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March & April Short Takes

Dana & Susan Robinson "Big Mystery," 2009 Dana and Susan Robinson invoke the spirit of back-to-the-land with this sweet record. Its eleven tracks transport the listener to a song circle in a woodsy cabin and a spot near the woodstove beside the rescued dog from the catchy closer "Dog's Life." The jaunty title track opens, a paean to spring only a country dweller could write. In between, you'll hear tidy, lovely-in-their-simplicity instrumentals (with most of the instruments played by the Robinsons) among a variety of songs: traditional ("Poor Howard"), nostalgic (Dana's "Cairo," "Delta Queen"), postmodern (Lui Collins' traditional sounding graveyard meditation "Gone But Not Forgotten"). The tunes are unerringly melodic. The arrangements are uncluttered. Every instrument sparkles acoustically. The Robinsons cordially invite you into their living room. Come on in. © David Kleiner

Al Stewart & Dave Nachmanoff "Uncorked," 2009 This live outing which sees the "Year of the Cat" troubadour paired with accompanist Dave Nachmanoff should please fans of the prolific folk-popster. Gone are the pop trappings though, allowing the singer-songwriter to shine through this collection of album cuts from his extensive catalogue. Yes, he still sounds like himself -- no small achievement given that his voice always exuded youth. This album could stand as the belated follow-up to his 1992 release, "Rhymes in Rooms," an acoustic effort realized with another musical partner, Peter White. The material comes from his first two decades, and sounds remarkably cohesive. This is not remarkable given Stewart's dedication to the you-are-there historical vignette approach that is perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of his writing. Nachmanoff adds some burning acoustic solos in an effort that supports Stewart admirably. The sound has that big, open reverb you sometimes get in live recordings. It actually reminds me of a classic, "Friday Night in San Francisco," recorded by McLaughlin, Di Meola, and De Lucia. Nachmanoff's guitar work serves to refresh that memory -- no small compliment. The opening "Last Days of the Century" medley and "News from Spain" are two pieces that highlight the talents of both men. If you liked Stewart's voice then, I daresay you'll like it uncorked. © Steve Klingaman

David Newbould & Friends "The Long Way Home," 2009 David Newbould plays live from Austin-live in a TV studio-on this combo CD/DVD release that marks his departure for Nashville after a decade in Austin. Newbould's music, however, sounds like Austin. Newbould possesses a voice with which you are instantly comfortable. And he has a way with a ballad. Three notable ballads on this disk are the fingerpicked "Put the Brakes on Us;" "Old Friend," with its beautiful harmonies over a lovely chorus; and the long (8:03) "Something to Lose;" which may be the most perfectly realized song on the CD. The backup band is tight and well-rehearsed, including star turns by Cindy Cashdollar and Redd Volkaert. Backup vocalists Megan Melara, Wendy Colonna, and Beth Garner are intrinsic elements of this music's appeal. The live DVD rocks with unburnished energy, reinforcing the feeling that Newbould is 100% authentic. © Steve Klingaman

Rob MacDonald & The Madawaska String Quartet "Images," 2009 "Images" is a fascinating collection of contemporary compositions compiled by Canadian guitar visionary, Rob MacDonald. Surfacing as one of his nationís premiere performers, MacDonald is celebrated for presenting new and innovative repertoires of modern works, rarely heard in public. The opening "Full Circle" features an interesting trilogy written for solo guitar. Each movement focuses on a unique harmonic component of the instrument. The first section features sparse percussive nuances, while the second centers on the chiming, bell-like properties of the guitar. The final movement showcases dramatic rhythmic arpeggios woven within a minimalist framework. The following piece, "Nocturne," sets the classical guitar in the midst of Anna Redekopís viola and Amber Ghentís cello. Together they create intense atonal landscapes reminiscent of Bartůk or Stravinsky. "Love Song" and "Images" both present MacDonaldís inventive guitar supported by the talented Madawaska String Quartet. The former features hauntingly beautiful melodies with the quartet out in front and the guitar in a subtle supporting role. Whereas the title track showcases MacDonaldís remarkable virtuosity set within the complex structural framework of an elaborate musical odyssey. "Images" is a uniquely compelling recording and becomes more and more intriguing with each repeated listen. While at times the compositions can be challenging, they are also refreshingly unique and yield numerous sonic rewards for adventurous listeners. © James Scott

Vin Downes "Skies and Openings," 2009 Like many other fingerstyle players, Vin Downes holds a degree in classical performance but found his own musical trajectory changed by hearing the music of Michael Hedges and Leo Kottke. "Skies and Openings" is Downes' debut CD, seven solo performances and four tracks augmented by musical friends on bass, drums and violin. The title track is a melodic ode-to-joy reminiscent of Phil Keaggy's soaring style of composition and mood. "Climb" is a slow jackhammer groove but at intervals morphs into something balmier -- a giddying revolving door of emotion. On the face of it, "Mudshine" is a clawhammer blues, but there is just something a little different going on -- again, brief modal interludes are tossed in here and there to surprise. "Skies and Openings" is a truly impressive debut by an independent artist. © Alan Fark

Nathan Kolosko & Dan Cosley "Enso," 2009 Enso is a form of Zen Buddhist painting wherein a circle is drawn extemporaneously and definitively -- an improvisational emblem of the aptness of the imperfect in art and life. Nathan Kolosky and Dan Cosley, two classical guitarists, lay hold of that same spirit of irretrievable daring in their five-movement "Improvisations." On the first movement, guitars adorned with matchsticks, tin foil, bobby pins and other household objects are used to create a rhythmic drama, improvised down an irrevocable musical path whose outcome is known even to the players only in retrospect. Three other tracks are composed rather than improvised, duos drawing from African and Japanese musical traditions. Meditative and virtuosic, the music on Enso is both beautiful and haunting. © Alan Fark

Russ Edwards "We Call Them Cowboys," 2009 Russ Edwards tells stories: the guy on "The Third Stool From The Payphone" waiting for a call that will never come; the fellow who traded "Susan By the Water" for greed. This is deep country, Hank, Lefty, and Merle country. And Edwards gets you there with his earnest, weary-wise delivery, the support of a too-many-to-mention A-list of stylistic sideplayers, and an oversized pickup load of pedal steel, fiddle, spoken lyrics, broken hearts, and ramblin'. Expect to be surprised, too. Edwards is a downhome poet unafraid to take on religious hypocrites ("tired of hearin' ev'ry man with a church sayin' he represents The Good Word.") or offer confessional lyrics touching on the accident that sidelined him for years ("I Won't Quit Now"). Maybe they don't write songs like this anymore, but Russ Edwards does, and he does it well. © David Kleiner

Tim Schmidt "Slower Things," 2009 No, this is not the world famous Tim "Schmit" of Eagles and Poco fame: this is Tim "Schmidt" a Swedish singer/songwriter/guitarist who scored a 2009 Swedish Manifest Galan "Best Unsigned Act" Award. Tim Schmidt's dexterous acoustic guitar-playing throughout Slower Things (which actually includes up-tempo cuts) is simply extraordinary as he displays a myriad of well honed technical skills including fleet finger-picking, harmonics, hammer ons, pull-offs, and trills in the grand tradition of such legends as John Fahey, Richard Thompson, and Leo Kottke. As a vocalist though, he does not fare as well. Sure, you can detect traces of Dylan, Guthrie, Seeger, and perhaps David Von Ronk in Schmidt's gruff delivery, however his poor enunciation renders his lyrics nearly unintelligible. That's too bad since cuts such as "Julia," "Grey/Dog," and "She Moves Me" posses a dreamlike veneer which afforded kindred progressive folkies such as Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake (albeit belatedly) and Tim Buckley a huge audience. A worthy but enigmatic listen... © Tom Semioli

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

Will Brady - Solo Guitar
Doug Towle - Desire, Heat & Spirit
Joel Styzens - Relax Your Ears
Bryan Gorsira - So Far


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