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January & February Short Takes

El McMeen "Dancing the Strings", 2004 El McMeen's love affair with Motown continues on his latest solo guitar release "Dancing the Strings". His last record, "Breakout", gave us just one medley of Motown tunes played with surprising aplomb on solo guitar, a taste of McMeen's growing appetite to venture outside the walls of traditional music. This CD is a mix of that Motown vibe, McMeen's longtime devotion to Celtic melodies on solo steel string guitar, and a few other dance tunes. It's an ambitious project, and McMeen pulls it off with some excellent results. As usual, McMeen's tone - using CGDGAD tuning - is excellent. He really nails the driving rhythm of bass lines with the melody riding over top. Some of these traditional pieces are technically challenging -- the modulation of "The Humors of Ballyloughlin", the undulating emotions of "The Kid on the Mountain", and the gymnastic O'Carolan jig "Hugh O'Donnell". McMeen demonstrates his strength in that idiom on each tune. From Motown, McMeen serves up glistening renditions of "Tears of a Clown", and "Working My Way Back to You", bringing us back to AM radio of the 1960's. On both tunes, McMeen uses various techniques of hammer-ons, pull-offs, and other twists to create that funky drive we all love in those songs. The disk finishes with a sweet cover of "America the Beautiful", a tune McMeen says in the liner notes, "We can slow dance to the song that could be our national anthem". This is a fine disk of really great solo guitar music. © Kirk Albrecht

Axel Schultheiss "Departure", 2002 This is not any run-of-the-mill fingerstyle. Axel Scultheiss' compositions are recounted with layered, complementary and zigzagging multitracked guitar lines, and can't quite be called melodies so much as dramas. "Departure" rings out like peals of church bells, intense and omniscient. "Strung Up" is like a swarm-like buzz of attack punctuated by the metronomic drone of boxcars on tracks gleefully winding their way over hill and dale. ©Alan Fark

Mark Lane "Golden State of Mind" 2003 "Golden State of Mind" hearkens back to the heady days of the 60's and the creativity of artists like the Beatles and Brian Wilson. They produced layers of sound that belied the limits of the available recording technology. "Golden State of Mind" is largely a homespun, self-produced affair, with Lane playing a variety of instruments, as well as writing, recording, arranging and producing. And, though there are highs and lows, all thirteen songs burst with ideas both referential and reverent. You'll hear touches of Lennon, Harrison (almost every guitar lead), Brian Wilson, and even a dash of Motown. The album is highlighted by two standout tunes "Enough to Go Around" and "The One You Waited For" and a sense of fun and discovery that means a good time is guaranteed for all. © David Kleiner

David Pritchard "Velocity" 2003 Surface, depth, flow, spatiality, minimal difference... These are some of the terms and phrases that begin to describe the compositional texture of David Pritchardís inventive and timely music. His newest installment of what might be best defined as "minimalism for the guitar" seems to make explicit reference to the work of Phillip Glass, though I would not suggest confining Prichardís music to Glass' "style". On this CD one finds four guitars played by David Pritchard, Jack Majdecki, Ken Rosser, Adam Castillo, and David Johnson respectively. Their playing lights up the musical experience, each one present to articulate a different register of the same melody. Pritchard is truly onto something here as the guitar makes a perfect medium for just this type of deployment of sound, rhythm, and harmony. To put it in more metaphysical terms, the compositions contain a kind of signature of the timeless presentness in everyday life. On "Round Trip", for example, the listener is taken into a harmonic environment of continual progression toward the beginning, as it were. Truly some of the most beautiful music Iíve ever heard. © Bernard Richter

Art Turner "Jade", 2003 Art Turner's passionate approach to the guitar has been described as "aboriginoceltic fingerstyle worldfolk." "Jade", his first solo guitar album, is a very satisfying effort. The opening track, "Dragondance," typifies his approach, which is full of percussive effects (although sometimes at the expense of melody) and themes that evoke western landscapes. Turner chooses his influences well; his own "Berkeley Springs" recalls Ed Gerhard, while two other pieces, "Good Hands" and "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven," show similarities to Peter Finger. To my ears, the weakest number is a recreation of Gerhard's arrangement of "Si Bhig, Si Mohr," which ultimately shows that Turner is at his best when performing his own compositions, rather than closely emulating someone else. Art Turner's reputation is growing rapidly in Canada, and he's likely to gain a wider audience with this disc. © Pat Ragains

Steve Klingaman "Vanishing Point", 2003 Steve Klingaman thoughtfully explores the vagaries, injustices and joys of romance on his second CD, "Vanishing Point". In the aching title track, he writes, "Whenever I look into your eyes, I see the emptiness inside me... itís just the vanishing point of love". Klingaman follows this theme from the other side of the equation in "Sooner or Later": "Youíll need me and if you donít, it will tear me apart". The singer/songwriter/guitarist bares his emotions like a 100-watt bulb searing a stark room without a lampshade. The 11 tracks lyrically unfold like chapters, tracing the agonies of a no-longer-young man wrestling with life in the no-longer-fast lane -- but Klingaman too often fails to convey musically what is spelled out so literally in his lyrics. Musically, Jesse Winchesterís "Isnít That So" emerges as the strongest track. Klingaman traded performing several years ago for the comfort of his own recording studio. His daughter joins him on vocals on this disc. © Fred Kraus

John McKone "Times Too", 2003 Whether he's aggressively tapping and slapping intricate, syncopated, Hedges-style new-age groove or fingerpicking a thoughtful, pensive ballad, John McKone's guitar sounds huge. Rarely does naked guitar sound this warm and full of life. The songs on "Times Too" are a collection of meditations on places in time and the pace of life. From the hurried and frantic "Thirteenth Hour", to the bittersweet disappointment of "Too Late", McKone paints an honest picture that accepts and embraces these disparate emotions. Wearing his soul on his sleeve, John McKone connects with his instrument and listeners on a level that transcends the everyday and brings the ethereal to light. © Rick Gebhard

Ozella Music Various Artist Compilation "Morning", 2003 This disc could have been entitled "Magical Mystery Tour", much more aptly than the Beatles record. This Ozella Music compilation of new-age and contemplative acoustic pieces is indeed magical, mysterious. Dagobert Boehm has a producer's knack for bringing together like-minded guitarists to craft a seamless volume of atmospheric meditations which plumb for the profound. I've never before heard acoustic guitars recorded with this degree of sparkling crispness. © Alan Fark

Joe Finn Quartet "Destiny Blue", 2003 Joe Finn can bop. The blue notes fly fervently from his fretboard nimbly, linearly as from a saxophone. Indeed, some of the "cookin-ist" numbers on this disc were laid down first by sax greats Charlie Parker and Wayne Shorter... it's hard to identify a guitarist who may have influenced Finn's style but perhaps easier to hear in his lines a handful of horn players who may have done so. On the one original tune of the CD (also the title track), he does tip his hat to The Thumb, using octaves to slow things to a smolder. © Alan Fark

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