June 8, 2010

Beyond Berkeley Guitar

This release is the follow up to the 2006 Tompkins Square release of Berkeley Guitar. This time Sean Smith expands the concept with more guitarists from a wider region geographically as well as musically.

I have to admit that I wasn’t too impressed with this disc the first time I gave it a spin. Or the second or third. But the compositions have grown on me. I suppose that I was taken a bit off-guard by the expansion of styles and Smith notes the danger of such an endeavor. I’m very partial to the Takoma style and I don’t have the background that many of these artists have in electronic music. They are obviously coming from a different place than I am musically. And I’m sure that affects what I hear. To me, the electronic/solo acoustic connection is a mystery.

Anyway, the CD starts off great with the promising young Aaron Sheppard. I found Sheppard on MySpace some time ago and was reminded of him by Mike Fekete recently. They met during Fekete’s latest tour through the area. Sheppard is a guy I will be keeping my eye on and I’m looking forward to a Gnome Life release.

“Dream of a Distant Summer” starts as a quiet piece that builds in intensity until the notes are like the blinding Sun as it shimmers on a rippled pond. Richard Osborn has great chops, but the improvised composition begins to fall apart near the end. Nonetheless I’ve come to enjoy this piece.

Trevor Healy deftly veers the feel back toward Takoma-country with his 12 string work. This one is strong on melody and Healy takes his time. Like I said, merely veering towards Takoma, this isn’t Kottke.

Chuck Johnson completes the return with a very nice Takoma-style performance full of pertinent pauses and nuances that really make this piece work.  Tompkins is offering this as a free mp3 downlod.  "A Struggle, Not A Thought"

Sean Smith checks in with cut #5. As is usual with Smith, he doesn’t disappoint. Modern American Primitive as I have come to expect from Smith. This one lasts eleven plus minutes but you don’t notice it.

Lucas Boilon’s “Studies Of The Oak As Pertaining To Drudic Rites Of Passage” is almost longer in title than the piece itself. However, Boilon’s playing turns out to be a rather compelling performance recorded in his living room.

And wrapping things up is Ava Mendoza. I applaud the intention by Smith but I just don’t see how this piece of music fits into this concept. It’s jazz. Now, before anyone gets bent out of shape that I’m not gushing over Mendoza’s inclusion in this project (as many are) and suggests something foul: I have taken lessons from three very good guitarists over the last few years. Two of them women, specifically: Mary Flower. So don’t even…ok? I just don’t think it fits into the concept, no reflection on her playing or style.

That wraps it. If you are looking for old-school Takoma playing, look elsewhere. If you want to expand your listening and discover some new musicians, look no further.
I highly suggest that you pop over to Work and Worry this week. They have scored an interview with each and every one of these artists and will be running one a day all week.


  1. Hi D-Slider!

    Thanks for the link over to W&W, I appreciate it.

    We certainly had different reactions to this release... though I was originally expecting another Takoma/American Primitive excursion, it quickly became apparent that this is something totally different.

    In my interviews, I asked everyone about their thoughts on/relation to that style, and it was quite clear that, for most of the players, it is only a small part of the bigger picture of their music. No one is really aspiring to emulate that sound or feel exactly, but as with anything else, the influence finds its way in.

    I think it's quite an accomplishment that guys like Chuck Johnson and Trevor Healy sound as "traditional" as they do, considering how invested they are in experimental and electronic composition!

    Anyway, great review, keep up the good work!

  2. Hey Raymond, trying to get caught up here. Great to see the interviews moving along all week. Very good stuff.
    Agreed about musicians that can move freely from one style to another. Quite an accomplishment. Shows the depth of talent.