BILLY BARNETT, Hold On (Barnwerks, 2021). This might be one of the most appropriate album titles ever, as the listener must brace for the frequent stylistic shifts guitarist (and occasional violinist) Billy Barnett brings forth on this album. Known throughout St. Louis as a blues and jazz player, Barnett shows he’s much more than that. The title track is straight out of 1967, missing only an appearance by Otis Redding; “Because of You” is a lovely bit of psychedelica; and “The Boy from Lee’s Summit” is a micro-step from Bossa Nova. And yes, many points in between are visited, even as the album clocks in at a lean 39 minutes. Strap in and enjoy the ride.
PORTICO QUARTET, Terrain (Gondwana, 2021). The best music often defies genre. Portico Quartet is highly adept at this, triangulating nicely between ambient, post-rock, and jazz without ever spending a lot of time in any of them. They also possess and sense of groove that makes it easy for the neophyte to find an element they enjoy to hold on to while the rest of the music swirls around them. It’s a deeply pleasant foreground or background soundscape that pays off even more with repeated listens. If Branford Marsalis made an album with Tortoise and Brian Eno produced, it would probably sound like this.
RUBÉN REINALDO & KELLY GARCIA, Acuarel (Freecode, 2020). Direct from Spain comes a guitar duet designed to soothe the restless soul. These guitar duets get to the very heart of the laid-back guitar duo, as Rubén Reinaldo and Kelly Garcia causally and pleasantly trade lines in Joe Pass-like fashion. The songs are constructed in a way that makes the journey far more important than the destination. Intense study reveals the skill of these two musicians, who have created an album worthy of picking apart note by note for hidden musical treasures. Or you can just put it on and let the music envelop you as it transports you to more tranquil places. Either way this is an enjoyable bit of music made for those who prefer a warm fire over flash.
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