Breakfast 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 →
Here on Work & Worry, we cover a lot of what could be considered traditional or neo-traditional acoustic guitar playing, usually rooted in blues and folk forms. Melodic ideas are often stated (or implied) with the high strings, and this is typically laid over a foundation of droning or alternating-bass… the beloved “boom-chick”. This is one, but certainly not the only approach to fingerstyle, and these days, the number of players who eschew traditional picking and employ extended techniques – right-hand tapping, artificial harmonics and playing the guitar’s body percussively – is ever-growing. CandyRat Records is home to many such modern-sounding players, several of whom also happen to be YouTube sensations (Andy McKee’s “Drifting” has more than 34 million views, as of this writing). It’s not surprising, since many of the aforementioned techniques, especially when played with speed, can be visually exciting. For all these reasons and more, this style, pioneered by players like Michael Hedges in the early 80’s, is riding a fresh wave of popularity.
Hunter Van Larkins is the duo of Ross Hunter and Owen Van Larkins, and their new album Myriad is one of the latest releases on the CandyRat label. It’s a completely instrumental affair, both players performing on steel-stringed acoustic guitars, with occasional help from a third guitar or cello. The overall sound of the record is contemporary, with ample amounts of reverb and electric pickup mixed in with the acoustic tones. The playing possesses some of CandyRat calling cards : the high-energy slapping and tapping on closer “Breakthrough” and the aptly titled “Tapestry” are a couple of obvious examples, and the entire record finds both Hunter and Van Larkins (literally) banging out percussive, groove-oriented parts… but Myriad is less about technique and more about composition and texture. Continue reading →