carnival For The Church Of The Sacred Heart," the perfect place to learn about sin. "My Sacred Heart" finds a serious artist expanding his reach with an inward look both thoughtful and tuneful.
© David Kleiner

Erik Balkey's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to If a Song Could Save Your Soul (mp3)

Goh Kurosawa, "Hitori," Onigawara Records, 2007

It would be impossible to classify Goh Kurosawa's release "Hitori" into any one genre of guitar music. Suffice it to say that it is a blending of various styles, infused as it is with traditional fingerstyle, modern two-handed tapping, classical and flamenco, with snippets of folk and rock, all wound together with a thoroughly Asian flavor. What we listeners get is a chance to travel through different worlds with Kurosawa as he aurally explores his own journey as a musician. It is not extremely complex playing technically, but it is inventive, using the guitar as a device to communicate. The two-part opening track, the title "Hitori" weaves lovely melodies with polyrhythms while breathing openness. "Betsurui" is a simple exercise of tremolo with walking baseline played on flamenco with delicate tempo to give the sense of leaves dripping in a gentle rain. Time stands still on "Things that matter we tend to forget about", as the douleur of gentle picking gives way to flamenco rasgueados then minor chords creating a tension relieved only by the continued theme of the melody. "Yuzuri" has about everything -- a gentle melody of traditional fingerpicking set off by ascending harmonics, finished off with percussive tapping. Meandering jazz arpeggios on "Part II" add yet another layer of color to the disc, with its happy feel. "Zaijian" takes advantage of the sustain of open steel strings to lull and soothe. The final track features Kurosawa's Sharp Three ensemble, with Japanese vocals on "Amai Koi", which sounds a lot like a jazz standard. This is an intimate recording, as if Kurosawa were allowing us into his inner sanctum to explore his life with him.
© Kirk Albrecht

Goh Kurosawa's Website Buy it here
Listen to "Like the First Day We Met" (mp3)
Listen to Goh Kurosawa at our podcast

Bruce Gaitsch, "Sincerely", Autumn Records, 2006

Guitar tonemeister Bruce Gaitsch turns in a sonically gorgeous effort with "Sincerely," an all-acoustic, all-instrumental collection. Gaitsch plays each note with precision, each chord with balance. While this mellow 12-track CD wouldn't be out of place in the Windham Hill catalog, its compositions, beautiful as they are, seem propelled in many instances by an underlying pop sensibility. The haunting ache of "Mom & Dad", the sincerity of "For Lynette", the interplay on "Swamp Thang" all convey themes that allow listeners to draw from their own emotional palettes. Gaitsch employs those near and dear to him, and it shows: wife Janey Clewer contributes ethereal backing vocals, and daughter Samantha Gaitsch plays flute. Harmonica vituoso Howard Levy adds a slightly edgy balance. Gaitsch seems to have achieved what he was seeking on his liner notes: "Usually, acoustic guitars are recorded mono, compressed and equalized so that they don't interfere sonically with the other instruments to be recorded. I wanted this guitar to be captured as I hear it while I play." His McPherson is definitely upfront and center. Gaitsch knows his way around recording and songwriting. He co-wrote with Richard Marx "Don't Mean Nothing," which went Top 5 in the 1980s. Gaitsch also teamed with Patrick Leonard to write "La Isla Bonita" for Madonna's "True Blue" disc, and it went No. 1. Others who have recorded Gaitsch's songs include Timothy B. Schmidt, Peter Cetera, Chicago, Kansas, The Fixx, Restless Heart, Poco, Phillip Bailey, Tom Scott, Agnetta Faltskog (ABBA), and Lara Fabian. But the songs on "Sincerely" are all Gaitsch's, nurtured as caringly as children.
© Fred Kraus

Bruce Gaitsch's Website Buy it at Autumn Records
Listen to "Mia's Day" (mp3)

Juan Carlos Quintero, "Las Cumbias... Las Guitarras", InnerKnot Records 0681-2, 2006

There are few likenesses to Juan Carlos Quintero's uplifting music in the world of American jazz. The contagious to-and-fro cadences on his new CD "Las Cumbias... Las Guitarras" might be only echoed in Django's gypsy jazz from the heart of Europe in the 1930s. It's a tip of the Bolivar hat to Quintero's rare and genuine talent that this kind of impassioned guitar music took nearly three quarters of a century to resurface a hemisphere away, with a Latin spin. The CD is a tribute to the "cumbia," Colombia's national dance music, and according to Wikipedia, "the net intersection of two cultures that settled in the region of what is now northern Colombia at different times; the Amerinidians and African slaves." Yet, Quintero is no stranger to the influences of American jazz, having studied at Berklee College of Music in the 1980s, emulating such artists as Chick Corea and Carlos Santana, and opening on tour for Gato Barbieri. With the liberal use of accordion, congas and shakers most of the tracks are uniquely and rhythmically ensconced in the culture of Colombia. "El Baile," however, has a more recognizable smooth jazz vibe to the American ear, and is revelatory that artists such as The Rippingtons, Steve Oliver and Strunz & Farah owe a huge debt of gratitude to the cumbias to which Quintero pays homage on this CD.
© Alan Fark

Juan Carlos Quintero's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "El Baile" (mp3)

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