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March/April 2017 Short Takes

Amy Brandon "Scavenger" 2016 Otherworldly and meditative, the opening tracks of guitarist Amy Brandon's Scavenger are commandments for calm and reflection in unfamiliar terrain. Cascading nylon strings backdrop against ambient electronica to gently escort the listener down a path through dissonant soundscapes. As an artist-in-residence from Nova Scotia, one wonders whether geography of the coastal North Atlantic may have influenced Brandon in her creative orchestration of this clashing of bleakness with beauty. Though the listening may be difficult and accessible especially to those with an open mind, Brandon's compositions succeed, as all excellent music does, in conjuring a palpable and astonishing mood. © Alan Fark

Jonathan Sargent "Little Cathedrals" 2017 Played with pristine grace, Jonathan Sargent's Little Cathedrals is imbued with a reverent, meditative sensibility that feels--in the broadest sense--almost spiritual. Sargent is a Chicago born, classically trained guitarist and composer whose pieces feel completely unforced and organic, as if they just came into being on their own. On this debut CD he seamlessly melds influences as varied as pop, Latin, and Baroque. Yet despite the range of styles there is a strong sense of the whole, achieved through a luscious tone, impressionistic style, classical techniques, and emphasis on melody. He brings a kind of jazzy abstraction to the Latin "Dos Enamorados" and "Tango," a Flamenco flair to "Spanish Sun Blazin,'" and a pop sensibility to "For You." Classical influences are paramount throughout, especially on "Evocación," "Uno Buena Noche" (inspired by Debussy), and the evocative, meltingly beautiful "Even Now." All these pieces are marvelously inventive and yet have such compelling melodies that they seem as if they are well-loved parts of the canon: "Original Adagio," "Reading PA/A Requiem," "Sonata in E," and "Fuego." "Mas Que Siempre" perhaps best showcases the exceptional beauty of his playing, with full rounded tones, crisp, fluid runs and trills, and a mastery of color and dynamics. It's hard to hold back the superlatives, but for this listener there was a distracting flaw in the use of orchestration. Sargent is too good a solo guitarist to need the slightest embellishment, and the addition of strings and horns detracts at times from the ethereal purity of his playing. Nevertheless Sargent's music, as lofty as cathedral spires yet as accessible as that of the Beatles', never fails to transport. May there be many more CDs forthcoming from this very fine musician. © Céline Keating

Josh Swensen "I'll Call You When I Reach Two Harbors" 2017 If singer/songwriter Josh Swensen's second album, I'll Call You When I Reach Two Harbors, feels a bit like a travelogue, that's right in line with its inception. The 18-year-old guitarist wrote most of the collection's seven tracks during a road trip to the upper peninsula of Minnesota. Swensen has said, "It was just me and guitar, with Lake Superior on the horizon... I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life..." Pretty heady stuff for someone relatively new to the music life, but his work shows the maturity of a developing artist with his head screwed on straight – a composer who's working hard at his craft. He slides along and between bluegrass, country and folk, and perhaps is best described in the universe of Americana and Alternative Country. It's good stuff, and you might get a hint of Jason Isbell, Mason Jennings and Jeff Tweedy as you groove along. © Fred Kraus

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