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July & August Short Takes

Skanson & Hansen "Two Guitars Can Change the World," 2009 There is a symmetry to the playing of Darren Curtis Skanson and Gregg Hansen. This should come as no surprise, Skanson's classical fretwork spans 25 years and at least nine CDs of classical and contemporary guitar music. Almost as prolific, Gregg Hansen solo career includes three finger style CDs of popular tunes of the past four decades, as well as work with a Celtic trio. Contemporary songs are where these two players repertoires converge, offering depth and breadth in guitar arraignments that range from J.S. Bach to Bob Marley. The playful and melodic interplay of Skanson's classical and Hansen's steel string guitars are joyful, airy and hopeful, undoubtedly the inspiration for the CD's title. More than likely Skanson & Hansen are a high energy and delightful act in person as well. © James Filkins

Laurie McClain "Ascend," 2009 In "Ascend," Laurie McClain's inner "Pollyanna" -- see the cover's doe-eyed waif -- faces off with the inner cynic whose "boyfriends have ranged from bland to abusive." This dichotomy makes for ambitious, honest ("I've told those little black eye lies"), compelling, lovely listening. It is the album's strength. But some listeners may consider it a weakness, seeing candor as politics they disagree with and sincerity delivered in a voice on the Nancy Griffith side as preciousness. I found every trill and grace note in McClain's delivery chill-inducing. And check out the calliope run she sings in "Some Forgotten Dare." That's not easy to do. "He Smiled Like an Angel" tells a story you've heard before. In McClain's hands, it was a track I put on repeat after the first hearing. But where every listener should turn first is the revelatory and very pretty title track. The lyrical conceit alone is worth the price of admission: "I don't want to fall in love... I want to ascend in love." Wow! © David Kleiner

Brooks Williams "Baby O!," 2010 If you should ever find yourself trying to explain "Americana" to an extraterrestrial, simply buy them a copy of "Baby O!" and a set of headphones! Veteran singer / songwriter and guitar maestro Brooks Williams' 17th album is a diamond in the rough of all that is blues, folk, jazz, and roots. William's natural penchant for storytelling is on full display -- as is his uncanny ability to punctuate his cinematic vocal phrases with a guitar lick or rhythm that embellishes every lyric. From Son House ("Grinnin' In Your Face"), to Duke Ellington ("I Got It Bad - And That Ain't Good"), to Mississippi John Hurt ("Louis Collins") to the rollicking title track -- Williams' makes it all his own. Kudos to his sidemen -- most notably PJ Wright on dobro and pedal steel, and Keith Warmington on harmonica- highly recommended for fans of Steve Earle, Bruce Cockburn, and John Marytn (the latter two who are not Americans, but you catch my drift...). © Tom Semioli

Jeff Saxon "Truthteller," 2010 I placed the CD in the box without so much as looking at the photo, and by the third song was convinced Jeff Saxon had too much soul to be white. I was wrong, and I apologize for the generalization that underlies that perception. Saxon's blue-eyed (hazel, actually) soul emanates from a voice that is utterly disarming, no matter how you misidentify it. Paul Carrack came to mind, not so much for the voice, but for Saxon's evident interest in a certain R&B state of mind. Keb Mo is actually much closer on the vocal thread, but who cares? Saxon testifies perfectly well on his own. As to the lyrics, well, for a CD entitled "Truthteller," I would go deeper. But that's just me. Saxon knocks yer socks off with the title track's honesty, the charming ballad, "Even If I Lived on the Moon," and the fleeting harmonica-and-Larrivee intimacy of "Ainthatamuthafuhya." Check it out. © Steve Klingaman

Truck Mills "The Day After Yesterday," 2009 Truck Mills may be the best boom-chucka-meister on acoustic slide that you've never heard. His alternating thumb drives a rhythm that must mimic the mood and metronomic pace of a southern Belle simmering in a rocking chair on an Antebellum porch. Mills' guitarwork is solid and confident on the five of twelve solo nuumbers on this disc, but seems more restrained on the band tracks, which also lack a unifying theme or genre. What really works for Mills are tunes like "The Tail of Lucy Lu" and "Can't Take it With You" -- authentic country blues. © Alan Fark

Royce Campbell "Solo Trane," 2010 Royce Campbell’s "Solo Trane" is an intimate and passionate tribute to the late great saxophonist John Coltrane. Campbell began his career at a very young age touring with R&B legend Marvin Gaye and then spent close to twenty years touring with Henry Mancini. He’s played with guitar greats Tal Farlow, Herb Ellis, and Pat Martino, and has backed vocalists Nancy Wilson, Mel Torme, and Sarah Vaughn. "Solo Trane" is an incredibly scaled down, bare, and honest collection of Coltrane classics. In addition, Campbell has included two pieces of his own composed in the style of Coltrane. If you enjoy and admire solo guitar work and have an appreciation for John Coltrane, this album is definitely worth a listen. © Chip O'Brien

Philip Hemmo "Romantic Works for Classical Guitar," 2010 Over the past century the classical guitar has become a worldwide phenomenon, with performers and composers to be found in the farthest reaches of the globe. There will always be a sense however, that no matter how much success the classical guitar enjoys elsewhere, the true spirit of the instrument will permanently remain with its roots in Spain. In his most recent project "Romantic Works for Classical Guitar", American guitarist Philip Hemmo pays homage the guitar's humble beginnings in late 19th century Spain. For the recording he selected some of the finest works by Albéniz, Tárrega, Torroba, and Ponce. Hemmo's sensitive reflection on these compositions casts a refreshing new light over them. His interpretations are a subtle and satisfying blend of both the Romantic and Modern performance practices. Anyone who adores the melodic and evocative Spanish compositional style will truly enjoy this disc. © Timothy Smith

Cole & The Makeout Scene "Gala Was a Tiger," 2010 If this is the future of contemporary folk -- we have much to look forward to. Singer / songwriter Cole Grove and his cosmic cowboy posse known as the The Makeout Scene -- guitarists Jesse Dold and Eric Ott, in-the-pocket electric bassist Moses Lizotte, and vocalist Courtney Brocks -- breathe life into the genre with a mesmerizing "documentation of the journey of life -- an ode to love and the fear of love..." Whatever their intentions GWAT (the title is based on Salvador Dali's life-long love Gala and the largest and most dangerous of the genus Panthera) grooves in all the right places. Tracks such as "Along" soar with harmonies rooted somewhere in classic Fleetwood Mac and the Beach Boys. Dold's guitar work on "Tiger Your Gone" and is the brilliant stuff of Tom Verlaine and Robert Fripp. "Goodnight My Love" would have been a nice track on the White Album. And that's just the first three songs... highly recommended for fans of Gram Parsons & The Fallen Angels, Elliot Smith, and Lambchop. © Tom Semioli

Roy Schneider "Erleichda," 2010 Damn I love this album. It makes me wanna jump in my car on a warm summer day and just zoom all over the countryside, this album blasting away. It's not surprising that many of these tunes were conceived while he was on tour. He plays almost every instrument on the planet (guitar, mandolin, banjo and more) but gets help from Charlie McCoy on harmonica (Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson), David. C. Johnson on bass and others on fiddle, vocals and piano. This collection of originals plus the Dead's "Brokedown Palace" is a stellar example of good Americana with down-home vocals, sing along choruses and a groove that'll have you wiggling your hiney on the nearest dance floor, provided, of course, that you're not behind the wheel. Great harmonies abound, reminding me of the best of 70's country rock like the Eagles -- it's not dated at all, but fresh and fun. "South in the Summertime" is a good opener for the disc, its upbeat message fueled by some great banjo work. Many of his songs are centered around a hooky guitar riff and "Keep it Simple" is no exception. There's some damn fine fiddle work from Keven Aland (Leftover Salmon, Widespread Panic) on the moody "Strange Wind" and the bluesy "Let It Shine" has a tight arrangement of mandolin, banjo, harmonica and more. "Dancing With a Horse" is a pleasing instrumental based on a sprightly finger picked guitar in what sounds like an open tuning. This disc will get a lot of airplay on my iPod. Yours too. © Jamie Anderson

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

Rupert Wates - Joe's Cafe
Jennie Avila
Robert Rolfe Feddersen
Griff Parish - The Mole
Ava Mendoza - Shadow Stories
Dave Randel - Zenith

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