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July & August Short Takes

Russ Glenn "A Brand New Earth," 2007 Connecticut-based Russ Glenn builds pleasing Jack Johnson-style songs around a sturdy, rhythmic acoustic and electric guitar style on this album. The release sports a live-band, "been doing it in the clubs" feel built around guitar, bass, drums and a bit of funky sax ("Curbside"). The uptempo opener, "Stick" allows a bit of crunch into the mix on a tune that would not be out of place in the hands of Dave Matthews. Glenn possesses a voice not unlike that of Dan Wilson, of Semisonic fame. That is, it is easy to listen to and is well-suited to delivering sturdy pop melodies. The outing features a duo of "Jane" covers: "Jane Says" and "Sweet Jane." "Jane Says" sounds a little naked minus the falsetto hook of Perry Ferrell's voice. "Sweet Jane" in Glenn's hands actually reinforces the lyrical content of the Lou Reed gem, and is ultimately the more successful of the two covers. Glenn writes the rest of the material on the album, achieving notable success on "Stick," "(Don't Say) Goodnight," and the tempo- and style-morphing "Goodbye." © Steve Klingaman

Jenee Halstead "The River Grace," 2008 "The River Grace" opens with sandpaper percussion and producer Evan Brubaker's high-strung guitar, introducing a sound one step left of typical roots music. Sure, you'll hear dobro aplenty and down-tempo tunes throughout. You'll also find keyboard effects and a song called Nick Drake. But it's Halstead's voice that makes "The River Grace" stand out. She treads in Alison Krauss/Patty Griffin territory with vocals that ache, whisper, and resonate. The album's strongest songs contrast dark tales with the vulnerability in Halstead's voice. "Darkest Day" spins a yarn about young lovers, petty criminals rushing headlong into tragedy. The I in "Drunkard's Lullaby" tells her man to sleep it off in the tank until "you know what your name is." The narrator of "Dusty Rose" smells a fragrance on her man she recognizes from a woman they'd run into at the county fair. She sends him away with this brutal gotcha song, despite their 25-year relationship and her fondness for the scent. Such surprises help make "The River Grace" a strong debut. © David Kleiner

Cristina Pérez Madiedo "Eliot Fisk Guitar Series Vol. II," 2008 Last year I had the great privilege of reviewing the recording awarded to the top prize winner(s) from the first annual Boston GuitarFest (see Minor7th review July 2007, Steve Lin and Joseph Williams II), and this year I am pleased to take a close listen to Cristina Pérez Madiedo, winner of the second GuitarFest in 2007. The organizers of the competition produce these CDs to help promote the incredible talent of the young musicians drawn to their stage, and in the case of Ms. Madiedo, it takes only a few minutes of listening to see why she was selected by the adjudicators. Technically, Madiedo embodies everything one looks for in a professional classical guitarist, from her remarkably warm tone, to her enchanting tremolo, all delivered with absolutely flawless execution. Even more striking than that however, are her deeply sensitive interpretations. After hearing Julio Florida countless times in my life, I can say definitively that none has been more beautiful than Madiedo's performance on this disc. Similarly, her interpretation of the Brouwer Sonata shows a facility and understanding rarely heard in this evocative and bewildering work. Having now been touched by the beauty in these first two recordings from the Boston GuitarFest, I look forward with great anticipation to the release of their third volume next year. © Timothy Smith

Paul Metsa & Sonny Earl, "White Boys Lost in the Blues," 2007 A performance of classic blues succeeds or fails due in no small measure to the listener’s perception of the artist’s authenticity -- pain, joy, a smirk in the face of death, an earned right to survive despite all odds. It’s an all-out-there attitude, leaving all posers behind. On "White Boys Lost in the Blues," Sonny Earl blows harp like one possessed, while Paul Metsa provides some fine guitar to go with his bag-of-rocks vocals. The duo pays homage to a variety of blues forms through six original compositions interspersed with a few songs handed down by the giants. Studio recordings and live numbers are included, with enjoyable moments throughout. Their apparent fun with and appreciation of the genre is evident throughout the 10-track CD. Blues fans should get a charge out of these two. © Fred Kraus

Avatar, "Hands," 2008 Avatar is an Australian quartet comprised of Glenn Cannon on steel-string guitar, Nick Freer on nylon-string, bassist Gavin Pearce and drummer Ryan Menezes. This disc presents a program of instrumentals, all composed either by Cannon or Freer. Favorites include the gypsy-themed "Mango," featuring accordion and a guest solo by guitarist Frank Gambale (which Cannon follows with a fine, dynamically-varied solo of his own). The brief "Ryan's Dance" follows "Mango," serving as a pert coda. The waltz, "From Over the Fence," recalls the French musette idiom. "Mercedes" features more hot soloing and shifting, yet rock-solid rhythms. "No Really" begins with Freer's nylon-string lead over a backing that, although restrained, seems ready to boil over. The CD ends with the soulful "Stephanie." Avatar has a lot going for it: its members' impressive instrumental skills, Cannon and Freer's lyrical compositions, and their full use of acoustic timbres. Each member also boasts an impressive musical resume. Here's hoping they'll produce more of this great music together. © Patrick Ragains

Joe Crookston, "Able, Baker, Charlie & Dog," 2008 Crookston uses his winning sincerity to sell the songs on this largely retro themed album. Most of the numbers use straightforward acoustic arrangements to tell true stories. "John Jones" is an escaped slave narrative. "Blue Tattoo" relates a conversation between a Holocaust survivor and her young daughter. "Brooklyn in July" portrays a post WWII incident of racism. Highlights on "Able, Baker, Charlie, and Dog," include a revelatory cover of Supertramp's "Logical Song" (with some fine finger-picking from Crookston) and the title track, about the WWII construction by Seabees (that was before war was outsourced) of runways eventually used by the planes that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan. Crookston plays guitar and accordion and provides telling details free of commentary. A tuneful, tale-ful record from an appealing performer. © David Kleiner

Michael Whisler "Molehill," 2007 For those wanting to hear credible Leo Kottke sounds not coming from the ground-breaking stylist on 12-string guitar, Michael Whisler is the man to hear. The 14 tracks on "Molehill" are eerily reminiscent of the early work of Kottke, the man who revolutionized solo acoustic guitar in the early 1970's with such powerhouse songs like "The Driving of the Year Nail" or "Busted Bicycle." The trip becomes even stranger when Whisler sings, like on "Slow Down," because his guitar work not only mimics Kottke, but his vocal stylings -- low, gravely -- also remind one immediately of Leo. The songs on "Molehill" are played with similar passion and panache as the original, and Whisler knows how to generate the power and sonic textures inherent in a 12-string. The one song that perhaps stands on its own for originality is "Charley's Waltz," a lovely tune that develops its melody well, revealing a charm that woos the listener. Other interesting songs are the closer, "Stump Grinder," and "In Between the Birch," with its slow whining slide parts painting the picture of what lies just beyond the trees. If this were the first time I had heard this kind of acoustic guitar music, I would be intrigued and impressed. On its own, it's a good CD. However, it just comes too close to the original for me to be anything but a nice tribute to a true original. © Kirk Albrecht

Josh Preston, "Exit Sounds," 2008 Josh Preston possesses the voice of a classic late 20th Century folkie (think Eric Anderson, Tim Hardin, Tim Buckely) which affords "Exit Sounds" sort of a warm, timeless veneer. Akin to those hallowed references, Preston is a master of cinematic lyrics as he paints vivid pictures by way of plaintive lyrics and buoyant melodies delivered with understated fervor. Via guitar rhythms that emphasize the downbeat coupled with dreamy chord voicings Preston can sweep you off your feet with relative ease. The artist employs a myriad of techniques to get his point across: a sultry croon throughout "Safety Feels The Exit," an ambient intro in "Song For Kate," a hypnotic shaker played in four time for the waltz "Pease Tell Me You'll Be Home For Christmas" -- a track that harkens for a screenplay -- especially when the bells and violins appear after the second chorus. Highly recommended for fans of the above mentioned along with Leonard Cohen, Richard Buckner, Ani DiFranco. © Tom Semioli

Nick Cook, "Uncooked," 2007 This UK based artist recorded this album "uncooked," without a band, just his emotive vocals and acoustic guitar. With a voice and guitar style similar to Nick Drake and a contemplative Michael Hedges, his songs feel intimate and personal. His lyrics are damn good too, witness the opening lines of "Shut and Bolted": "I've seen a thousand suns go down but the dawn came just the same / I've seen a hundred boats come sailin' in but they never bore my name / Some say this life is a special thing but I'm really not that sure / 'Cause it always came right up to me, like a shut and bolted door." "I Don't Know" uses minor dissonance to sing about a relationship. The disc ends with the lovely "So In Love." © Jamie Anderson

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

Luke Sayers & The Last to Know - Radio Flower
Andrew McKnight - Something Worth Standing For
Remy de Laroque - Where We're From
Alexandre Therrien - Overture
The Brass Kings - Washboard Rope Guitar
Thea Hopkins - Chickasaw
Frank Critelli - Waltzing Through Quicksand
Adam Hammer - Tattooed Folk EP
Jennifer Eden - The Road Home
Idam Rabinovici - Bedroom folk
Buddahead - Ashes
Kevin Danzig - Welcome Home
Elephant Bear - Hide and Go Seek
Casey Brandt - Jumping Ship
Mike Wheeler - Mikey's Waltz
Griff Parrish - To Dream of Winged Things
Stephen Durrant - Demos
Modern Times Compilation - Locally Grown Music

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