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"Desert Night" by Steve Smith; "Ancestor Worship" by the Gary Gerloff Band; Burakumin' "Early Morning

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Steve Smith, "Desert Night," (Desert Night Music)
Those in search of some fine acoustic instrumental music should check out Steve Smith's "Desert Night." This finely crafted set of guitar and mandolin tunes covers a range of moods, moving from the quiet peace of "Traveler's Lament" through the brisk country-dance step of "Buzzard on a Fence Post," to the regret of "Colorado Farewell." Smith's fingerpicking style is a relaxed one that never overwhelms a listener with unnecessary frills, and he chooses his notes with care to create a warm aural atmosphere. Leaning on chamber-music styling, New Age atmosphere, and the occasional old-time mountain-music ramble, the Colorado-based musician produces a sound that shimmers with spirit, humor and a sense of solitary contentment that is ever easy on the ears. Smith performs in Richmond Saturday, Jan. 27, at the First Unitarian Church. — Ames Arnold Gary Gerloff Band, "Ancestor Worship," (Planetary)
Sometimes a CD that covers a number of musical styles results in a hodgepodge that lacks a discernible focus. Such is not the case with Gary Gerloff's recently released nine-song project. Combining self-penned tunes with original arrangements of traditional songs, Gerloff shows an affinity for a wide range of music without sacrificing honesty or heart for hip glibness. Whether dipping into the groove blues of "Nobody's Fault But Mine," the island sunshine of "Bye, Bye Farewell" or the back porch western swing of "Honey Bee," the songs unfold as distinct, living moments steeped in both humor and respect. "Ragged But Right" swings with street-wise delight, and "Deep Blue Sea" kicks off the CD with a solid rock-a-billy bang that aptly sets the stage for the electric vaudeville-jug band rhythm 'n' roll to come. Gerloff's limited but heartfelt vocals carry each tune with a raw dignity, while the band provides a top-notch level of unobtrusive musicianship throughout. Of course, that's not to say the project is perfect. "Hawaii" is no doubt intended as fun, but it's an overreach that could easily have been replaced by a better tune. Likewise, "The Camp at 2324" doesn't quite click. Two more tunes with the quality of the rest of "Ancestor" would have made the album stronger. But, as it is, "Ancestor" is a fine record that is delightfully ragged and dead-on right. — Ames Arnold Burakumin, "Early Mourning," (Scientific Records)
I love it when people use music as their creative outlet, only to then pass off their lack of songwriting skill as being artistic. The duo of Burakumin seems to fit that description.. This collection of low-fi acoustic ballads (filled with quirky instrumental noises) made me feel as if I were being held as the lone prisoner at a summer camp run by two fools with guitars. They then decide to show me how they spent their time outside of arts and crafts by doing pathetic imitations of Neil Young and Beck. This eventually causes me to throw myself into the fire we're gathered around. "Early Mourning" isn't just unenjoyable, it's downright boring. There are at least two moments on the album where the songs kind of rise from the dark abyss of the album's content, but since some joker decided to mislabel the song titles and track numbers on the back cover I'll have to refer to these highlights as track 5 and the record's last song. The musings of Burakumin should be reserved for exclusive release to their parents and loved ones. If you, however, want to hear two "songwriters" play their acoustic guitars and wail like cats in heat for the sake of their art, by all means enjoy this one. I didn't. —Angelo DeFranzo

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