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TRACK LIST: 1. Boots on Fire 1:18 2. One Twenty 1:40 3. Intermezzo I 0:24 4. Highlife 1:44 5. Lightness 3:12 6. Musicbox Ballerina 3:07 7. Intermezzo II 0:43 8. Hoedown on the Chicken Farm 2:53 9. Louisiana Voodoo Boogie 2:10 10. Passing Time 2:14 11. September 2:08 12. Whenever It Comes 3:07 13. Chemical Funk 1:14 14. Intermezzo III 1:42 15. Sunday Morning 1.54. SOLO PILOT: Jeff Aug – acoustic guitar
Prolusion. Born in Washington DC, and now based in Germany, acoustic guitarist Jeff Aug has toured with many high-profile artists, including Allan Holdsworth and Soft Machine, and is best know as one of the members of the band performing with British poet and songwriter Anne Clark. “Living Room Session” – recorded, as the title says, in the living room of his friend and colleague, pianist Murat Parlak – is his fourth album, released in March 2009. It consists mostly of music Aug had written for Clark’s latest album, “The Smallest Acts of Kindness”, but could not fit on the album itself. He then rewrote the material and arranged it for solo acoustic guitar.
Analysis. As a non-musician, though a music lover for as long as I can remember, reviewing this album has posed a definite challenge. In so many ways, “Living Room Sessions” is the polar opposite of most of what we see as ‘progressive rock’. For one thing, it is very short (with under 30 minutes’ running time, barely more than an EP), and, with the exception of one track, just features Aug’s masterful acoustic guitar playing, and nothing else. No lush keyboard sweeps or head-spinning time signature changes, no lengthy, meandering epics or impassioned singing… On paper at least, this looks like the recipe for a somewhat boring effort, perhaps attractive for musicians, but not for ‘ordinary’ listeners. However, “Living Room Sessions” – while clearly not everyone’s cup of tea, or even anything that could be labelled as ‘standard’ prog – turns out to be a more than rewarding listen, though its rewards are of a more subtle kind. Clearly, Aug is an extremely skilled guitarist, and his fingerstyle technique can be so fast as to leave listeners wondering at how on earth he can do it. He often sounds as if he was playing lead and rhythm guitar at the same time. If he was playing an electric guitar, he could surely be termed a shredder – though the music contained in this album is way more tasteful than any generic shredder’s offering. This is probably to do with the warmer, more approachable quality of the acoustic guitar as compared to its electric counterpart - as well as with the more than manageable length of the tracks, which makes them mood pieces rather than mere exercises in technical wizardry. Jeff Aug’s music shows a number of recognisable influences, amongst which (not surprisingly, given his American birth) are country and bluegrass, but also more exotic styles such as Goa trance or hip-hop, and, of course, the inevitable jazz. His playing comes across as quite aggressive for an acoustic guitarist, though this is not in any way intended as negative criticism – he can also produce beautifully melancholy pieces as the aptly-titled September, or the somewhat sparse Musicbox Ballerina. On the other end of the spectrum, we find funny, upbeat items like Hoedown on the Chicken Farm, the only track to feature a drum accompaniment (as well as lowing cows at beginning and end), the self-explanatory Chemical Funk (an example of acoustic shredding if there ever was one) and the bluegrassy album opener, Boots on Fire. In Louisiana Voodoo Boogie, another slice of Americana, a darkish feel (reflecting again the voodoo reference in the title) lurks beneath the clear, sharp sound of the guitar. Spanish influences surface instead in Lightness. One added bonus of “Living Room Sessions” are the hidden tracks at the end, one of which is a lengthy, atmospheric piece in which Aug’s acoustic guitar sounds like a distorted electric guitar (complete with eerie echo effects) – sharply different from the rest of the album, and proving once again the artist’s versatility.
Conclusion. Like most albums of its kind, “Living Room Sessions” will appeal to a select audience of people who believe that ‘small is beautiful’, and do not necessarily see progressive music as bombast, diffuseness and complexity for its own sake. The short running time of the album definitely helps listeners to appreciate what is on offer. Definitely one for people keen to expand their musical horizons.
RB=Raffaella Berry: July 20, 2009
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