Friday, May 28, 2010

CD Review: Ari Hest, Nora Jane Struthers, & Grant Gordy

A major perk of publishing a music site is the music samples we receive. Some are good, some not so good; but the samples definitely broaden our music horizons and allow us to "discover" artists that we intend to follow more closely. Three of these are Ari Hest, Nora Jane Struthers, and Grant Gordy. Initially the common ingredient to each CD, was that they were nice background music while working. However, after giving each a more closer examination - these are talented artists.

Ari Hest is a singer-songwriter, who last year left a major label in order to embark on an endeavor to write, record, and release one new song each week - the '52' project. And this spring he re-worked the twelve top songs selected by fans and released them in Twelve Mondays. The first two tracks introduced me to Hest's strong vocals - with a nice balance from the acoustic guitar. But as soon as The Weight played, I was hooked - great rhythm. Then there's Cranberry Lake with half vocals from co-writer Amy Kuney. This is a beautiful song. Ride the Break reminds me of my own travels after college - memories. And the CD ends with Reason to Believe which is typical of this CD and what makes it special - that Hest really puts his heart into the music. Too bad I'll miss his show at Jammin' Java on June 4th.

Nora Jane Struthers is a singer-songwriter attempting to make the jump from being an educator to being a full time musician. She has the pedigree - having a bluegrass-playing father and has been writing her own music in her teens. Currently based in Nashville, her self-titled CD Nora Jane Struthers is her first solo release - although she doesn't play alone. For this effort she has surrounded herself with some talent folks - Stuart Duncan, Rob Ickes, Bryan Sutton, Scott Vestal, Dennis Crouch, and Shawn Lane. Even Tim O’Brien pops in on a few songs. Wow. I'd see any of these on their own and this assembly really makes this CD stand out. The is a band - not a solo singer-songwriter; just listen to Mocking Bird. That could have been Bearfoot or The Greencards - except Struthers unique gives her away. That song along is worth buying the CD. There's also an old time feel to this CD - almost some Celtic folk influences - that it would probably have been as popular fifty years ago as well. She also proves that she is as equally comfortable playing and singing ballads as well as the up tempo dance songs. But throughout the CD its the musicians that balance Struthers' vocals. This is not just a talented artist strumming the guitar and attempting to get by with her lovely voice. Whether its the dobro, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, or bass - there is something besides Struthers voice to grab the listeners attention. Until she starts yodeling - then its all Struthers - a true cowgirl. Yet the CD quickly returns to a band with "Build a House", "One Notch Tighter", and "He's a Free Man" - all with tight harmonies and and a typical Bluegrass-Americana sound. But then again, forget everything I just wrote because the last track, the traditional "Say Darlin' Say", may be the best track. And its basically Struthers and Tim O’Brien on the fiddle. I need to get back home to see her at IOTA on June 29th. Why doesn't any route to south Florida anymore?

The final album, Grant Gordy's self titled CD, is completely different - that is - its all instrumental. After the first track, I thought "that's a cool instrumental; then came the second, then third - and finally a recognized a trend. An instrumental compilation makes sense considering Gordy is the lead guitarist for the David Grisman Quintet. Like the previous review, this isn't just a solo effort; Gordy has recruited several outstanding artists to form his own quintet, featuring Jayme Stone (banjo), Alex Hargreaves (fiddle), Paul Kowert (bass), and Dominick Leslie (mandolin). And Grisman makes a guest appearance on the mandolin in "Blues To Dawg". But don't think of this as a bluegrass album. The first two tracks are closer to jazz guitar - gypsy jazz at that. And whereas the guitar is prevalent throughout, there are plenty of fiddle and banjo leads to showcase the other members of the quintet. See "Little Grapes"; and even "Blues To Dawg" provides plenty of fiddle. In general, this CD is just a great listen. The songs are diverse, intricate, sometimes soft - sometimes pulsating; there's even a semi-classical waltz - my favorite track. But this is simple a cool CD that has a place in any music collection.

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