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January & February Short Takes

Allan Holdsworth "Flat Tire", Megazoidal Records, 2001 Allan Holdsworth is a paradox. He's nearly unknown to the masses but a mythic figure to guitarists. His thundering dynamics are off-putting to jazz lovers, the cerebral nature of his scales and chords too complicated for most rock fans. Still, fingerstylist Phil Keaggy has described the experience of listening to Holdsworth as "sitting down to a gourmet dinner", and Holdsworth's acoustic work with Gordon Beck on "The Things You See" is one pointed example. His newest CD "Flat Tire" is a solo project, but there is no acoustic guitar as one might presume a solo project to be. These are solo synthesized tone poems that are ambient, as if cinema soundtracks. His runs over the fretboard are dexterity-defying, but longtime Holdsworth fans may feel that the music yearns for Jimmy Johnson's bass and Chad Wackerman's drums. As per usual with Holdsworth, the listener's mindset on "Flat Tire" will require a bit of a paradigm shift in order to bask in this particular work of this creative genius. ©Alan Fark Buy Flat Tire

Ed Gerhard "House of Guitars", Virtue VRD1925, 2001 On this, his seventh CD, New Hampshire's Ed Gerhard sets out to prove it is not the guitar, but the guitarist who is responsible for the music. He does so by using a "Tone Poems in Reverse" strategy, using a variety of pawn shop specials, none of which cost more than $200. Further, he did not even change the strings on the guitars he used (one of them, the Maccaferri plastic archtop, had strings that were 35 years old!). Using his standard lowered tuning, he succeeds in making his point: the full, rich sound that has become associated with his touch in present throughout, both on solo guitar pieces such as McCartney's "Junk" and on four- or five- part pieces such as the traditional "Poor Wayfaring Stranger" and Blind Willie Johnson's "I Just Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes". Standouts include The Beatles "I Will" and the Everly Brothers' "Let it Be Me" (each of which would have fit nicely on his Counting the Ways CD of love songs). He says "Ultimately, it's the heart, soul and hands of the player that comes through the guitar. A better guitar doesn't guarantee anything. If you've got nothing to say, or if your tone or touch are crude, that's what comes through." With his new CD, Gerhard's trademark sound comes shining through the most humble of guitars. ©Patrick Grant Buy House of Guitars

Jim Bizer "Closer to the Surface", Brozone Records 123, 2001 Jim Bizer seems to have stumbled onto James Taylor's secret formula for the right mix of evocative chords, bluesified rhythms and wanna-sing-along harmonies to easily hoist you aboard with his feel-good vibe. "Falling Into It" and "Get To Me" especially recapitulate the kind of songwriting with which JT wowed millions on classics like "Your Smiling Face" and "Mexico". Bizer can also get funkifized ("Be Alright"), reggae like Sting ("Wake Up") or mellow out á la Jim Croce ("Closer to the Surface"). ©Alan Fark Buy Closer To The Surface

India.arie "Acoustic Soul", Motown 440 013 770-2, 2001 Tracy Chapman, Jonathan Butler... there's not too many musical emissaries of the "acoustic soul" subgenre. India.arie is a bright young singer-songwriter whose brush paints a style of soul likely to capture the imagination of a much wider and younger audience than Tracy Chapman. Though she pays homage to the traditional Motown influences of Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway on the opening cut of her debut CD "Acoustic Soul", a hip-hop edge to her sound reminiscent of Lauryn Hill becomes quickly apparent. Her acoustic guitar accompaniment is basic but contagious, transformed by a pastiche of vocal rivulets into pop masterpieces sure to bring neophytes into the fold by hooking them with quality music that is likable and accessible. ©Alan Fark Buy Acoustic Soul

Franco Morone "Running Home", Acoustic Music Records 319.1239.2, 2001 Franco Morone’s latest recording, "Running Home" articulates the multiple experiences of travel, rest, driving, solitude, community, and nature through a range of distinct, yet evocatively composed instrumental guitar pieces. Each of the twelve selections featured here utilizes various percussive slaps, open tunings, rhythms, bottleneck slide techniques, and harmonic overlays that cut across multiple geographies and musical traditions. While songs like Andy’s Waltz mark Morone’s ability to revisit this well-known melody through his own "Mediterranean" roots, the Alex de Grassiesque "Wind Catcher" represents this guitarist’s ability to organize harmony and melody around a distinct texture and surface effect. The listener will find selections like "Le Voyage de Giselle" and "Celtic Dog Blues" technically reminiscent of Pierre Bensusan and Leo Kottke. At the same time, Italian traditionals such as "Serenata" express Morone’s more serious artistic registers and delicately homespun interpretations. The metaphoric storytelling that Morone accomplishes with only 6 steel strings defines the purpose of instrumental playing itself and reminds us what it means to communicate through musical performance alone. ©Bernard Richter Buy Running Home

Professor and Maryann "Professor and Maryann", Bar/None Records AHAON-116, 2001 This duo keep the acoustic folk flame alive with a strong collection of intelligent melodic songs. Like David Gray, Tracy Chapman, and Shawn Colvin, Danielle Brancaccio and Ken Rackwood have mastered the art of spinning stories that span generations. Rockwood, who plays guitar, ukulele, and concertina takes a unique approach to accompanying Brancaccio's tender voice. Rather than employing tired arpeggios and atypical strumming patterns that saddle most unplugged acts, Rackwood opts for legato downstrokes, rootless voicings, and slow half-time figures. The effect is haunting, allowing Brancaccio plenty of space to inject personality and emotion. If you're a folk player this record will spur fresh ideas for new arrangements, and if you're a folk fan, tilt your beret and pour me another cup of espresso. ©Tom Semioli Buy Professor & Maryann

Mark Yodice "June Again", Quiet Earth Music QEMOO1CD, 2000 Some first CDs are a window to yet-unformed musical ideas of someone who has the possibilities of producing really interesting music. Mark Yodice's debut offering, June Again, is a work marked by some nice playing and composing, but still lacking the artist's maturity and consistency. The recording itself captures the expressive nature of acoustic steel string guitar. Yodice employs Travis-picking on "Porchbuddies", and we hear shades of Michael Hedges in the warmth of "Glow". He shows considerable chops on the opening cut "Snow Day", and "Jamu, the Bewildered Buddhist". We all are a bit bewildered by some of the tunes which start and stop like a Beetle on the Santa Monica Freeway, darting from idea to idea without ever really hitting overdrive. But for me the whole CD is redeemed by "Past Bloom", a slow and almost mournful melody, yet edged with hope; it makes you want to cry & smile at the same time. He puts the elements together here, and they work. ©Kirk Albrecht Buy June Again

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