Last November I happened to be scanning a community newspaper and saw a picture of a young guy playing an Ovation doubleneck. His name was Mark Kroos and he was doing a gig at a local church. The article called him “one of the only touring doubleneck guitarists in the world.” It referred to his “incredible tapping technique,” and mentioned influences such as Michael Hedges and Andy McKee. Well, that was sufficiently intriguing for me. Long story short, Kroos’s playing was impressive. But the Minneapolis church’s thin-sounding PA system didn’t—I suspected—nearly do him justice. Getting acquainted with his debut album And Grace Will Lead Me Home confirmed that.
There are, of course, masters who’ve taken the tapping approach to exalted levels—names like Emmett Chapman (of Chapman Stick fame), Hedges, Stanley Jordan, Eddie Van Halen. And purely from the perspective of hammer-on/pull-off virtuosity, Kroos—trained as a jazz guitarist, with three years in a touring ska/punk band—definitely knows a thing or two. With two six-string necks (the Ovation’s upper 12-string neck is strung and played as a six-string) going simultaneously, he creates a magnificent sound. Think sheets, waves, cascades of steel-string goodness—with shimmering treble lines and rumbling bass. Kroos’s two-fisted playing perhaps has more in common with the piano than the guitar— really and truly lap piano. Kroos also plays singleneck on a few items, to similar effect, and some of his tunings include Open D, DGDGAD and DADGAD. Continue reading →
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 →
For avid fans of instrumental acoustic guitar music, there aren’t many real surprises anymore. These days, it’s hard to imagine a new player who could hit the scene and affect a seachange along the lines of, say, Davy Graham’s restless early experiments with Middle Eastern motifs, or John Fahey’s genre-spawning blues distillations. Even two of today’s most head-turning young instrumentalists, James Blackshaw and Kaki King, earned their reputations not by reinventing the wheel, but by designing their breakthrough recordings around the musical templates of Robbie Basho and Michael Hedges, respectively.
…and what’s wrong with that? After all, innovation isn’t everything. Indeed, when it comes to guitarists, it seems that those who decide to eschew tradition entirely tend to lean on gimmicks… more strings, more effects, atonality, more notes and played FASTER! All of those things can be great in small doses, but at the end of the day, when someone sits down behind a six (or twelve) string wooden box, I hope to hear something musical. It doesn’t have to be tricky, it doesn’t have to be fast, and it doesn’t have to be a revelation… give me a little soul, just the right amount of technique and some compositional flare, and you might very well have a fan for life! Continue reading →
W&W : Please describe the guitar you play on your track, how long you’ve owned it, where you got it.
For this piece, and almost all of the “free raga style” work that I do, I play a guitar made in 1915 by Vincenzo DeLuccia. I got it in 1976 at Jon Lundberg’s once famous mecca for vintage guitars on Dwight Way in Berkeley. Jon told me that the face had been caved in when he first got it, so it’s gone through a major restoration. The saddle is not the original, and has been extended out to meet the fan bracing underneath. I recently learned in a conversation with luthier Paul Hostetter that this large saddle design was a unique signature of a luthier named Mario Martello who worked for Lundberg. Continue reading →