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November & December Short Takes

Tom Ball "'Tis the Season," 2009 If Santa Claus were a guitar player, he'd have given his elves time off to wax "'Tis The Season." With only his trusty 1936 Gibson PG-00 Plectrum (converted into a six string in 1981 by Jim Lombard) in hand, virtuoso Tom Ball makes the holidays bearable (in-laws!) with a fine collection of traditional Christmas music from Italy, England, Sweden, Ireland, France, Austria, Paraguay, Scotland, Germany, and the U.S.A. Aside from his crystal clear tone -- the most intriguing aspects of Ball's folksy / classic style is his voice-like phrasing , along with his brilliant sense of dynamics and time. Witness the cold hearts of hipsters melt when they hear the jazzy interludes Ball drops in "Have Yourself A Merry Christmas" or the flourishes of What Child Is This (Greensleeves)." "Joy To The World" is rendered in a downright anthemic fashion (where's Bono?). The finale is fittingly a brisk, seamless medley of "Auld Lang Syne" and "O Christmas Tree." Ball's arrangements certainly breathe new life into these time-worn standards -- pour me another egg-nog! © Tom Semioli

Chris Knight "Trailer II," 2009 Recorded in a trailer in Slaughters, Kentucky (population 238), this bare recording of rough vocals and acoustic guitar unravels like a gritty novel about forgetting the girl, lonely truckers, dirt farmers, desperate first love, and old men, mixed with a hill of dust and washed down with eighty proof. His genuine drawl paired with a guitar that hums and rattles reveals hard luck stories like those of Steve Earle and John Prine. He wrote all the songs, some with others including Kim Richey and Fred Eaglesmith. In "Send a Boat" he sings, "Good Lord, help us all while we try to stay afloat / If you would Lord, send a boat." It may stop raining but donít tell Knight. © Jamie Anderson

Art Hodges "Easy Living," 2009 Art Hodges is truly an inimitable musician, possibly the only guitarist to memorize the Bach Chaconne in C minor and impersonate Slash in a Guns-N-Roses tribute band. Hodges studied jazz and classical music at Virginia Commonwealth Universityís School of the Arts. Although a prominent figure in the Virginia music scene, in 2008 the guitarist relocated to Japan continuing to gain fans and pursue his successful musical calling. On "Easy Living" the versatile musician tightens his focus by performing jazz standards arranged for solo nylon stringed guitar. One hears echoes of the late Joe Pass and Charlie Byrd in his masterful playing as he impeccably blends both classical and jazz styles. Hodges eloquently weaves his way through the jazz cannon offering sophisticated arrangements that never detract from the inherent beauty of each composition. The opening "Autumn Leaves" has an interesting walking bass line on top of the melody giving the illusion that more than one guitarist is on the recording. From the playful "Makin Whoopee" to the reverential "God Bless the Child," Hodges captures the essence of each composition elegantly executing each standard with both finesse and passion. "Easy Living" is highly recommended for fans of traditional jazz standards wanting to hear these classics performed by an extremely talented fingerstyle guitarist. © James Scott

Adam Levin "In the Beginning," 2009 I want to be straight to the point: this disc is absolutely thrilling from beginning to end! I can't remember the last time a recording took me so squarely from my seat and thrust me into its musical world. In Adam Levin's playing, there is an overriding sense of complete self-assuredness and technical control. Levin leaves no doubt to his prowess on the guitar, opting for daring tempos and bombarding the listener with sudden dynamic changes and accents. Even the liner notes, written by Levin himself, convey their message with an unabashed self-confidence, bordering on pure arrogance. And it is this arrogance that I so often seek out in a guitarist; one who will dazzle and entertain at every possible opportunity. If you're on the market for some exciting classical guitar, this is it! © Timothy Smith

Kerry Kean "New River Guitarism," 2009 Kerry Kean's sophomore effort "New River Guitarism" is sure to please those who prefer acoustic guitar with a traditional feel, yet Kean offers much more with a bit of flat-picking, an Irish tune, an original jig and even the delicate nuance of a Renaissance song. Kean covers a breadth of material that includes eleven originals and two covers with ample acoustic chops. With each listen it becomes clear that Kean possesses the ability to find the heart and soul of each of the varied styles presented on this collection. Favorites include "Flow My Tears" and "After the Harvest", the song that earned him the 2008 Kent State Folk Festival Talent Contest. © James Filkins

Guy Buttery "Fox Hill Lane," 2009 Guy Buttery on his latest CD "Fox Hill Lane" takes listeners on a journey through all kinds of guitar textures, whether itís the techniques he uses on his guitars, or in combination with the other musicians walking along the lane with him on these 14 tracks. Good music comes from life and speaks back into it, and Buttery has taken experiences from his native KwaZulu Natal and helps his listeners hear his life. We have slow melodies like the opening 7" postcard (45RPM), then the very next cut is the fiery "Half a Decade," that has Buttery crank up the heat with some serious two-handed tapping. "Burnside" is a nylon-string rollick with some good foot stomping thrown in for good effect. "Umtamvuna in a lovely fingerpicking-piano duo that speaks of blue skies and open horizons. "Sibanisezwe" and the just-guitar version "Sibanisezwe II" is a bluesy tune, with the first highlighted by some raw dobro playing, while the second is a duet with Nibs van der Spuy. The title cut "Fox Hill Lane" -- closing the record -- is the longest cut on the CD at almost nine minutes, speaking of beauty and longing and fulfillment. Itís got a hole in the middle, then picks up again, almost like an extra track you find on some recordings. Thereís some interesting music on "Fox Hill Lane" from a versatile and engaging guitarist. © Kirk Albrecht

Eric Loy "Trajectories," 2009 The back cover of Eric Loyís "Trajectories" reveals the guitarist/composer displaying four wildly disparate guitars in a somewhat precarious balance. That photographic image functions as a metaphor for the ten original instrumental tracks discovered within this enjoyable collection. Loy moves with ease from his Kaiser harp guitar to his Taylor acoustic, from his Gibson RD Artist to his collection of classical string boxes. Loyís passion is creating songs that extend musical boundaries, songs that explore rhythmic and percussive relationships, often in unconventional realms. As is often the case with these solo maniacal fretboard wizards, one wonders how two hands and 10 fingers produce so much sound -- so Loy happily includes two videos highlighting his technique as well as his beatific smile. Though most of his tracks are solo and thoughtful, Loy enlists a drummer and a bassist on the energetic "Depth Charge" and "Gridiron," rocking out to great effect. © Fred Kraus

Ithamara Koorax & Juarez Moreira "Bim Bom," 2009 Jo„o Gilberto has been known as the "Bossa Nova Pope" ever since releasing his first album in 1959. To say that he has been an influential force in Brazilian music ever since is an incredible understatement. Brazilian singer Ithamara Koorax and guitarist Juarez Moreira have teamed together to laud Gilberto's contributions with the recording of "Bim Bom - The Complete Jo„o Gilberto Songbook," consolidating the entire Gilberto catalogue of compositions. Moreira sums up Gilberto's particular genius: "Although some of the songs may seem very simple, it's a false impression. Gilberto's songs are very demanding in harmonic terms, demanding a lot of technique. That's the main ingredient of Gilberto's magic; to make very difficult and intricate things seem so easy and sound so natural." Koorax and Moreira take that lesson to heart, and lay down some very challenging music which comes off as breezy as a Brazilian evening. © Alan Fark

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

Johannes Linstead - Mistico
Christine Lavin - Cold Pizza for Breakfast
Keith Miles - Beyond the Headlights
Patrik Tanner - Quills
Bill Bachmann - Big World Out There
Bruce Muckala & Friends - Older Now
Kevin Delaney - Pause For Effect
Tracy S. Feldman - Middle of the Road
Cristen Grey & The Moving Dunes - 10,000 Things


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