May 1, 2004

Garrison Fewell Quartet

Red Door Number 11
When it comes to playing traditional jazz guitar—nimble, swinging, bop-inflected lines on a honey-toned archtop—few contemporary pickers can match Garrison Fewell. On Red Door Number 11, his sixth solo album, Fewell snakes long, articulate solos through complex chord changes, sketching each tune’s progression while suggesting alternative harmonizations. Backed by a dynamic rhythm section of acoustic piano, bass, and drums, Fewell casts an introspective spell. His probing lines are laced with tricky slurs and bends, yet he never draws attention to his monster chops. The quartet tackles a blend of originals and classics, including Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom.” Refined, passionate, and inspiring. Splasc(H).

—Andy Ellis

Various Artists

Exotic Strings
The guitar is not included among the 24 stringed instruments featured on this magnificent two-CD collection. Nonetheless, every guitarist would benefit from giving it some serious study. Some of the instruments (such as the Chinese ruan, Kyrgyzstani comuz, and South American quarto) are relatively close cousins to our beloved six-string, while others are not, but each opens doors to new ways of approaching music in general, and the guitar in particular. Alternative approaches to picking styles and tools, ornamentations and embellishments, scales and tunings, and other essential aspects of stringed-instrument technique are here in abundance, providing enough material to keep the adventurous player occupied for years. ARC.

—Barry Cleveland

J.A. Granelli and Mr. Lucky

The disparate worlds of trippy atmospheric textures and insane slide guitar collide in this collection of grooving jams. Bassist J.A. Granelli wrote all but one of the avant-tinged tunes—an oddball take on the Bee Gees’ “If I Can’t Have You”—but it’s slide savant David Tronzo who leads the charge. His control and inventiveness are stunning, and his tones range from silky to screaming—sometimes within a single phrase. Imagine Jeff Beck’s fearless melodicism harnessed to Ry Cooder’s deft bottleneck moves, and you’re pretty much there. Love Slave.

—Andy Ellis

Trans Am

There aren’t many bands that have ridden the parody/homage fence as long and as hard as Trans Am. The Washington, D.C. trio have made a career taking krautrock, prog-rock, freedom rock, synth rock, etc., and running them all through a post-rock filter with the “ironic” control set to maximum. Liberation continues the puree of sounds and styles, as Trans Am use a pastiche of ’80s guitar stylings—modulated skronks, driving palm muted lines, and clangorous clean-toned riffing—that sometimes brings to mind the Fixx’s Jamie West-Oram’s mid-80s magic. Thrill Jockey.

—Darrin Fox


Tangled in the Pines
Listening to BR549, you can practically smell the spilt beer and thick smoke of a packed honky tonk. Over Don Herron’s whining lap steel, droning fiddle, and ringing mandolin, guitarists Chuck Mead and Chris Scruggs pay homage to Merle Travis, Don Rich, Luther Perkins, Jimmy Bryant, and Roy Nichols with some of the coolest hillbilly licks you’re likely to hear all year. But this isn’t preservationist music: The 12 originals exude a party vibe that’s as much Hamburg-era Beatles as late-’40s Hank Williams. Dualtone.

—Andy Ellis


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