Here at Acoustic Guitar
, we receive new CDs every time the mail gets delivered. Even though our managing editor, Mark Smith
, is the official recipient of CDs sent in for review, I like to poke through the piles on his desk, and the past few weeks have been particularly fruitful.
Let’s start with an amazing album of fingerstyle guitar and accordion. Yes, accordion; played a by a German, no less. Before you succumb to visions of beer gardens and polkas, let me assure you that the combination of Celtic guitar ace Ian Melrose
(a Scotsman now living in Berlin) and accordion virtuoso Manfred Leuchter results in some really special music. Whether tackling Melrose’s original “Fingerpickers Have More Fun,” the traditional Anatolian “Koca Kavac,” or sections of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the two musicians display beautiful interplay, humor, and chops for days on their Acoustic Music Records
’s eagerly anticipated new album, The Maker’s Mark
, continues the thread of new CDs by Scottish guitarists. Subtitled The Dream Guitar Sessions
, the album finds McManus playing a set of mostly traditional Irish tunes on a spectacular selection of custom guitars, all provided by North Carolina’s Dream Guitars
. The result is bound to appeal to fans of solo fingerstyle guitar as much as to those who always wanted to hear how a bunch of high-end flattops compare when played by one of the finest guitarists on the scene.
Continuing the Celtic slant is a new album by the guitar/fiddle duo of John Doyle and Liz Carroll, Double Play
. A founder of the seminal Irish-American super group Solas, John Doyle’s driving rhythm guitar work has been in demand by artists ranging from Tim O’Brien to Joan Baez. Hearing him apply his chops one again to a more traditional setting is a great reminder that Doyle is simply one of the finest guitarists in Irish music today. Combined with Carroll’s high-energy fiddling, the new album is a romp through tunes new and old, and it even includes Doyle’s vocals on a couple of pieces.
An album that hasn’t left my playlist since it arrived a couple of weeks ago is Kelly Joe Phelps
’s new one, Western Bell
. For some KJP fans, this album is bound to be bitter sweet: it finds Phelps returning to slide guitar, but on a completely instrumental album, which means many will no doubt miss his haunting vocals. Me, I just love
this CD. Phelps’s background in avant-garde jazz is more evident than on any of his previous releases, yielding an album that, while very melodic and listenable overall, has delicious servings of atonal skronk
that is rare to find in a solo guitar context. Perhaps if you can imagine a blend of Leo Kottke, John Fahey, Marc Ribot, and Nels Cline, you’d be in the ballpark of what Western Bell
sounds like—I’d highly recommend checking it out.
A surprise blues and rag album comes from Tim Sparks
. Sidewalk Blues
is a collection of country-blues, early jazz, and ragtime classics, all played with Sparks’ typical virtuoso approach to solo fingerstyle guitar. Having recently explored everything from classical to Balkan to traditional Jewish music, Sidewalk Blues
finds Sparks returning to his roots, yet bits of his explorations of other styles shine through in a way that gives each of the arrangements a refreshing touch.
Finally, Acoustic Guitar
contributing editor Steve James
recently paid us a visit, new album in hand. Short Blue Stories
has James spanking and sliding on his Nationals, 12-strings, and mandolins. Always serving his blues-tinged vocals, the album is an excellent new release by one of the strongest voices in contemporary acoustic blues.