April 1, 2004

Emmylou Harris
Elite Hotel, Pieces of the Sky, Luxury Liner, Blue Kentucky Girl, Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town
When your group boasts pickers like James Burton and Albert Lee, you almost have to call it the Hot Band—and that’s just what Emmylou Harris did. With her bad-ass backing band—which, at different times, featured the likes of Ricky Skaggs and Rodney Crowell—Harris proved that country music can be whatever you want it to be and still be country. These five rereleases, which span the 1975-1979 period of her career, not only contain classic guitar work from Lee and Burton, but each remastered disc contains two bonus tracks as well. WB/Rhino.

—Darrin Fox

Steve Morse

Major Impacts 2
Like a brilliant classical composer, Steve Morse has an uncanny knack for hearing an elaborate arrangement of interlocking melodies and timbres in his head and then bringing it to life as a living, breathing piece of music. Instead of drawing from a concert hall full of orchestral instruments, however, Morse creates his symphonies using a home studio packed with amps and guitars.

The second in a series, this soaring, lyrical album pays tribute to the artists and composers who have influenced Morse over the years, including Crosby, Stills & Nash, Aerosmith, and the Yardbirds. The album’s one solo piece, “Air on 6-String,” is an
electric-guitar homage to Bach, and Morse’s spectacular single-note licks prove just how powerful six strings and a plectrum can be in the hands of an ace guitarist. (To learn some of these amazing maneuvers note-for-note, check out Morse’s Rock Guru column) Nobody stacks guitar tracks as masterfully as Morse, perhaps because he can play just about any style, from hard rock to Celtic to classical to blues to country. He’s one of those rare cats who truly is a jack-of-all-trades, yet is a master of all. Magna Carta.

—Jude Gold

Mike Stern

These Times
Fuelled by a stellar cast of accompanists, Stern’s polished yet gutsy guitar playing positively burns throughout these 11 innovative compositions. Stylistic colorings as diverse as Jaco-era Weather Report, traditional Pakistani vocal music, Brazilian jazz, and deep Delta blues are only part of the rich aural tapestry on display here—all skillfully blended into a surprisingly coherent and highly musical whole. Producer Jim Beard contributes keyboards on all tracks, along with bassists Will Lee, Richard Bona, and Victor Wooten; drummers Vinnie Colaiuta and Dennis Chambers; percussionists Arto Tuncboyaciyan and Don Alias; saxmen Kenny Garrett and Bob Franceschini; and vocalist Elizabeth Kontomanou. There’s even a cameo by banjo player extraordinaire Bela Fleck.

Stern’s guitar sounds run the gamut from heavily chorused and percussive single-note rhythmic pulses, to clean chordal washes, to sweet bluesy bends and moans, to screaming full-on-fusion fusillades—sometimes all within a single composition. Even if you are turned-off by the usual “jazz-rock fusion” fare, you might want to give this disc a listen, as Stern manages to breathe new life into what has become a generally geriatric genre. ESC.

—Barry Cleveland

Ray Flacke
Songs Without Words
When a hotshot electric lead guitarist decides to record an album of solo-acoustic originals, things can get squirrelly real fast. The sonic and esthetic differences between those two realms are so pronounced that few guitarists manage to inhabit both with equal aplomb. But Songs Without Words proves you can be one of the planet’s most ferocious Tele-wielding chicken pickers, yet know how to coax gorgeous polyphony from a Guild D-60 flat-top. If you’ve heard Flacke’s stuttering, flashy licks behind Emmylou Harris, Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs, or Travis Tritt, you’ll be surprised and delighted by the melodic nature of these ten instrumentals. Meditative but never meandering, introspective yet cleverly arranged, this music melds elements of renaissance lute and baroque guitar with traditional folk fingerpicking. The relatively dry, present recording lets Flacke’s beautiful articulation, burly steel-string tone, and sly pre-bends and releases take center stage.

—Andy Ellis

Hot Club of Cowtown
Continental Stomp
Live albums can sometimes be a startling dose of reality. With one spin, you could discover your favorite band is tragically misrepresented by its high-quality studio recordings. But when a live record exposes a band’s raw, creative magic—oh man, that’s a spicy meatball. Recorded at the Continental Club in Austin, Texas, this album illustrates the latter perfectly. The trio’s Django-meets-Bob Wills recipe is a seamless juxtaposition that highlights the improvisational chops of fiddle player Elana Fremerman and guitarist Whit Smith, who at his most ferocious, answers the age old question, “What if Jimmy Bryant were raised by Gypsies?” Hot Club (which is rounded out by bassist Jake Erwin) also pepper their set with cheeky vocal numbers, allowing the listener to catch a breath before being floored by the likes of the dizzying “Crazy ’Cause I Love You” or the instrumental barn burner “Orange Blossom Special.” This is a live album that restores my faith in live albums. Hightone.

—Darrin Fox

Scotty Anderson
Classic Scotty
Anderson plays fast, twangy, butter-smooth runs that swing like Stan Getz, sting like Albert Lee, and are so in-the-pocket you could test your metronome against them. It’s as if Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, and Jimmy Bryant each willed this Cincinnati-based master of the Telecaster a fat slice of their incomparable fretboard mojos. On a pure showmanship level, the instrumental, “Going Down This Road Feeling Bad,” is astounding. Here, Anderson plays pulse-quickening sixteenth-note triplet runs, tumbling open-string cascades, and inhuman double- and triple-stop avalanches that are seamlessly woven together. Another mesmerizing piece is Anderson’s bouncy, jazzed-up rendition of the Beatles’ “All My Loving.” Some listeners may find Classic Scotty a bit eclectic—as it covers such disparate artists as Stevie Wonder, ZZ Top, the Animals, and Hank Williams—but it’s an absolute must-have for fans of bad-ass electric guitar playing. J Curve.

—Jude Gold


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