Minor 7th July/Aug 2003: Chris Smither, Pat Metheny, Kaki King, Bill Kanengiser, Kenny Sultan, Dave Dill, Liona Boyd, Brian Gore, Ezra Thomas, Lloyd Gregory, Royce Campbell & Gene Bertoncini, Eric Skye
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Reviewing the best in non-mainstream acoustic guitar music

July/August, 2003

Chris Smither, "Train Home", Hightone Records HCD 8158, 2003

No one else does what Chris Smither does. "Train Home" proves that convincingly. He's both faithful son of Mississippi John Hurt and first cousin to Bob Dylan. His music, built solidly on propulsive picking, epitomizes groove in the blues idiom. Smither's lyrics are literate, wise, and often quite funny. Subjects range from the universal to the personal. The title track, a toe-tapper "all about that graveyard dancin'," features a lovely duet between Smither's rhythmic finger-work and producer David Goodrich's hot, Spanish-tinged lead. "Never Needed It More" - the closest thing to a breakout tune on the record - chronicles the needs of one man. In "Confirmation," the words swing beat-to-beat with the music. ("This is how your soul will move, it feels the light, it bears to the right, it ain't got a thing to prove.") The hysterical "Let It Go," brims with phrases like "some bum with a button in his tongue" while portraying, as Smither characterizes it, a failed "zen approach to grand theft auto." "Lola" humorously depicts self-destructive obsession ("She's got hooks to make a fish think twice, but... I'll pay any price"). Three covers highlight the CD, defining what it means to make a song one's own. "Crocodile Man" (by the late Dave Carter) slithers through its tongue twisting verbiage in a song Smither contends, "might as well have been written for me." He communicates the central character's decadent energy while evoking sympathy for his moral exhaustion. Dylan's "Desolation Row" has none of the original's snide, all of its desperation, and a new beauty greatly enhanced by the harmonies and slide of Bonnie Raitt. Be ready to hear this classic for the first time again. Smither's version of John Hurt's signature "Candy Man" is sufficiently reverential while replacing the master's deadpan with a joyful lilt. Every track in "Train Home" is strong, though it does not have a standout song like "No Love Today" (from "Drive You Home Again"). What it has instead is more than enough intimacy, groove, and wit to make one terrific record.
© David Kleiner

David Kleiner interviews Chris Smither!! - click here

Chris Smither's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Train Home (RealAudio)

Pat Metheny "One Quiet Night", Warner Brothers, 2003

In his own modern-jazz combos, fusing jazz and funk with Jaco Pastorius, playing it straight with Jim Hall, and sweetening the jazz-pop of Bruce Hornsby, Pat Metheny is building a legacy by putting his fingerprint on a truly diverse catalog of work. He takes risks and grows into the genres he explores. His latest effort is one acoustic guitar, one microphone, during one evening of playing in his home studio. The result is the aptly titled "One Quiet Night", an honest recording of Metheny expertly exploring a Nashville tuning on his new Linda Manzer baritone. The guitar is full, clear, and warm. At one moment dramatic and serious and the next playful and racing, Metheny's collection originals are melancholy and contemplative, a little more gray than blue. The respectfully accurate cover of Norah Jones' hit "Don't Know Why" is a fitting tip of the hat to a shining young talent. While Pat Metheny isn't blazing any new trails with "One Quiet Night", he does offer a seat in his practice room and that alone makes this an important release. By allowing everyone to listen in, Pat Metheny finds magic in a recording made originally without any intention of being released.
© Rick Gebhard

Pat Metheny's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Ferry Across the Mersey (streaming mp3)

Kaki King, "Everybody Loves You", Velour Recordings vel-0302, 2003

An intensely rhythmic popcorn-poppin' ambient trompe-de-l'oreille greets the listener on the opening track of Kaki King's "Everybody Loves You". That listener might suspect some techno-hoodwinkery here, involving loops, effects pedals and drum machines, but surprise!... Kaki King is one lone talented 23-year old woman brandishing just one unadulterated acoustic Ovation guitar. Not since Michael Hedge's "Breakfast in the Field" has an artist brought this degree of youthful passion and creativity to the instrument, along with the technical prowess to allow her percussive and personal compositions to glare so luminously. She's high priestess of the two-handed thwack and chime, as pioneered by Hedges, and as evidenced by the tunes "Kewpie Station", "Carmine St.", "Close Your Eyes and You'll Burst into Flames" and "Everybody Loves You". But there's a lot more than soundbox-slapping happening on this disc. Like Preston Reed, King is able to imbue a pianistic jazz sensibility into her work, as on "Steamed Juicy Little Bun". And although her usual M.O. is raucous to the core, on "Night After Sidewalk" she permits a private peek into a soul which can also simmer in quiet passion.
© Alan Fark

Kaki King's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Kewpie Station (streaming mp3)

Bill Kanengiser, "Classical Cool", GSP 1025, 2003

The guys who make up the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet are sickening. Sickeningly good, that is. While many classical guitar groups show great ability to work within that form, what sets the LAGQ apart is their genre-bending work. The sum is the whole of the parts, and these four men bring virtuosity to the table as solo performers as well. Take Bill Kanengiserís newest release "Classical Cool". Following on the heels of his previous solo efforts delving into the sounds of the Eastern Mediterranean and the rhythms of the Caribbean, "Classical Cool" might serve as a great introduction to the sounds of jazz for those more accustomed to Bach and Albeniz. Kanengiser serves up some modern originals from the talented pens of Dusan Bogdanovic and fellow LAGQer Andy York as bookends to this generous 18-track disk. But where he really shines is his treatment of three jazz standards. He really gets into the swing of Gershwinís "They Canít Take That Away From Me". Playing classically, Kanengiser makes it sound like much more than just a guitar as he lays down a solid base line while weaving the melody both in single note and chord passages. He gives "My Funny Valentine" a more traditionally classical approach, and leaves an almost contemplative feel to the Rodgers & Hart classic. On "All The Things You Are", we have some of the most intricate chord phrasing of the CD, thrown out in almost staccato-like fashion, while at times almost sounding Baroque. Go figure. But he gets away with it, because he knows the tunes, and plays within them enough to make it interesting. Thatís jazz. Other notable cuts are "Brookland Boogie", a romping tune which had my feet tapping from the get-go, and "Jack-Leg" by jazz pianist and composer John Harmon, who wrote the piece for Kanengiser. This CD is classically cool!
©Kirk Albrecht

Bill Kanengiser's Website Buy it at GSP Recordings

Kenny Sultan, "Guitar Blues", Solid Air SACD 2037, 2002

Guitarist Kenny Sultan might be best-known for his two decades of fine musical work with his duo partner, Tom Ball. He and fellow guitarist Ball epitomize the acoustic blues genre -- with Ball adding vocals and mouth harp -- and tour extensively. Theyíre National Public Radio favorites, and you might recall their appearance in a Levis 501 commercial not too long ago. "Guitar Blues" follows up Sultanís well-received first solo disc, "West Coast Blues", which was released in 2001. Sultan picked up the guitar at age 7 and hasnít put it down yet. "Guitar Blues" finds him lending his deft, sure, easy touch to a cool assortment of shuffles, classic rags, funk and straight ahead blues. Treat yourself to a few moments with Sultan and his unbelievably fluid 1936 Martin 000-18 on "Ruff Ďn Tuff". It reflects his early love for the old blues masters, which permeate his work. His description: "Big Bill feel with a heavy right hand bass. Key of E". Sultan reveals his sensitive side with the gossamer "Living in the Country". Again, Sultanís liner notes make the track even more enjoyable: "When I was growing up I used to always listen to Howard and Roz Larmondsí 'Folk Scene' on Sunday night. This was their theme song". While "Banjo Space Blues" finds him picking up a banjo and a couple of beers, his six-string wizardry impresses throughout without being showy. He coaxes that old Martin into some stellar realms. And talk about tone -- just check out the smokey funk of "Binkerís Blues", a wonderful homage to the genre. "Da Blooze" recalls the powerful edge of Muddy Waters. This 14-track collection just gets better and more comfortable with every listening.
© Fred Kraus

Kenny Sultan's Website Buy it at Acoustic Music Resource

Dave Dill, "Heaven", Pickled Sun, 2002

Dave Dill dispels the dilemma of boring us all to death with yet another singer-songwriter album within the first few melancholy seconds of this engaging collection which echoes the adventurous spirit of Tim Buckley and the lyrical inventiveness of a Fred Neil, Sandy Denny, or Warren Zevon. Employing suspended chords, atmospheric voicings, and understated melodies, Dill's autumnal and sophisticated songs are top rate, and he delivers them with passion and conviction. "When You're Beautiful" is both bitter and worshipful as Dill punctuates his anger with a loving falsetto. Humor and irony walk hand in hand in "Losers," and the title track, which kicks off the disc, exudes a surrealistic beauty which never lets up. Dill renders all the instruments on this outing, and though his lead guitar work is thoughtful/economical and his rhythm playing is stellar, he could have benefited greatly with the input of a non-partisan rhythm section. Highly recommend for fans of Thom Yorke, Nick Drake, Gwynneth Paltrow's new boyfriend (Chris Martin).
© Tom Semioli

Dave Dill's Website Buy it at Amazon.co
Listen to Heaven (RealAudio)

Liona Boyd, "Camino Latino", Moston Records, 2002

"The First Lady of the Guitar" Liona Boyd is well known as a performer of classical guitar compositions. Through out her career she has performed and recorded most of the traditional repertoire of the classical guitar. Her latest disc "Camino Latino" / Latin Journey is a delightful musical journey filled with original compositions by Ms. Boyd or works dedicated to her that capture the sights and sounds of Latin America. The compositions are as diverse as the musicians who contribute to their performance including Luis Villegas, Al Di Meola, Steve Morse, Strunz and Farah, Jessie Cook, Johannes Linstead, Pavlo, and Latin vocalist Innis.. From the opening track "Carretera Libertad" (Freedom Highway) we are treated to fiery playing and rich instrumentation. "Bajo el Sol" (Under the Sun) demonstrates a more lyric compositional style common to traditional Latin music. "Torbellino" (Whirlwind) featuring guest artist Al Di Meola lives up to its namesake through the mix of blazing scale passages and sweet melodic lines. In "Rumba al Sur" (Heading South), Ms. Boyd and guest artist Steve Morse exchange a delicate musical dialog while driving a traditional Rumba groove. Latin Lady which features vocals from Latin artist Innis is a more contemporary pop Latin work. "Mexico Mi Amor" is a charming solo guitar miniature which showcases Ms. Boyd's solo guitar playing skill. The recording quality is exceptional as one might expect from an artist of Ms. Boyd's level. The level of playing is high from all artists. This disc is a must have for the fan of Latin music.
© Philip Hemmo

Liona Boyd's Website Buy it at Liona Boyd's Website

Brian Gore, "Legacy", Acoustic Music Records, 2000

For all the exhaustive work that Brian Gore puts into bringing contemporary guitar music to the masses, his name is unjustly unknown to them. As the lead participant and coordinator of the perennial "International Guitar Night" series, Gore has forged the opportunity to tour and play with some of the finest acoustic guitarists in the world: Pierre Bensusan, Alex deGrassi, Ralph Towner, Martin Taylor, Peppino D'Agostino, Laurence Juber, Don Ross, Andrew York and others. The networking has borne artistic fruit, not only for the listening public who, were it not for Gore, otherwise would have one less opportunity to see and hear these individual guitar giants, but also for the music itself to grow by the collaboration between these very creative artists. On "Legacy" Gore has capitalized on that same collaborative synergy by inviting past IGN participants Andrew York, Marco Pereira, Peppino D'Agostino and Antonio Calogero to play opposite him on a beautiful collection of original instrumental guitar duets. "Legacy" also includes seven Gore solo compositions. The York/Gore number "Loom of Desire" is especially poignant, a melodic interplay of steel and nylon by two excellent players who are convincingly and emotionally connected to the theme. But Gore seems to have this sort of easy chemistry with all those with whom he plays; a measure of both the man and the artist.
© Alan Fark

Brian Gore's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Loom of Desire (RealAudio)

Ezra Thomas, "The Weight of Being", B5 Records, 2001

Ezra Thomas glides from pop to alt-country to folk and back again with a surety and grace that simply astounds. Led by singer/guitarist Ezra Vancil, the group also features the songwriting of Vancilís partner and drummer, Aaron Thomas. To bring their seamless compositions to a full realization, they enlist the help of guitarist Matt Talbert and percussionist /bassist Mark Hallman. Most interestingly, Ezra Thomas forges a sound uniquely its own -- layered, passionate, thoughtful, with a keen ear for melody. Their songs of love, longing, loss, tenderness and ache are more exploration that mere retelling. Vancilís earnest, country-inflected vocals form a pleasant focal point. Talbertís guitar, used perhaps too sparingly, sears through the layers like a laser. Itís electrifying. As a whole, this 12-track CD creates a soundscape that exists somewhere between Ry Cooder and Daniel Lanois. And while the word "commercial" carries a grab-bag of connotations, "The Weight of Being" clearly holds an appeal that is both personal and general -- the window to the masses. Liberal doses of sincerity thankfully contribute a distinguishing feature; this work is based more on communicating emotion than attempting to capitalize on it. Individual song distinguish themselves: "December" is decidedly wintry, "Stereo" is unrelenting in its quiet drive, "Kinsman Redeemer" and "Kingdom Come" transmit a higher power, the quiet ache of "Mercy" will leave you gasping for breath. This album, like the visual design of the CD package, is ever-tasteful but never fussy. Itís rare for an artist to conceive a unique vision, rarer still to be an to realize that vision in an accessible and enjoyable fashion.
© Fred Kraus

Ezra Thomas' Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Ezra Thomas (streaming mp3)

Lloyd Gregory, "Free Fallin'", Integy Records, 2003

There has always been dissent in the jazz community as to the importance of melodic accessibility versus instrumental virtuosity. Free Fallin' settles the argument with an equal balance of harmonic ingenuity, seductive rhythms, and memorable motifs. Akin to the artists which comprised contemporary jazz' golden era (roughly 1975-85) including the Brecker Brothers, Steve Kahn, Weather Report, Earl Klugh, Stuff, Tom Scott's LA Express, Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, Grover Washington Jr., and the Pat Metheny Group, among others, Lloyd expertly fuses soul, pop, and jazz, forging a hybrid that is both enjoyable and intellectually stimulating. Gregory's elastic guitar glides through Latin grooves ("Jazz 4 Jasmine"), reworked classics ("I Loves You Porgy," "Round Midnight"), lite-funk ("Free Fallin,'), the power ballad ("Snow Bear"), and the romantic ballad ("Maya") with relative ease, stating the melody first then branching off into improvisations with chord solos and flowing counterpoint before returning safely to earth. The guitarist's backing ensemble is razor sharp too, with in-the-pocket lower register and slap bass, illustrious percussion, and inventive keyboard accompaniment. The only drawback(s) on this collection are the synthesized string arrangements which burden each track with a dated, overly polished veneer. Strip away the gloss and there's a new breed of guitar-based jazz fusion in the making.
© Tom Semioli

Lloyd Gregory's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to The New Song (streaming mp3)

Royce Campbell & Gene Bertoncini, "A Tribute to Charlie Byrd", Jardis Recordings JRCD 20347, 2003

On this well-crafted jazz album, Royce Campbell spells out his artistic admiration for Charlie Byrd (1926-1999), the virtuoso jazz guitarist credited with bringing the United States the basso nova style. Campbell teams up with Ketter Betts - Charlieís bass player of the 1960ís - as well as Gene Bertoncini and Chuck Reed to deliver a wonderfully performed set of some of Byrdís most beloved pieces. Songs such as "Shiny Stockings" and "Prelude to a Kiss" are of particular interest and quality here. What is most impressive is the way these musicians have rendered all of the tunes selected in one organic whole, making their own flawless performances fit seamlessly together. There is little to say here, for this album ranks as one of the best jazz albums I have been fortunate enough to review - not something jazz guitar lovers will want to leave out of their collection.
© Bernard Richter

Royce Campbell's Website Gene Bertoncini's Website Buy it at Jardis Recordings

Eric Skye, "Acoustic Jazz Guitar Solos", Blue Buddha Records, 2003

"Acoustic Jazz Guitar Solos" is an aptly-named collection of comfortable and expertly arranged jazz standards that we can thank Eric Skye's family for. Were it not for his wife (who would "consistently leave the room" when Coltrane's "Ascension" was on the turntable), we might be subjected to an esoteric musical treatise on avant-gardism. Were it not for Skye's father (who cajoled excellence in Skye's earlier classical guitar attempts with gruff encouragement: "Almost sounds like music..."), Skye may not have found the discipline to realize this studious yet relaxed project. The repertoire on "Acoustic Jazz Guitar Solos" is culled from a Who's Who of jazz composers: Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Duke Ellington, Thelonius Monk, George Gershwin and Antonio Carlos Jobim. The familiarity is a double-edged sword: although the melodies are universally easy on the ear, Skye's challenge is to render them new so that they don't come across worn-out. Skye succeeds by fluidly nailing a counterpoint of walking bass to melody in a way which beginning jazz guitarists will surely lust after this holy grail of technique. In fact, this CD might be considered a collection of ťtudes for jazz guitar... the only thing missing is the tablature.
© Alan Fark

Eric Skye's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to My Romance (streaming mp3)

The Guitar of Chris Smither Pat Metheny VHS: More Travels Pat Metheny Songbook Pat Metheny DVD: We Live Here Pat Metheny DVD: Imaginary Day
Buy Chris Smither and Pat Metheny DVD/Videos and Books at
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