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May & June Short Takes

Chris Cotton "I Watched the Devil Die", 2005 Produced by Jimbo Mathus, one of modern blues's greatest contemporary supporters and purveyors, Chris Cotton's "I Watched the Devil Die" is a collection of retro originals and acoustic country blues from the twenties and thirties. Recorded over the course of two days at Mathus' studio in Memphis with vintage gear, local musicians -- including blues great Big Jack Johnson -- and plenty of whiskey, the journey back in time is complete. Cotton's warm and boozey rasp and masterful Piedmont style fingerwork are convincing. High points include Cotton's rendition of Skip James's "I'm so Glad" and "That's It," an instrumental to which Mathus lends pleasantly out-of-tune tenor banjo and Hamilton Rott some hot fiddle licks. "I Watched the Devil Die" is a true period piece, and oh what a period it was, one that's really darn nice to visit now and again. © Chip O'Brien

Eric Skye "For Lulu" 2005 Eric Skye's "For Lulu," a collection of solo acoustic guitar arrangements of jazz standards and original material, begins with an unapologetically sparse and beautifully musical steel-string version of the Miles Davis, Bills Evans classic "Blue in Green." Stylistically, Skye is caught -- at times uncomfortably -- between the jazz of Joe Pass and the acoustic work of the descendents of John Fahey, leaning heavily toward the latter. Improvisations on standards, on occasion, travel too far from the spirit of the songs, leaving the listener to wonder why Skye even bothers with them in the first place, particularly when his own material is so strong. That said, when Skye sticks close to a theme, as he does on "Samba de Orpheus," and Brubeck's "Take Five," which segues perfectly into "My Favorite Things" and circles back again, it's as if he can do no wrong. © Chip O'Brien

Ray Flacke "Songs Without Words", 2005 Flacke is known mainly as a Telecaster-wielding hellion, having backed Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris and other country music mainstays over the last two decades. The music on this CD bears no resemblance to that resume. Here he plays ten of his own instrumental compositions on solo steel-string guitar, often showing a strong affinity for the British fingerstyle movement. Several tracks, including "Laterna Magika," "For W.B. and Catherine" and "Red Lion," recall music from John Renbourn's "The Hermit and The Black Balloon." Flacke also includes an earlier piece, "Tahitian Skies," which Chet Atkins recorded separately with Mark Knopfler and the Chieftains. Check out his well-controlled string bends on this tune and "The Sweet and the Sad" (they're so smooth that at first I thought he'd used Scruggs-style tuners). "Blissful Nocturne" combines major and minor-keyed statements for an interesting shift in mood. The disc's overall feeling is one of calm attentiveness, focus on melody and the beautifully warm tone of Flacke's Guild D60. Kudos to Ray Flacke for serving up a collection that succeeds on every musical level. © Patrick Ragains

Max Heinegg "By June", 2004 Ex-High Ceilings singer soars on this impressive solo debut, blending pastoral, folksy cuts with concise, four-to-the-bar post-grunge rockers. Embracing deeply personal themes, Heinegg's resonant baritone is complemented by a clever repertoire of atmospheric sustained chords, legato vocal melodies, moody orchestral counterpoint, and Mike Piehl's stellar percussive work. The first three tunes hit hardest, with the lead-off title track emerging as the stuff of U2 in theory and execution, followed by the modern rock radio-ready "Coming of Age" and "Seamless." Other highlights include the inventive angular guitar counter-melodies in "Sedona," and Ian Kennedy's puckish mandolin accompaniment throughout "La Belle Dame Sans Merci." A lonely dirge "Wave" ends the disc on a soulful, haunting note. "By June" serves as calling card to the majors, no questions asked. © Tom Semioli

Stacie Rose, "Shadow & Splendor", 2005 Stacie Rose's second studio outing pushes the pop side of her folk/pop blend. Once again, Robert L. Smith, sharing the production credit with Rose, assists in making this a thoroughly professional recording. The girl-centric pink and black package reflects Rose's girlishly pleasing voice and check-me-out Jersey style. The opening cut, "Consider Me," picks up where "This Is Mine" left off, featuring a lovely accordion solo by Andrew Hollander. Rose is maturing as a vocalist. You can hear it in "High as the Moon," in which she projects stunning vulnerability, and in her expressive and subtle phrasing on "Getting Stronger." Her reading of U2's "New Year's Day" as an understated ballad also makes the case. "Be Real" reveals old-school East Coast pop sass with the perfect Ruby and the Romantics verse part on David Patterson's electric guitar. "Sad But Blue" is an example of great grrrl rock. Rose continues to put it out there with great confidence and attitude. You go girl. © Steve Klingaman

Barry Wedgle "Another Trane Ride", 2005 Barry Wedgle has done something remarkable. Remarkable in its ambition, he's multitracked two nylon string guitars in homage to John Coltrane. It's also remarkable in its spontaneity considering that Coltrane is all about interplay and improvisation, something very difficult to achieve when playing duet to a recorded track. The well-known tunes, including "Afro Blue," "My Favorite Things" and "Naima" have a restrained dynamic, but it's nearly impossible for any player to allow guitar to soar in the way Coltrane did with a sax. © Alan Fark

Andrew McKnight "Beyond Borders", 2005 Bluegrass harmonies, introspective lyrics, & astute observations characterize Andrew McKnight’s fourth CD "Beyond Borders." Overall this is a great CD with a number of standout tracks including the opener "How High The Mountain," the stripped-down "Wishing" (featuring McKnight’s exotic cedar flute work as well as noted percussionist N. Scott Robinson), & the chain-gang style vocals of "Rust On My Halo." But this diverse record’s true strength lies in AM’s vocal work & lyrics, which are best represented in the simplest of settings, despite several competent ensemble performances. The best songs by far don’t stray from AM’s Appalachian, story-telling roots with narratives like "The Poet’s Great Romance" & "Flowers In My Yard." He even manages to toss an old- fashioned bluegrass instrumental in with "June Apple," an old Appalachian fiddle tune. A cross between Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket), Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins, and Ani Difranco this CD is for fans of intelligent & heartfelt songwriting. Though at times didactic this disc has a song for every acoustic music fan out there. © Sean Lewis

Lisa Alice "Plans in Pencil", 2005 This EP is a painting with lyrical splashes of color on a smooth canvas of acoustic guitar that's complex but never busy. Her whispery vocals invite you in to the personal world of her relationships. There's an intimacy in the sound quality; I can almost feel her breath on the microphone and the easy way her fingers touch the strings. She's definitely folk/pop but without the pop arrangements. I'd love to hear her with a band so that the somewhat vague lyrics could be just part of the feel rather than the focus, as it is on this release. © Jamie Anderson

Michael Coppola "Monster Guitar", 2004 All the notes are there in the right places, and usually there's an impressive flurry of them. Michael Coppola has certainly chosen the right repertoire to show off both his speed and uncanny talent to transcribe electric classics to solo acoustic, including Eric Johnson's "Cliffs of Dover" and Hendrix's "Little Wing". His rhythmic sense, though, at times has the slight stiffness of a classical guitarist playing blues from a transcription. He really seems most at home on Mozart's "Rondo Alla Turca" on this disc. "Monster Guitar" is the effort of a very good guitarist on the cusp of finding his own unique acoustic voice. © Alan Fark

JP Jones "Thugs and Lovers", 2005 Direct but creative lyrics, blues-based guitar work, and craggy vocals form the gritty core of this solo CD. A sometimes dissonant finger picked guitar accents "Not Your Business" where he sings to a former lover, "I'm feeling blue, baby, it's not your business now." "Pink Flamingos" includes a wry listing of useless things including the last relationship. The slap of his guitar strum in "Long Haul," about long distance truckers, sounds like the hum of rubber on asphalt. The raw "Crawling Out of Wakefield" is his biography with nothing held back. There's a great live feel to this whole album. Recommended. © Jamie Anderson

Roland Chadwick "Size of the Earth for Comparison", 2005 Critics and listeners may know Roland Chadwick as a guitarist and composer strongly rooted in classical guitar technique (see the Minor 7th review of Chadwick's One). His current CD is a departure, showcasing eclectic instrumentation and a variety of compositional styles. "Elephant Strings" opens the disc, featuring improvised lines played on processed electric guitars and saxophone over a wash of synthesizers. Other tracks showcase a steel-string acoustic guitar, sometimes played either solo or over synthesized backing with processed, doubled lines in lower octaves. Three abstract pieces, collectively titled "Thinking A-Loud," feature oboe, flute, French horn and possibly synthesized pipe organ. "Ozymandias" stands out among the acoustic guitar pieces and is arguably the best track on the album. Here Chadwick develops a thoughtful and compelling improvisation, which stands out from several of the disc's more repetitive, less imaginative pieces. "Ozymandias" alone recalls the focus and well-developed artistry that made Chadwick's "One" so satisfying. Chadwick is a man of considerable talent, although "Size of the Earth for Comparison" fails to consistently display his strengths. © Patrick Ragains

Guitar Tab

Laurence Juber, Ed Gerhard, David Cullen, Al Petteway and others play Manicini

Read Minor 7th's review of Pink Guitar in the November/December 2004 issue, buy "Pink Guitar" at Acoustic Music Resource

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