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Title: Jeff Black – Plow Through The Mystic
Genre: Singer/Songwriter, roots, Americana
Description: With his rich baritone voice, and superlative songwriting chops, Jeff Black ranks among the elite of contemporary singer/songwriters. Backed by the likes of Sam Bush on mandolin and Jerry Douglas on resonator and lap steel, Black handles all the guitar parts as well as piano, banjo, bass, and percussion. The overall sonics here are worthy of the talent in front of the mics. With a big acoustic bass, lots of acoustic percussion, and a near-perfect mix of immediacy and “natural” ambience, if this album doesn’t sound good on your system, something in your stereo is broken.
Rating (0- 10): Overall 9, Sonically 9
Title: Pete Prown – Guitar Garden III Genre: Progressive rock, instrumental
Description: Guitarist Pete Prown creates prog-rock instrumentals that favor Brian Enoesque textures rather than hot licks. Prown uses a multitude of effects to achieve his sonic edifices, and although he plays guitar, he emphasizes the instrument’s electronic rather than acoustic character. The recording quality is generally excellent, but I could do with less homogenization during the denser sections. More low bass extension would have been good, too. Musically, think King Crimson without the pretentious attitude…
Rating (0- 10): Overall 8, Sonically 5
Title: The Pines – Dark So Gold
Genre: Americana, rock
Description: American gothic roots rock. Dark, reticent, but so beautifully recorded that you want to listen, no matter how depressing the message. My favorite tune, the instrumental “Grace Hill,” combines banjo, synthesizer and bass into an evocative ensemble. With a humongous soundstage and serious bass extension, Adam Krinsky’s engineering and mixing and Jim Demain’s mastering have created a reference-quality recording.
Rating (0- 10): Overall 7, Sonically 9
Title: Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie – The Touch of Time
Description: Banjo player Bill Emerson leads this five-piece acoustic ensemble through a dozen tunes, including three Emerson originals. Mandolin player, Wayne Lanham and guitarist Chris Stifel each add an original of their own to the mix on this mainstream bluegrass album. Recorded straight with little reverb or ambience to sweeten the sound; the sonics favor the acoustic instruments but leave the vocals sounding “naked.’ Authentic arrangements, concise solos, and tight pace and rhythm typify the Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie traditional bluegrass sound.
Rating (0- 10): Overall 7, Sonically 7
Title: Live from the Old Town School – a digital-only release of 127 songs
Genre: Folk, roots, blues, early rock
Description: Longtime Chicago fixture, Old Town School of Folk Music, has hosted concerts and workshops since the mid-70’s. Fortunately someone has had the foresight to record much of it. This first salvo of songs includes cuts by Steve Earle, Dave Van Ronk, Steve Goodman, Doc Watson, John Hartford, Donavan, John Hammond and others. You can buy individual cuts from iTunes or CD Baby. Sonics vary from acceptable to very good, with the newer recordings having the most realism.
Rating (0- 10): Overall 8, Sonically 6