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January/February 2017 Short Takes

Michael Fix "Bending Air" 2016 Finally! A return to melody. I've lately reviewed several tapping, percussive CD's with very little thematic material; just grooves and chord patterns. Now I get to review Michael Fix's latest release "Bending Air". Ahhh! (note to self - just end the review right there and extend the "h" to the last syllable allowable). Michael is from Australia and fell under the wings of Tommy Emmanuel (Fate?). After absorbing and mastering the concepts of fingerstyle guitar, he let his imagination take over. I feel a bond with this composer who travels the world and then expresses in compositions his feelings about places, events, friends, influences, everything! What you will hear is variety - there is no program. Some high end producer would probably try to make Michael's CD more focused. What Michael Fix brings to your table is excellence. He can play that guitar in his sleep, but then add his mind to the equation and the result is another great album. He just keeps pumping them out. My personal favorite is "Slip Away" which features his golden voice and flute; Makes me think of an Aussie Stephen Foster. That Maton guitar is wonderful. I wish that Michael would consider venturing to this western hemisphere more often. © Mark Bayer

Matthew Fish "From Her Source to the Sea" 2016 For his debut solo recording, Matthew Fish features his favorite compositions by another young guitarist, Johannes Möller. Möller won the GFA competition and has been touring the world steadily for the past several years, and is now well known for his exceptional playing. But many may not be aware of the large and ever-growing catalog of music Möller has composed. Fish was inspired to record an all- Möller record after performing the first track on the disc, "Song to the Mother", which is a gorgeous piece that features harmonics and sweeping arpeggios. Many of Möller's works take their inspiration from nature, like "From Her Source To The Sea" which depicts water's journey from the mountain top down to the ocean, with ever growing size and momentum. While most of the works are composed in a modern, dream-like style, the addition of the several of Möller's Preludes break up this aesthetic with a more traditional, yet still brilliantly creative, approach. I applaud Fish for taking the road less travelled for his first album, not just introducing us to his excellent playing, but also to Möller's lovely music. © Timothy Smith

Big Dave McLean "Better the Devil You Know" 2016 Canadian blues guitarist Big Dave McLean finds the sweet spot brought to glorious life when gospel, rock and the blues incestuously interbreed. Born in 1951, he's a well-traveled troubadour and ambassador of rollicking, life-affirming, well-crafted music. His lyrics on "Life on the Road," which opens his 13-track CD, "Better The Devil You Know," pretty much says it all: "Another day, Another country road, Another town, Another late-night show, Another song, Another story told, I'm on the road … I'm living out the dream …" He also plays homage to his idol, Muddy Waters, with thumping – though less menacing -- renditions of "Deep Down in Florida" and "You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had." With his earnest, powerful voice, and backed by a full band, which includes Ann and Regina McCrary on spiritual-inflected background vocals, Big Dave seems to be enjoying the whole experience. He gets my vote for a potential house band on NPR's "A Prairie Home Companion." Big Dave pens a handful on tunes on this collection to go accompany some traditional selections. CD producer and quite fine electric guitarist Steve Dawson earns a couple songwriting credits as well. This CD is loaded with feel-good stuff, so crack open a cold one, or maybe two, and kick back, or kick it out, depending on your predilection. Big Dave's just good company. And how can you not like a guy whose first CD (in 1989) was titled "Muddy Waters for President"? © Fred Kraus

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