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September & October Short Takes

The Iveys 2009 I’m not sure why they call themselves The Iveys when really, it’s Arlen Ivey’s band. He wrote all but one of the songs, plays guitar and sings lead on most cuts. His sisters Jessica and Jillian lend their voices and keyboards but what they do isn’t any more central than other band members who offer bass, drums and additional keyboard and guitar. Arlen’s musings on relationships have memorable melodies and great driving-in-the-car-with-the-windows-down kinds of lyrics but I wonder how much better they would’ve been if those great sibling harmonies weren’t overshadowed by the pop arrangements. One of the women -- Jessica perhaps -- sings a lovely lead on "Whispered Words." This is an enjoyable disc but I’ll bet their sophomore release will offer much more. © Jamie Anderson

Michael Fix "Classic Fix," 2009 Michael Fix's resume is replete with credits from his native Australia and many parts of the world, but he is a bit of an unknown stateside. In "Classic Fix," he tackles some touchstones of the classical world. Alternately muscular, fluid, and splashed with flash, Fix's playing is not your music teacher's classical music. In fact, his style is not classical at all, but recalls the playing of his mentor and YouTube duet partner Tommy Emmanuel. Fix swings "Variations on Bourée," sparkles on Monti's "Czardas," and does a Turtle Island number on "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." He fuses Tarrega's "Lagrima" with "Paint It Black" (yes, that Paint It Black) in a wonderful gypsy Spanish mélange. The exquisite closer, "Toccata," reveals that Bach was a shredder. Fix seems to harbor a desire to place these selections into a mainstream pop context. He succeeds in an almost That's Entertainment way. And entertaining it is. © Steve Klingaman

Zane Forshee "Initial," 2009 In his debut disc, Zane Forshee has selected several iconic classical guitar works through which he displays his unique musical voice. Although typically recognized for his interpretation of contemporary works, of the three composers featured on the CD, the Sonata by Leo Brouwer is the only 20th century work presented. Dispelling any question as to his competency when handling earlier works, Forshee opens with three popular Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. The three Sonatas cover a wide range of drama and tempo, and highlight Forshee's superb musical and technical skill. The Brouwer Sonata that follows is one of this composers most critically acclaimed and widely known works. Throughout the first movement Forshee does an excellent job of maintaining the anxious and turbulent essence of the music, which is then tastefully released through is delicate and peaceful rendition of the second movement. The recording closes with the familiar Mallorca by Isaac Albéniz, which contrasts nicely with the works by Scarlatti and Brouwer. Overall the disc is an excellent introduction to Forshee's musical voice, and I look forward to hearing more from him in the future. © Timothy Smith

Tom Lagana Group "Schematic," 2009 The Tom Lagana Group's second release, "Schematic," features seven inspired performances by a remarkable jazz trio destined to capture both critical and commercial acclaim. Joining the guitarist are Tom Baldwin on upright bass and Todd Harrison on drums, each providing noteworthy performances throughout. Dave Ballou also contributes his brilliant trumpet and flugelhorn artistry on three tracks. Lagana graduated from the Berklee College of Music and performs and teaches in the Annapolis, Maryland area. While one hears strong influences of Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, and John Scofield in the guitarist masterful playing, Lagana creatively incorporates their styles into his own unique voice. Throughout "Schematic" the guitarist effortlessly alternates between melodic and chromatic playing. The opening "Rub of the Green," brings to mind the landmark trio interplay of Metheny's "Bright Size Life." Whereas the title track offers some blistering bop infused soloing showcasing Dave Ballou's extraordinary trumpet. Although an accomplished classical guitarist, on this release Lagana concentrates on his electric playing. However, on the dreamy ballad "Lauren's Song," the guitarist displays his delicate, introspective acoustic. Tom Lagana's "Schematic" is highly recommended for listeners wanting to hear a fresh and revitalizing voice in world of contemporary jazz guitar. © James Scott

Alma Nova "After Hours," 2009 Flautist Jessica Pierce and guitarist Almer Imamovic perform as Alma Nova. This CD features music influenced by Macedonian folk traditions, including several original pieces. The liner notes convey the significance of each piece, e.g., one written for a child, another for a friend’s wedding. The disc opens with Imamovic’s composition, "Bosna Nova," an uptempo piece combining Eastern melodies connected by bluegrass-flavored guitar runs. "Bitula" follows, its simple presentation resulting in a moving performance. Imamovic overdubs multiple parts on the title track, with one low-voiced guitar imitating the Balkan saz. On the traditional Macedonian song, "Zajdi, Zajdi", the musicians take time to develop a plaintive yet alternately wistful mood. On each selection, Jessica Pierce’s flute trades melodic statements with the guitar, each perfectly complementing the other. This CD is very much a personal project for Alma Nova, and it’s one that pays off for the listener. © Patrick Ragains

Ernie Southern & the Deltaholics "Every Day is a Fight," 2009 Blues-based singer/songwriter Ernie Southern rips it up quite nicely on his recent 11-track collection, "Every Day is a Fight." Southern turns from swampy, as on the wry "Atheist Funeral" to the Chicago-styled "I Wanna Kill Somebody" to the boogie-woogie leanings of "Red Hot Delta Blues." Pompano Pete De Stefano’s tasty blues harp couples with Southern’s vocals and snaky National Reso-Phonic guitar throughout. The band slides into a nice groove on a number of occasions, perhaps best so on "Someone With Brains." Southern, who got his start decades ago as a street singer in New York City, shows off some gritty pipes to go with his infectious guitar work and his lyrical ironies. He just digs this genre like a dog with a bone from start to finish. © Fred Kraus

Buskin and Batteau "Red Shoes and Golden Hearts," 2009 The irony is not lost on me in that one half of this duo is named Buskin as that’s exactly what these guys do (i.e. "busk" as in spontaneous performance)! For those of you who pine for the glory days of Bleeker & McDougal when folk and jazz were the language of the hip and hopeful -- "Red Shoes" will be a most comfortable fit. Yet the difference here is that B & B have a few grey hairs and a lifetime of experience, two themes which percolate throughout this brilliantly written and played album (kudos to all the support musicians). Broken hearts and strong melodies abound in "Rae Anne" and "Just A Girl." The Byrds would have had a #1 hit with "You Really Ought To Call That Girl." The hymnal acapella rendering of "Tonight We Are Everywhere" is a fine testament to the credo which proclaims "that with age comes wisdom." Red Shoes comes highly recommended for fans of Leonard Cohen, Richard Thompson, Fred Neil, Roger McGuinn & Gene Clark. They say old chickens make the best soup... and they’re right! © Tom Semioli

Steve Meckfessel "Under Beautiful Skies," 2009 Steve Meckfessel tells stories: a convicted murderer facing "Ten More Years" in prison; the high school sweethearts most likely to succeed ("Everyone Says"); a farmer pleading with a Civil War recruiter not to take his boy ("As Long as He's Gone"). Most of the tunes are down-tempo, which suits Meckfessel's rough-edged voice. That instrument has its limits, but the singer uses it well. Check out the plaintive vocals in the call and response of "The Shape I'm In" ("I'm free... all alone... no one near... to ask me, 'How the hell did you get this way?'") supported by a nice six string solo. Meckfessel demonstrates throughout the care put into this self-produced disk, exemplified by the handsome-and ecologically sound-packaging and the carefully arranged intro for every cut. Meckfessel's plainspoken wisdom, ironies we can believe in, and unerring tunefulness, make "Under Beautiful Skies," a lovely and, at times, moving listen. © David Kleiner

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

Jaquie Gipson - Through the Wood
Si Hayden - Sabaca
Paul Finley - The Butterfly
Frank Wallace - Joy
Michael Fogler & Merrilee Elliott - Dance
Laura Brino - How We Survived
Adam O'Connor - 2 Head City
2 Men and a Campfire - I Hate Dead Rabbits
Mike From Zenith - Weather the Storm
Aaron Mayer Frankel - Sushi
Colin Rink - Bury Me Deep in the Ground
Lara Herscovitch - Through a Frozen Midnight Sky
Matthew Solberg - I Am a Fool
The Absynth Quintet - Indigo Shoes
Robbie Burns - Returns
Loner Douglas

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