Tag Archives: Acoustic Guitar

Review : Nick Jonah Davis “Of Time And Tides” LP/CD (Tompkins Square, 2011)

NJD - sleeveTompkins Square has had a few homerun records in the last year… William Tyler’s spellbinding Behold The Spirit, and the Beyond Berkeley Guitar compilation would be indispensable acoustic guitar albums in just about any era, but are definite standouts in today’s fuzzy, post-everything musical landscape. The label’s winning streak quietly continues with Nick Jonah Davis’ proper debut, Of Time And Tides.

Davis, though young, is not a completely new name on the underground acoustic scene. The Nottingham-based guitarist was featured on Imaginational Anthem Volume 4, and also had a digital release called Guitar Music Volume 1, both distributed by Tompkins Square. His playing on those records, though competent, was more or less indistinguishable from any of the other Fahey-channeling pickers of recent years, on either side of the pond. On his new album, though, Davis shows a fast-maturing compositional sense, and a welcome willingness to subtly expand on Fahey’s oft-imitated American Primitive style… and though there are a number of American sounding, boom-chick tunes here (such as the short and sweet title track) I feel that Davis more and more is letting his Englishness shine through… always a good thing! Continue reading

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Review : E. Ryan Goodman “Halves” CD (Self Released, 2010)

halves_goodmanThere is a pervasive tenseness that roams among the 16 guitar instrumentals that make up E. Ryan Goodman’s Halves. The music, never joyful nor despondent, informs the listener that this inner struggle is a necessary and permanent one linked to the human experience. A distinct lack of melodic predictability and the often-wandering rhythms enhance the uneasy drift of these tracks. The music unfolds in no discernible pattern and like unwrapping a crumbled ball of paper, there are creases and folds throughout. Melodies collide atop one another, lines intersect at seemingly random moments, structures are askew and the aural landscape is distorted. The tunes here are slow-moving meditations that thread the needle between consonance and dissonance, the harmony of the music illicits neither smiles or sadness while remaining surprisingly pleasant to listen to.

The music approaches an evenness in tunes like the ironically titled “Melancholy Boogie” and “When Past is Present”, but these momentary states of grace are only diversions from the koan this album explores with an uncommon persistence. This isn’t to say that the musical statements Goodman seems to be making on this record are either confusing or unclear. The perpetual ambiguity of modality is not a set up for transcendental wizardry, as so many guitar mavens today attempt with blatant un-artistry, but seems more like an honest sojourn of one man and his instrument fumbling through a set of unfamiliar keys, trying to unlock the door of his own house. A card that Goodman plays with humble effectiveness is that many of the tracks here show a good amount of humor, and it is this self-removed perspective that renders the entire work with honesty and humility. This is not a guy who takes himself too seriously, though he approaches the work with dedication. One listen to “Through Bramble”, a defiant and out of tune arpeggiated workout, proves that there are more dimensions to be found in the guitar beyond the stoic and reverent.

In many ways, the record is an inner-facing struggle to reconcile some unspoken problem, a spiritual dilemma never stated to the listener. Each track begins at the moment when some imponderable question is volleyed into the void without preamble, and ends gracefully without an epilogue. It is this bare-bones composition technique that is so appealing on Halves. What we witness is pure process at work, the churning gyrations of the mind as it solves problems, searches for equilibrium and ultimately accepts the impossibility of finality or definition. What sets this album above many contemporary six string auteurs is that it feels like an authentic effort to dig into new, personal territory for the artist and not simply an effort to mystify and buffalo an uncritical listener.

Buy this limited edition CD from E. Ryan Goodman

Interview : Maneli Jamal

maneli-jamal_picManeli Jamal is a prodigious young fingerstylist, currently residing in Toronto, Canada. He works in the contemporary, highly physical two-hand style (lots of fretboard tapping with the picking hand) popular with a lot of young players these days, but there are several things that set Jamal apart from the multitudes of Andy McKee hopefuls who play the virtual YouTube circuit.

To say that Jamal’s technique is advanced would be a huge understatement. There aren’t many players in this style that have Jamal’s balance of power and sensitivity, nor his breadth of ideas. His rhythmic concepts can be alternately short and dense, or explored carefully through several movements, as in the four part suite from which The Ziur Movement album takes its name. Jamal has absorbed a number of musical styles, and he is able to seamlessly incorporate jazz, flamenco, classical and Persian ideas into his original compositions. The resulting pieces are very impressive, both technically and musically, and his CD is one of my favorites in the contemporary style.

I recently conducted this email interview with Jamal.

W&W : Let’s talk about the evolution of your fretting hand. You played in punk and metal bands when you were younger… would you say that that’s where you built up your strength and dexterity? Talk about your beginnings in guitar, and some of the early inroads you made toward your current (high) level of technique. Which players put you on the path to your current hybrid style?

When I started to play guitar I had already played violin for a few years learning from my father, a master Persian violinist. That definitely made learning the technical side of the guitar easier at first, especially the coordination between the hands. The great thing about punk and metal playing is that it’s fast and fun as hell to play for anyone starting the guitar.

Because I was self taught I used to be the kind of player that didn’t worry too much about accuracy but rather speed and what sounds cool, which was what punk music to me was all about. Unfortunately, I didn’t teach myself the discipline of accuracy and slow practice until years later. The guitarists of Thrice and Iron Maiden really influenced me in the punk / metal genre. I felt like I had reached a plateau after 3 years of playing that genre in my right hand picking. I thought the guitar pick was the best and most efficient way of playing the guitar… little did I know. I got into the likes of Al Dimeola and that opened up a whole new world for me. Continue reading

Video Premiere : David Leicht & Raymond Morin “Capitano”

David Leicht and Raymond Morin, both contributors to Work & Worry, have created a new video for the song “Capitano”, from their 2010 CD/Tab book release Petrifidelity. The clips were filmed at Morin’s home and at the world-famous Sharp Edge beer dispensary. Check it out below!

There are still a small handful of Petrifidelity books available. Visit here for more info!

Review : Don Ross “Breakfast For Dogs” CD (CandyRat Records, 2010)

ross_Breakfast_DogsBreakfast For Dogs, Don Ross’ first solo guitar outing since 1999’s Passion Session, brings just enough innovation to familiar grounds, making it a disc worth hearing.  It may seem that Ross’ relaxed virtuosity modulates within the boundaries of his comfort zone, but the range he is capable of exploring is actually quite broad.  The tunes on this album are delivered with an unwavering enthusiasm for the instrument, and his connection with the novelty of the guitar is a theme that moves the listener through these tracks.  What differentiates this collection from albums by some of Ross’ peers is that it doesn’t aim to be merely a podium for “gee-whiz” technical prowess, like the worst of Leo Kottke’s albums, but is an honestly played record, one that doesn’ t hide its weaknesses or carry a crutch.

The obsession with rhythm on this set of tunes has arguable merit.  On one hand, the persistent 4/4 beat that most of the songs are anchored by, such as on “From France to India” and “Crazy”, provides a rhythmic underpinning closest to ragtime, with syncopated beats in the bass.  On the other hand, the treatment of the melody and overall playing style is colored by a funky, almost disco feel, and so a song that might flourish were it given the chance to walk on its own two feet comes off as smarmy and cloying, with a snappy backbeat like so much mid-90’ s pop rock. Continue reading

Review : Kenn Fox “Malakai’s Rainbow” CD (Spiritone Records, 2010)

Ken_FoxxKenn Fox is a fingerstyle guitar veteran from Wisconsin, and his new CD Malakai’s Rainbow finds him working in an easy going, contemporary style.  The tracks are all original instrumentals, alternately melancholy and breezy, and the sound of the disc has a modern acoustic sheen, with occasional reverbs and delays, and blended acoustic and pickup signals throughout.

This record is named for Fox’s grandson, who was born last June with a congenital heart condition.  The opening title track is Fox’s tribute to the boy, who has already fought his way through multiple open heart surgeries.  The song is bittersweet, mostly loping arpeggios with a few nice melodic turns.   Second track “The Return” begins like an inverted “Layla”, and I mean that in a good way…  Fox patiently lays down a sparse melody over a mix of picked and strummed chords, with a memorable melodic transition to the “B” section, and some nice descending notes in the bass.  The middle of the song finds the guitarist digging into some down-tuned strumming, resulting in a less interesting, sort of Alice In Chains vibe, before returning to the initial themes.

As the album goes on, Fox mostly repeats the approach of the first two tracks, with only a little variation in tempo and feel.  Songs like “Marion”, “Across The Sea”, “The Wisdom of Trees” and closer “Eyes of a Child” all mine the same emotional terrain, with slow, clean picking, and some skeletal melodies buried in the pretty arpeggios.

Continue reading

Review : Gunn-Truscinski Duo “Sand City” LP (Three Lobed Recordings, 2010)

by David Leicht Today, Three Lobed Recordings releases Steve Gunn and John Truscinski’s fine debut album, Sand City.  The LP features four instrumentals, recorded live at Black Dirt Studio in New York City’s northern exurbs.  Percussionist Truscinski is known for his work with the Ecstatic Peace!-affiliated “drone/scrape” trio, X.O.4, and guitarist Gunn for his contributions to the acid folk group, GHQ, as well as his solo work.  While Gunn’s recent albums have delivered heavy doses of acoustic blues, on Sand City he works in the open-tuned modal style of improvising that’s become prevalent in today’s folk guitar underground.  Examples of this style of playing are scattered through Steve’s previous work, including the vibrato-heavy electric guitar solo, “Jadin’s Dream”, from Boerum Palace (2009). Continue reading