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Traveling Well

Brian Patneaude Quartet
Distance (WEPA)

Seven original compositions comprise this second CD release from tenor saxist Patneaude, all of them deceptively accessible, flavored with rhythm and melody that’s fun and funky and sure to lift your spirits. But it’s also stuff that stays with you. The “Distance” of the title—it’s also the title of cut six—is what you’re invited to travel with this music.

And the title cut also gives an idea of the complexity of the tunes. Drummer Danny Whelchel stays busy throughout with a quiet but busy figure over which Patneaude spins a slow, almost melancholy figure. Everyone gets to shine, including Dave Payette on Fender Rhodes, who sits in on two other numbers as well.

You hear the ghosts of Michael Brecker and David Sanborn in Patneaude’s playing, but these are only part of a synthesis of sound and style that add up to a unique voice. His playing is lyrical, it’s introspective, but it keeps on driving.

“Change” is a bouncy, bossa-tinged number that sets up the new CD, letting us know that it’s a cooperative venture in which all of the players happily participate. George Muscatello’s guitar is a continual presence, shading the harmony and adding another degree of rhythmic complexity; when acoustic bass player Ryan Lukas steps out for a solo, you realize how fundamental his sound already has been throughout the piece.

Even a ballad like “Alone,” glistening with nice cymbal work by Whelchel, has a propulsion that keeps it from getting maudlin. With a compelling set of words, the tune would be a torch singer’s dream.

And that’s really Patneaude’s secret. He plays the sax as a lyrical instrument, well aware of its capacity to express emotions. It shares with the violin the capacity to most closely suggest the sound of human singing, and even in his busier passagework, Patneaude sings. Even the punchy effects in “Red,” one of the bouncier tunes on this disc, are rooted in lyricism.

The distance traveled is signified by “Unending,” the final cut, an 11-minute journey reminiscent in its rhythm of “Change,” but with a feeling of triumph attached—we’ve sung our songs and sung them well. A final bow for the individual players, and then they ease away. You’ll hit the play button again.

—B.A. Nilsson

Eric Matthews

Six Kinds of Passion Looking For an Exit (Empyrean)

It’s been eight years since Eric Matthew’s Lateness of the Hour. It was one of a pair of his released by Sub Pop (the other, released in 1995, was It’s Heavy in Here) back in the days when they were scrambling to find a new identity as grunge was wearing right through the soles of its shoes.

Six Kinds of Passion Looking For an Exit is a title with one word more than the number of songs on this impressive CD. Though half of them are more than six minutes in length, none feels long—such is the power of Matthews’ approach to the rich, deep arrangements. The album is lushly orchestral in the writing and structuring of each song, with nary a string section in sight. The hushed tone of his singing is deceptively powerful, underscoring a mix of yearning and melancholy that flows through the whole set. When Matthews does move into the realm of truly belting out a line (as on “Do You Really Want It?”) it’s a bracing and dramatic shift. The judicious mixing of acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, a rhythm section, and dollops of brass is done with an arranger’s eye for detail. It’s all about the songs, not the band.

—David Greenberger

The Kentucky Colonels

Appalachian Swing (EMI)

The Kentucky Colonels’ 1964 all-instrumental album Appalachian Swing was a milestone in bluegrass history. It was on this record, now remastered and reissued with three bonus tracks for its 40th anniversary, that 19-year-old Clarence White of later Byrds fame freed the guitar from its role within the genre as a backup instrument and established it as a full-fledged lead voice. White, who counted Jerry Garcia and Tony Rice among his fans, derived his style from the flashy, syncopated playing of North Carolina singer and flatpicker Doc Watson and adapted it to the ensemble needs of bluegrass. His fleet-fingered soloing, along with the talents of his older brother Roland on mandolin and other bandmates Billy Ray Lathum on banjo, Roger Bush on banjo and double bass, and Bobby Slone on fiddle and double bass, made Appalachian Swing a classic, and this a welcome rerelease.

Shortly after World Pacific issued the original 12-track, 27-minute LP, the label used members of the California-based band including the White brothers to back dobroist Tut Taylor on the LP Dobro Country. Many bluegrass fans consider these sessions an extension of Appalachian Swing, so the CD has been fleshed out with three of Taylor’s recently rediscovered tracks.

The Colonels didn’t stick to the usual bluegrass repertoire in their choice of material here—they also dish up fiddle tunes, Southern nostalgia songs, Western swing numbers, folk songs and early country classics. As pickers, Clarence White’s bandmates might not have broken new ground the way he did, but they played just as well. This is clear from the start, where Billy Ray Lathum tears up the Scruggs-style banjo warhorse “Clinch Mountain Backstep.” On the next cut, “Nine Pound Hammer,” White’s picking is supple and articulate, and remains so when he trades choruses with Roland on “Billy in the Lowground,” “John Henry” and “Listen to the Mockingbird.” The ill-starred guitarist (he was killed in 1971 by a drunk driver in a hit-and-run accident) also shines on “I Am a Pilgrim” when he takes advantage of the relaxed tempo to throw in dazzling blues polyrhythms on his famously dulcet-toned 1935 Martin D-28. Guest dobroist Leroy Mack NcNees twangs away on the outlaw ballad “Wild Bill Jones,” and Slone, usually the bassist, mimicks the sounds of a car chase with his fiddle, police sirens and all, on “Lee Highway Blues.”

Appalachian Swing is not without a few sour notes. On some of the tracks, the pitch of the closing chord drifts, leaving you wishing someone had been more careful (whether the error occurred during the original analog recording or the digital remastering is not clear). No biggie, though—for bluegrass fans and guitar pickers of all persuasions, this is still an essential CD.

—Glenn Weiser

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