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Published: Thursday, 3/4/2010

Sounds: Johnny A shows off guitar mastery on new live disc

With apologies to Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a passel of other guitar greats I've seen in concert, I can say this unequivocally:

Johnny A is the best guitarist I've seen perform live. (Well, give me one caveat; maybe Nils Lofgren was better.)

Everyone lucky enough to catch his show in a small Toledo bar last year walked away mumbling under their breath about this relatively unheralded Boston musician. Performing as a trio with a bass player and drummer, Johnny A was jaw-droppingly good.

This live disc and DVD to be released Tuesday captures the wonder of his command of tone and technique, a sublime combination that allows complete mastery of his signature Gibson guitar. He plays with a remarkable mix of swagger and subtlety, able to start a song like "Krea Gata" with quiet Mark Knopfler-like finesse before cranking up a flurry of notes that would make any shredder proud.

The all-instrumental set explores the guitar's rich palette in A's hands, from the full-on power rocking of "Jimi Jam" to the sublime beauty of "Wichita Lineman's" familiar melody.

Johnny A may be the most under-appreciated guitar genius working today and if he ever returns to Toledo, do yourself a favor and attend the show.

- ROD LOCKWOOD

Dailey & Vincent are the International Bluegrass Music Association entertainers of the year, so pairing them with country legends and Country Music Hall of Fame members the Statler Brothers seems as natural as biscuits and gravy.

That's an analogy made more appropriate because this disc is being distributed through Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores.

Country and bluegrass fans will already know what to expect from this collection of favorites from the Statlers' repertoire performed by one of the best bluegrass combos around. The singing, from the deep bass to the high harmonies, is impeccable; the musicianship is flawless, and the songs have an interesting breadth of tone.

They are fast ("Flowers On The Wall") and slow ("My Only Love"); they sing of praise ("The Brave Apostles Twelve"), and of more earthly travails ("Class Of '57"). And there are songs everyone, whether bluegrass fans or not, will know ("Hello Mary Lou").

The dozen tracks take only a scant 34 minutes. Given the marvelous performances, a bigger portion of this bluegrass pie would have been welcome.

- RICHARD PATON

Trying to pigeonhole this music with a genre label is next to impossible. The Nashville-based trio performs mainly light rock, or maybe it's folk rock, or maybe country pop, or maybe just a mish-mash of everything aforementioned with elements of a few others tossed in. In any event, it's fine music with workmanlike vocals and entertaining melodies.

Best of all, however, are the stories related in these vignettes of the human condition. With down-to-earth phrases and sometimes sparse background music, lead singer/guitarist Dave Coleman vocalizes short stories with lyrics that deserve listening even more than the music.

Emotions through these 12 tracks run the gamut from joy to pain, with stops at love and hope along the way. One of these numbers, the powerful "Farther Find Me Now," got some acclaimed national exposure when it was featured on the television show, The Deadliest Catch. Several more original songs here are worthy of such attention.

- KEN ROSENBAUM



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