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September & October 2012 Short Takes

Pearl Django "Eleven," 2012 Don't be surprised if your toes cop an attitude and begin to move uncontrollably with the first few sultry and seductive bars of "Sonarra", the opening track the new release by Pearl Django's CD Eleven. This collection includes a mix of mostly originals plus a few well-placed covers like Basie's "Jive at Five" and Duke Pearson's "Jeannie" as well as two Martin Taylor tunes that feature Taylor himself. These guys flat out know how to have a good time and lay down impeccable Gypsy jazz at the same time. Highlights include the ebullient "Rumbatism" and a eloquently chilled cover of Theloniuous Monk's "Pannonica" as well as "Zimovia", an original gem that will groove its way under your skin thanks to the tight performance and writing of this seasoned and talented group of Gypsy minstrels. Martin Taylor is always a delight, but it is the Guitar work of Ryan Hoffman and Troy Chapman, as well as the chops violinist Michael Gray that really make Eleven simmer and cook! (I am not sure if you can use the words "chops" and "violin" in the same sentence but it certainly applies here) © James Filkins

Andrew Hardin "Lost Pines," 2012 Andrew Hardin is justifiably well known for his jaw-dropping virtuosic guitar playing, of the country-folk-blues persuasion, for over 20 years with singer-songwriter Tom Russell and more recently a slew of others, including Jeanie Burns of the Burns Sisters (with whom, as Hardin Burns, he has a terrific new release, "Lounge"). Less known are his compositions, the earliest on out-of-print recordings, a grievous loss that "Lost Pines" seeks to correct. On this retrospective of 14 remixed and remastered gems, plus the new, darkly atmospheric title track, Hardin's displays an embarrassment of talents on acoustic, electric, bass and tiple. Hardin's music is soulful -- but soulful with sizzle -- sophisticated yet strongly melodic. And then there's the playing - flawless, exciting, fluid. On "In Caso di Nebbia" Hardin creates a shimmering surface with shiver-inducing single-note runs that play off Matt Andes's acoustic slide, on "La Tempestad" mariachi meets Hawaiian flavorings, while "Gator Walk" is funky swampy fun. Then there's the bluesy/jazzy "Most of All." Hardin is a master - of tone, dynamics, composition, and time itself, exploiting even the space between the notes - perhaps best exemplified on "Adult Lounge" whose sultry lines hint at danger. On the stunning "Athabasca," Hardin shows just how deep he can cut, wresting emotion from every note. For sheer beauty alone, "Lost Pines" proves Hardin to be up there with the best. © Céline Keating

Tim Roberts "Fox Hunt," 2012 DIY projects rarely have a polish and professionalism the caliber of Tim Roberts' "Fox Hunt." The risk in multitracking oneself on guitar is that the spontaneity and energy can be muted by a lack of live interplay. Though Roberts composed and played all of the instruments on this CD, he channels energy on these overlaid tracks which is ramped up and positively crackling. His best compositions bear a resemblance to those of Phil Keaggy, brimming with rhythmic and chordal turnabouts, spinning musical dramas, not just cliché-ridden songs. And even PK could probably never tackle the country gentleman pickin' on "Mighty Merle" or buoyant blues slide guitar on "Delta Dance." Very, very good stuff. © Alan Fark

Bob Bradshaw, 2012 He sounds like he's got the world on his shoulders with a voice that hints of Randy Newman plus something stronger. He's the guy you happen to sit next to in a bar who has great stories like "Home" where he talks about always wanting something better and "Talkin' About My Love for You" which, in spite of the title, is far from being a love song. His band on the whole disc is top notch, including Duke Levine (Mary Chapin Carpenter) on guitars; in spite of this some song arrangements lack dynamics. "Iowa's Darlin'" is a thoughtful song in three quarter time about a Midwestern waitress who'd rather be in Los Angeles. Outstanding cut is "When I Was God," a song that illustrates well why drinking is sometimes a very bad idea. It has one of the greatest opening lines in a song, ever: "When I was God / Fortified and full of beer / I knew no fear." © Jamie Anderson

MSB Family Band, 2012 The CD jacket blurb says the album was recorded live in a big old (very attractive) barn, with no "auto-tune, fake reverb, [or] over thinking." The first track, "Tonight," fulfills the promise of organic, natural-sounding string band music without pretense. Everything about this Madison, Wisconsin-based quartet is no-frills Midwestern singin' & playin'. In tracks like "Keep on Going" they bring it on with sturdy unison or harmony choruses that reflect the best of their vocal strategies. "Emmaline" recalls the vibe of Pure Prairie League's "Amie.' Standouts include "Moving On," "Lawyers and Their Money" (good chorus lyric) and "Nothin' but the Summertime" with its granola folk, summertime randiness, and nudity. From plaintive yelps to hardscrabble harmonies, these guys are fun. Kudos to fiddle player Kenny Leiser for his true "you are in the room with me" tone that spiffs up the whole deal. © Steve Klingaman

Eric Skye "A Different Kind of Blue," 2012 Few albums have captured the spirit and verve of an era the way Miles Davis’s "Kind of Blue" did. The music, recorded in a former Presbyterian Church in Manhattan in 1959, has left an indelible impression upon musicians, artists, and writers from the time it was released to the present day. And Eric Skye’s "A Different Kind of Blue" is a worthy homage. Skye has done something both bold and wonderful with his solo acoustic guitar take on this music. From the opening riff of "So What" to his seventeen-minute long version of "Flamenco Sketches" he delivers with his unique voice, infusing these timeless pieces with delta blues, country, funk, and rock and roll. This album is a must have for the acoustic music and jazz lover. © Chip O'Brien

Duane Large "Plucked String Theory," 2012 Never before have I encountered a CD title more audaciously academic, more arrogantly pedantic, than "Plucked String Theory". Mr. Duane Large, you have my attention! The cover displays a lovely Baroque guitar, and a quick scan of the reverse lists an unprecedented myriad of compositions and musical instruments: a classical guitar duet arrangement of selections from Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet, a Vivaldi mandolin concerto performed on a century-old Gibson mandolin accompanied by two classical guitars, Fernando Sor Etudes performed on a two-hundred-year-old Romantic guitar, John Dowland performed on Lute, and let's not forget that stunning Baroque instrument on the CD cover, which as it turns out, is used to perform selections from a Suite by Robert de Visée. No other musicians are credited; no other guitarists, no mandolinists, no lutenists, just one musician: Duane Large. Who is this Renaissance man? Did he really record every instrument, on every part, of every work? Perhaps a read through his biography will shed some light on this mysterious disc. It turns out that aside from being an extremely talented classical guitarist, Large is also a professor, historian, theoretician, and multi-instrumentalist, proficient in guitar, lute, mandolin, piano, and percussion. He holds a Performance degree (summa cum laude, no less!) and two Master's degrees, one in Performance and one in Musicology. And yes, this recording proves without a shadow of a doubt that his playing more than lives up to his incredible résumé. His technique, phrasing, and performance practice are all impeccable; meanwhile, his arrangements are clever, thoughtful, and faithful. Large transitions between instruments as fluidly and naturally as a chameleon changes colour. I've spent the last decade writing classical guitar reviews, and in that time none have been anything like this one. Kudos, Duane Large, your recording is really something special, and you have my permission to be as audaciously academic as you like! © Timothy Smith

Linda McRae "Rough Edges and Ragged Hearts," 2012 Canada's Linda McRae has a backstory and an Appalachian heart. Fingerpicked guitar, clawhammer banjo, fiddle, and even jaw harp support her stories about folks with "Rough Edges and Ragged Hearts." Two of those folks, I gather, are the singer and her husband (and frequent collaborator). Early on, they could only "Hope It Lasts Through Supper." Now, "Doin' Life without Parole" celebrates the enduring strength of their love. "Deck of '52," the sad tale of Townes van Zandt, closes meaningfully with the songwriter's "out of kindness I suppose." A killer Ray Bonneville harmonica solo highlights "Three Midnights," a song about addiction. Reverend Gary Davis style six-string provides the foundation for the full-blown gospel tune, "Be Your Own Light." It's McRae's philosophy of life and one of the cuts that make this record shine. © David Kleiner

Michael DeLalla "This is How I Disappear," 2012 Influences can be wondrous or an impediment to an artist. Is the art produced a reflection of all the various influences or is the art a new shaft of light that illuminates a unique direction? On guitarist and composer Michael DeLalla's new CD, "This is How I Disappear," I hear the illumination of an artist in a moment that transcends influence into a sublime and uniquely crafted sonic landscape. DeLallas' career spans three decades and encompasses his mastery of styles as divergent as jazz, Celtic, and a multitude of folk orientations, all imbued with his classical training and instincts. On this aptly titled collection DeLalla veers from hypnotic (Title track) to chaotic ("13 strings") to melodic ("Camera Obscura") and culminates in rhythmically symbolism ("Witchi Tai To"), weaving sonic stories along the way whilst utilizing instrumentation as varied as the music created, from handclaps, violins, clarinets to the berimbau and Native American vocables. DeLalla creates a sonic vibrancy on this CD that is rich, remarkable and revelatory. © James Filkins

Tim "Too Slim" Langford "Broken Halo," 2012 "Broken Halo" is an all original solo acoustic album by Tim Langford of Too Slim and the Taildraggers. From the the first track, "La Llorona," a haunting minor key instrumental, Langford’s slide work dominates. When he does sing, his voice is understated, almost a whisper. Many of these songs bring to mind the modal strains of folk rockers Crosby Stills and Nash and Neil Young. Langford’s view of the world is a sorrowful one. He sings of the plight of the homeless in "Shaking a Cup" and the destructive force of alcoholism in the Muddy Waters influenced "You Hide it Well." In "40 Watt Bulb," his language is coarse but fitting for the subject matter, the miserable existence of a street musician at the end of his rope. But whether it’s a minor lament or a standard down home blues, Langford’s stories are articulated most authentically by the steely wail of his slide. "Broken Halo" is also a finely produced album. Langford is a true talent. © Chip O'Brien

Chris Moore "Renaissance," 2011 Chris Moore's latest release, "Renaissance", is the work of a purist. 12 tracks of original "electro-acoustic" guitar instrumentals were recorded minimistically; no additional instrumentation. The result is a work of unusual clarity. Moore's ear for melody and emotive touch on the six-string make it easy to appreciate the singular vision of his album. This is Moore's first album of instrumental music performed on acoustic guitar (and is also currently working on a piano album) and he has another in the works. I for one will be glad to hear another recording in this vein - "Renaissance" is a breath of fresh air and a welcome collection of mood music. © Jared Fiske

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

Alma Nova - Journey
Ben Tyree - Thoughtform Variations
Don DiLego - Western & Atlantic EP
Thanos Mitsalas - In the Italian Tradition
Kenn Fox - Path of Least Resistance
Craig Brandau - Tenderly
Nelson Wright - Still Burning
Brian James - The Wild and Free EP
Ivor Game - Freckles
Steve Snead - One Take

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