Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder Brand New Strings (Skaggs Family Records)
Considered by many to be among the finest bluegrass and country multi-instrumentalists in history, Ricky Skaggs made his much-heralded return to “pure bluegrass” circa 1997, and has since produced an impressive body of work. But most of it features bluegrass chestnuts by other songwriters. With Brand New Strings, Skaggs ups the ante a little with four contributions of his own among tunes by everyone from Ralph Stanley to Bill Monroe to Guy Clark. Accompanied by his polished band, Skaggs gives peak performances here that come off achingly heartfelt and energetic. A triumph of the high lonesome.
Jay Geils, Duke Robillard and Gerry Beaudoin The New Guitar Summit (Stony Plain)
Generally speaking, I'm no fan of all-star type, “look at what a virtuoso I am” records. That said, I was almost instantly taken with this disc. Rather than display the over-the-top chops they are most certainly capable of, Geils, Robillard and Beaudoin spend the album harmonizing brilliantly on melodies by Benny Goodman, Jack Wilson and the Gershwins to name a few. Both Geils and Robillard are pedigreed blues players while Beaudoin brings the most decidedly jazz flavor to the trio. Fans of Charlie Christian and that big, warm, fat-bodied acoustic-electric guitar sound are likely to be floored by the musical revelations here.
Nightwish Once (Roadrunner)
“Roadrunner Records is proud to bring Nightwish to America,” reads the press release that goes on to further extoll the virtues of the Finnish goth/metal band who have reportedly taken over the European airwaves. Unless I find out that the normally respectable label has been overrun by skinny, leatherclad goth wimps and its entire staff tortured to death by forced overdoses of Crüxshadows music, I'm going to shoot myself in the face. At least they had the foresight to name the album Once, which is exactly the number of times you're likely to be able to listen to it.