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Dec
05

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Sep
03

Jim Soloway: Bare Handed

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By Brian Scherzer

This is easily the most unusual CD I have reviewed to date. It's not rock, blues, grunge or the typical music genres that readers might expect on TGP. Rather, it is Jim.....period. The title of the CD accurately depicts what you are going to hear; one guitar player playing guitars without backup and without anything but his fingers. WHAT??!!!

I had no idea what I was about to listen to when I put this CD in the player to prepare for this review. I have to say that, after the initial surprise of realizing that it was solo guitar, and realizing that it was in the light jazz genre, I delayed listening until nightfall. This CD is not going to be your average party music. It is meant for serious listening and you can bet that any stress you might have felt before loading the CD in your player will be gone by the time the last songs fades away!

Let me start the review by saying that in my audio system, this CD made it sound like Jim and his various guitars were in the room with me. The music was as holistically 3D as I have ever heard. Considering that it was recorded at home through a Line 6 Pod HD into a MacBook Pro using GarageBand, shame on all of the folks who don't utilize such simple techniques! The sound is very "there" and you will hear every nuance of each guitar used and the fingerstyle used to bring the emotion into the music.

Jim plays mostly standards, but puts his own sense of pace and interpretation into each tune. The sound of his playing is truly breath-taking. There is nothing in front of the listener other than the beautiful sound of a guitar being played with passionate skill. The qualities of each guitar are right there.....no production tricks or effects to take away from the innate tone that makes each instrument unique.

After the last song finished, I was more relaxed than I remember being for quite some time. I was also more determined after multiple listenings to improve my own chops. Each note rings out with clarity, underlying the skills of the artist and the complexity of the instruments used. If you want to know what guitars can sound like without diming the volume on an amp or using pedals, this is a CD to listen to. It is truly a soft jazz feel that brings out the very best of what classical and jazz guitar sound like. The relaxation is an extra bonus and the CD has become a favorite on those evenings where life feels overwhelming. Relax and enjoy an incredible listening experience, courtesy of Jim Soloway!

GUITARS:

All of the Soloway guitars have the original, smaller double cut body shape.

Soloway Swan C001 -
SONGS: Here’s That Rainy Day; Blue In Green; Echos in An Empty Hall; When Sunny Gets Blue
TUNED down one full tone to D,G,C,F,A,D

Soloway Gosling C002
SONGS: Little Girl Blue
TUNED down a semi-tone to Eb,Ab,Db,Gb,Bb,Eb

Soloway Gosling C003
SONGS: Bear Handed; Polka Dots And Moonbeams; A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square; Memories Of A Friend No Longer With Us
TUNED down a semi-tone to Eb,Ab,Db,Gb,Bb,Eb

Ken Parker Archtop Brownie
SONGS: Wave; Lets Face The Music and Dance; Thats All; Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime
TUNED down a semi-tone to Eb,Ab,Db,Gb,Bb,Eb

AMPLIFIERS

All songs were recorded direct from a Line 6 Pod HD running the following models:

Black Face Deluxe with Spring Reverb and Bias Trem
SONGS: Here’s That Rainy Day; Blue In Green; Echos in An Empty Hall; When Sunny Gets Blue; Little Girl Blue; Polka Dots And Moonbeams

Black Face Deluxe with Spring Reverb
SONGS: Wave; Let’s Face The Music and Dance; That’s All; Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime (i.e. all the songs recorded with the Parker Archtop)

Ampeg Flip Top in Deluxe 1x12 with Spring Reverb and Bias Trem
SONGS: Bear Handed; A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square; Memories Of A Friend No Longer With Us

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Aug
25

Gary Small: Hostiles & Renegades

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Gary Small and his band, The Coyote Brothers, have been around for a number of years and have built the kind of following that comes with hard work, lots of gigging and a sound that appeals to people. Hailing from Wyoming, Gary is proud of his heritage as a member of the Cheyenne tribe and his appeal goes far beyond his many Native-American fans. He is a three time winner of a NAMMY (Native American Music Association awards), including the 2011 Male Artist award, 2007 as Best Rock Recording and 2002 as Songwriter of the Year, all well-deserved!

His latest CD, Hostiles & Renegades, presents both a step forward and a return to roots for Gary. His guitar playing is again set off by his vocal presence in the music, which has a reggae beat that reminds me of the years I spent in the New Orleans music scene......part Caribbean, but with a New Orleans-styled pace that gets your feet tapping. Yes, there is the similarity in guitar style at times to Carlos Santana that is unmistakable, but this is no surprise to anyone who has followed Gary's career. After all, his first CD included ex-Santana drummer, Graham Lear. There are no apologies here for any similarities. Gary is his own man and marches to his own passionate drumbeat.

The Coyote Brothers, also Native-Americans, are a talented group who give solid performances on their respective instruments. The "Brothers" are a great match for Gary's frontman status, giving backbone and life to his original compositions. The band is a showcase for keeping the groove fresh and allowing Gary a foundation that is both intricate at time and intense when the song calls for same.

Gary is a talented guitar player who feels no need to shred in order to make his presence known. Licks are tasteful and move to the foreground of his songs, presenting a perfect offset to his vocals. You're not going to hear a Sinatra vocal here. Gary's voice is distinctly different enough to defy plugging it into any particular genre. There is no copycat in his singing. Rather it is his own distinctive style that allows you to sit back and actually listen to the lyrics. Winning the Nammy for Best Songwriter was no fluke. This artist treasures his roots and culture in his music and the listener, especially anyone who has an understanding of life as a Native-American, quickly realizes that one does not have to play three chord progressions to capture the spirit of what developed into the blues. The songs are about real life, often spun with humor, and focus on the trials and tribulations of his culture.

Hostiles & Renegades has kept me listening for the past week. This fact is the best recommendation I can make for any CD. It engages me and I hear new things that I somehow missed before each time I listen. Best of all, it puts me in a great mood with each spin of the silver disc, which is something I wish would happen for me with more recordings. Very highly recommended. This CD can be purchased through CDBaby, as can his previous recordings. Go for it!

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May
08

Michael Dowdle: Convergence

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Michael Dowdle, a new member of TGP, seems to have found a most interesting way to give people a chance to hear his compositions and playing. I found him by accident on YouTube when looking for a blues video. Fortune smiled on me because I clicked on the link and gave it a listen. I must have watched/listened to that video 3 or 4 times before moving forward to listen to a number of his other videos. The guy has some VERY serious chops and is a more than capable composer.

Convergence can be seen and heard, for the most part, by simply watching Dowdle’s YouTube videos. It sure beats the short soundclips you would hear on CDBaby or Amazon! However, if you want more of each tune, you would be missing an opportunity if you don’t buy the CD that has most of these on it. If the videos are a marketing ploy, it certainly worked on me!

I’ll say flat out that if you don’t care for players like Eric Johnson or Satriani, you might not like Michael Dowdle. There is no doubt, when listening to either the videos or the actual CD, that Johnson has been a big influence for Dowdle, something he acknowledges. Frankly, although some of the tunes on Convergence could have easily matched the early Eric Johnson compositions for playing and writing, if all that Dowdle turned out to be was a clone of others, you wouldn’t be reading this review. If, like I did, you take the time to watch several of his videos, you would find that there is far more to Mr. Dowdle than an Eric wannabe. The guy can play with the best of them, and his writing skills consistently led me down musical paths that maintained my interest from start to finish of his new CD.

Most of us could only wish to have the technique, ease of music flow, feel and sense of when to let loose or play it tight that I hear when I listen to this CD…….or watch him on his videos. Yes, Eric Johnson lives somewhere within him, but tunes like “Swank” and “Mikey’s Bluesy Shuffle” will convince you that there far more than first meets the ears. Even if you’re not a Johnson fan, there are tunes on this CD that will blow you out of your listening chair if you have any appreciation for talented guitar playing. Let your brain feast on “Big Big Sky”, for instance. You don’t believe me? Take in the YouTube version and decide for yourself!

The limitations of low-rez audio won’t be found on the CD versions of these tunes. The production of the CD is excellent, with Michael’s guitar playing against itself as the sound moves from dead center of the soundstage to fill the room, and then slips back to the center. Drums and bass playing are spectacular, and the blend of the trio lends a sense of force and truly tight timing to the music.

I’d happily go see Dowdle live. Watching the videos, where he sits on his couch and plays against the recorded drums and bass tracks, you get a sense that he has that "something special”. For now, I am happily giving Convergence a heavy rotation. If you like what you hear on the videos, do yourself a favor and get the real deal by buying Convergence at Michael's website!

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Feb
10

Jimmy Dormire: Premonition

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TGP member Jimmy Dormire’s name might not be familiar to some, but he continues to be well known by music-industry insiders for his guitar work. After playing lead guitar for fourteen years with Grammy-nominated “Confederate Railroad”, Jimmy has stepped out on his own, releasing his solo CD, “Premonition”. With influences such as Duane Allman and John McGlaughlin, Jimmy stretches out in this solo project, utilizing acoustic and electric guitar to create music from his deeply spiritual sense of self.

Dormire’s first tune on the CD, “The Burning Sky”, sets the tone for what is to follow. It presents a confluence of acoustic and slide guitar that will bring a familiar feel to lovers of Southern rock n’ blues. If I had to peg Jimmy’s style, it would certainly fall into the “southern sound”. The CD continues on with the 2nd cut, “Freedom Train”, which offers a look at Dormire’s intentionally raw vocals. “Notion’s Bag” brings out the funk, followed by “As Above As Below”……….for a totally different feel.

This CD isn’t a one trick pony. Just when you think you have Dormire’s style pegged, something new and unexpected comes along to shift the mood and focus. There is a mix of tunes with vocals and instrumentals, topped off with the wonderfully rendered acoustic work on the last track of this CD, “Premonition”. You never get the feeling that Jimmy is showing off his chops at the expense of the song. Rather, he seems to play in a restrained manner to keep your attention on the music and to establish a sense of emotionality. The same is true of the lyrics, which steer clear of pop clichés. Listening to the vocal lines on “Sorrow’s End”, you get a sense of what is in the heart and soul of the artist. Pure and simple, Jimmy puts himself into his music, rather than going for commercial success by sacrificing who he is as a person and artist.

You should not consider this CD if you are looking for highly processed instruments, love the over-use of compression that sucks the dynamics out of the music, or want to hear the latest hot-shot 50-licks-a-second guitar hero. Those who are more likely to appreciate this CD include listeners who want to sit back and relax, letting the music move them to various emotional states, people who prefer to feel music instead of experiencing it only on an intellectual level, and folks who like authenticity. Above all, Jimmy comes across as being authentic……not choosing to follow the typical formulas found all too often in the recording industry. I thoroughly enjoyed this CD and found my wife listening intently (not a frequent happening!) while this recording was being auditioned. I give a big thumb’s up to Jimmy’s solo release.

Jimmy Dormire's website

Soundclips From Premonition

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Aug
15

Arrested Development: Strong

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By Jacob Beechler

Editor's Note:  TGP member "JJBoogie" is the guitar player for Arrested Development, a hip-hop band with a previous album that sold over four million copies, had a hit single ("Tennessee"), won some Grammy Awards, and which was named Band of the Year in 1993 by Rolling Stone magazine.

I was driving home the other night with my two oldest boys and decided I needed to hear a bit of Old School. I loaded up Tennessee, by Arrested Development, and pressed play, ready to sink low in my seat and turn it up way too loud - something my daughter is always yelling at me for. But my iPod apparently had other ideas. It wouldn’t play and I was left driving, seat reclined, and no Tennessee. So when I was asked to write a review of their latest album, Strong, the very next day, I of course said, “YEAH!”

Whether you call it Rap, Hip-hop or don’t call it at all there, are 2 elements that must be clear and present to ensure consistent head nodding and seat reclining: beats and rhymes. They are the soul and breath of hip-hop, and are certainly not missing in Arrested Development’s new album, Strong. But you cannot label Arrested Development (featuring TGP member jjboogie) as simply hip hop or any one single definition. I think that is what attracts me the most to this album. As you listen, the diversity between the rhymes, the styles, the music, the vocals and the tracks are ever changing, which keeps you listening and grooving. I guess that is what you get when you mash up MC’s, vocalists, musicians, performance artists and boast the oldest living man in hip-hop, Baba Oje’ at age 77.

Arrested Development’s unique outlook on life clearly bleeds into their music as all good music should, and as you’d expect from a group who has been at it since Baba Oje’ was a spring chicken in his 50’s the production and quality is excellent. Throughout the album there are positive lyrical elements mixed with strong melodies and harmonies that please the ear. Maybe it’s the melodies, maybe it’s the classic beats on songs like Freedom or the tribal rhythms on Africa We Thank You but at times you can almost sense strong ties to a past where family wisdom was passed down from one generation to the next.

The stand out track for me is “Too much Woman for Ya.” Besides the fact that I am a sucker for a fresh organ, the track is Fire!! It has an old school feel that instantly makes me smile and starts the head bobbin’. I dig their use of the live instruments and think it is a testament to why they are still around and making good music. If you appreciate a group that has diversity from track to track, hot beats and does not assume the listener has a limited musical view than Strong is an album you will want in your rotation. Stop stalling and go get it.

Arrested Development Website
Arrested Development MySpace Page

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May
30

Nobuki Takamen: From Now On

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By Brian Scherzer

TGP member Nobuki Takamen first came to our attention at the 2009 Montreal Guitar Festival. Born in Japan, but now residing in New Jersey, Nobuki is attracting increasing international prominence, playing jazz festivals and high end clubs. It is always a pleasure to review a CD by one of TGP's members and From Now On, consisting of original jazz compositions, brought me an incredible amount of listening pleasure as I played it numerous times to prepare a review. What the album brings to the table is a combination of music that hit me as not only a recording that was musically solid from beginning to end, but has some exceptional engineering and production values. I admit to being an audiophile, so being able to listen to a CD that has superb sonic virtues was a blessing for my ears.

If you are a music fan who tends to shy away from jazz recordings because you just couldn't “connect” with the music, forget that bias. THIS recording just sounds right! Takamen's style is from the melodic jazz genre many of us are used to. From the opening notes on the first cut, “C.M.G.”, chordal structure and pace allow you to sit back and enjoy the music without feeling like you don't "get" what Nobuki is saying with his guitar. Yes, the music is relaxing but, in no way boring.

I could find no weaknesses in Takamen's compositions, playing or with the supporting musicians. While Takamen's guitar is obviously the dominant instrument, it sits well in the mix, allowing sufficient room for the listener to admire the stand-up bass, drums, piano and sax......each filling its own space in the wide and deep soundstage presented by this recording. At least on my audio system, the band is right in the room with you. In the case of this CD, the sense that “you are there” is truly a good thing!

Takamen's playing style is hard to define. If you are looking for blazing speed or a jazz/rock fusion style, you will be disappointed. What you get here is a well-paced sense of a player who knows how to control his guitar and chooses to have his playing fit the music. Throughout the CD there is always room left for the supporting instruments to form a foundation for the tunes. The supporting cast isn't just there to lay the groundwork; Takamen allows each musician to showcase their talents. This is especially true in the aptly titled “Nine”, which happens to be the ninth cut on the CD. Any questions about the skills of the supporting players are quickly put to rest. They are world class!

If tone is important to you, Takamen's guitar and playing highlight the purity of a clean guitar sound played with impeccable precision. He seems to enjoy a minimalist style, yet can sweep with the best of them when the music calls for it. All but one tune was played using Nobuki's 1998 Gibson ES-335 '63 reissue model. That Gibson has been his primary axe for more than 10 years. He played his Taylor 714 for Nebergall Loop. The amp setup included use of an Acoustic Image Clarus SL-R and Raezer's Edge Stealth 12 speakers. Effects used were a Boss DM-2 for a few songs and Carl Martin Surf Trem for one song. Takamen likes to use his DM-2 as kind of reverb so you don't hear a delay sound on the recording.

The key to my enjoyment of this wonderful CD is that Nobuki Takamen shows a maturity in his playing that is well beyond his chronological age. In my opinion, he constructs his compositions with an ear to the sum of all instruments, not to highlight his own skills. This creates a beautiful gestalt between the different musicians. From Now On is not a CD for the listener who wants a guitar hero. It is not a CD to buy if your concept of jazz consists of bands like Weather Report or Return To Forever. If you like a clean guitar and technical skills more than fiery, overdriven sound with a relaxing style, I highly recommend From Now On.

To listen to clips or purchase the CD, please go to THIS link.

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May
15

Brian Kahanek: One True Thing

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By Brian Scherzer

Brian Kahanek, A longtime TGP member, has released his newest CD, One True Thing. Kahanek (the musician) has a wide range of musical credits that include recording guitar and mixing for such artists as Tim Mcgraw, multi-platinum Latin group RBD and Virgin recording artist, Betzi. When you add in that Kahanek also has numerous credits as an ADR recordist and mixer, including Pixar's Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, and Peter Jackson's King Kong, what you are left with is an incredibly talented and diverse artist.

One True Thing is Kahanek's third CD release and is, by far, the most difficult to pin down in terms of genre. Just when you think you have a sense of where Brian is heading, a new flavor appears in the tracks on this recording. The material, written by Kahanek, covers a wide spectrum of styles. The tracks are unpredictable in the best sense of drawing the listener's attention. From the very first track, Bottle Rocket, it was clear that Brian wanted varied musical textures and dynamics to stand out. He succeeded! Elements of the first cut bring forth whispers of Jeff Beck, but it's all Kahanek and nothing but Kahanek. This isn't a "I want to sound like this guy" album. Rather, you walk away from the listening experience with a sense that Brian refuses to allow himself to be painted by a single brush. Brian features both his guitar playing and his vocals in this recording. The musicians who join him are deeply talented and help to bring a strong pulse to the tunes presented. The production qualities of the CD are excellent, with no instrument pushing out the others and all blending well, while filling their own acoustic space.

Kahanek did not set out to present listeners with a fireworks display of his guitar playing. This is not a "showoff" recording. It is a selection of songs that appear to speak from the soul. Yes, there ARE some guitar fireworks to be found in the tunes, but it was obvious that Brian is more about the tune than accolades for being the next "guitar wizard". There are layers of guitar on some tracks, including some incredible sounding acoustic playing where you can almost see the wood of the guitar if you close your eyes! Effects are used tastefully throughout on the electric tracks, sometimes leaving me with a desire to hear more of the pure guitar/amp/hands that I have heard on past Kahanek CDs. Yet, the interplay of guitar textures and willingness to allow dynamics tell the story make this CD a joy to listen to. By the end of the CD I decided that Kahanek is not "just" a guitar player and vocalist. He is an artist who writes great songs and this CD is well worth the price of admission!

To hear soundclips or purchase, click HERE.

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Dec
13

EHX Effectology, Vol. 1: Electric Guitar plays Blues Harmonica

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Dec
13

EHX Effectology, Vol. 2: Dark Side of the Moon

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