The Death Whisperer Series

The Death Whisperer Series
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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Lenny Breau & Miraval Rose

Rather than write my own article about tonight’s featured guitarist, I’ve realized I couldn’t say it any better than this excerpted article that ran in the January 2012 issue of Guitar World magazine. But nothing says it better than the music of Lenny Breau:

“Chances are you’ve never heard of the late jazz guitarist Lenny Breau, but ask Pat Metheny or Tommy Emmanuel and they will surely tell he's had a profound impact on nearly every guitarist who heard him play.

Though Breau never achieved commercial success, fellow guitarists revered him as an innovator for his unique finger-style chord melody technique, stunning pinch harmonic runs and wide musical vocabulary, ranging from country to jazz to classical. As Metheny put it, “he came up with a way of addressing the instrument technically that nobody had done before and actually no one has done since.”

Breau got his start at age 12 touring with his parents, popular country and western performers Hal “Lone Pine” Breau and Betty Cody. By the time he was a teenager, Lenny had mastered the Chet Atkins thumb-pick and finger-style playing and soon became fascinated by jazz.

I started playing jazz by slowing down Tal (Farlow’s) records and analyzing his runs," he said. "Bob Erlendson, a local piano player, taught me chord structure and which scales go along with them.”

Using the Chet Atkins’ finger-style technique he had learned as boy, Breau could simultaneously play melody, bass and chordal accompaniment, allowing him to segue between jazz chord melody, flamenco interludes, eastern ragas and country finger-picking with striking fluidly.

In addition to forging his own musical vocabulary, Breau helped to expand the sonic possibilities of the guitar. His reworking of Atkins’ artificial harmonic technique stunned and humbled guitarists lucky enough to see him perform live. Using this difficult technique, Breau created a dazzling harp-like effect by playing arpeggiated runs alternating between an artificial harmonic and a fretted note on adjacent strings.

Along with being a virtuosic and innovative musician, Breau also was a deeply troubled individual. He dealt with drug addiction and depression for most of his adult life and was described by friends as a man beloved by everyone he met, but incapable of taking care of himself on a day-to-day basis.

On August 12, 1984, Lenny was found strangled at the bottom of the swimming pool at his apartment complex in Los Angeles. No one was charged with his murder and the case remains unsolved.”

What is this thing called love:

For me, summertime means Rosé and Miraval ($20.00) is an excellent example of what the wine should be. While some people will buy this simply because it comes from the estate owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, this light pink colored 2014 Cotes de Provence Rosé sports a fresh bouquet of wild strawberries and raspberries to go with a supple, lightly textured, silky and seamless feel on the palate. Brisk minerality runs through the wine accompanied by vibrant acidity, extending the flavors and whetting the palate for another sip. About as gulp-able and hard to resist as Rosé comes, it's a killer summer wine. Costco carries it, so grab a bottle and kick back with the music of Lenny Breau as the kids go back to school. It’s a great way to spend an evening.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Luca Stricagnoli & Domaine de la Citadelle Le Châtaignier

Luca Stricagnoli was born in 1991 in Varese, Italy. He showed natural talent on the guitar from a young age. He began studying classical guitar at ten but shortly after decided to quit. After a long layoff, he later picked up where he left off and taught himself new techniques, which he then perfected and developed his personal original style. Luca has won many talent shows and competitions. Today at the age of 22, Luca plays Serracini Guitars and has just released his debut album with Candyrat Records.

Check out Thunderstuck. As an enthusiastic AC/DC fan, I love this arrangement.

Everybody wants to rule the world:

I suggest Domaine de la Citadelle Le Châtaignier ($15.00), a classic Provençale blend of one-third Syrah and one third Cinsault, with the balance equally split between Grenache and Carignan. In the glass, the wine has a pale pink color. Red cherries, tangerines, and fresh flowers move in and out of the foreground, sometimes alternating with cranberries and mandarin oranges as the nose evolves in the glass. On the palate, the wine is dry and refreshing, with strawberries and persimmon joining the red cherries and currants, all wrapped in fresh acidity and saline minerality. An excellent choice for greeting spring and listening to the music of a fantastic guitarist.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Dylan Ryche & Dierberg Three Saints "Steak House" proprietary red

Something about Canada seems to draw amazing acoustic guitarists. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s so stinkin cold during the long winters that there’s nothing else to do but sit in front of a fireplace and practice. Interestingly, Dylan Ryche is originally from toasty warm Melbourne, Australia.  Growing up in the 80’s the big hooks of rock n’ roll prompted him to take some guitar lessons and learn a host of Poison, Motley Crue, Alice Cooper, and Bad English riffs. He had a dream of one day becoming a longhaired, tattooed, hard rock shred guitar superstar and felt more of a connection to the music of Yes, Queen, and Kiss than the popular music of the day. However, he became attracted to the solo acoustic guitar playing of Yes guitarist Steve Howe, which led him to pick up a Tommy Emmanuel book and study the acoustic guitar more seriously. But it wasn’t until he heard Don Ross’ “Klimbim” that he realized the full potential of solo acoustic guitar playing.

He relocated to Canada (brrr!) and released his first fingerstyle record entitled Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitar in 2011. In 2012 he won the Canadian Fingerstyle Fingerpicking Competition held annually at the Canadian Guitar Festival. He teaches guitar via Skype lessons (he’s open for students right now) and is a regular columnist for Fingerstyle 360 magazine. The first two songs below are the compositions he played at the Canadian Fingerstyle competition. Hope you enjoy his music.

Platypus in sheep’s clothing:

The wine I suggest to pair with Dylan is something of a conundrum. The story goes that back in 2011 a prominent steakhouse chain requested wine samples from the top California Cabernet Sauvignon producers with the intent of marketing their own special house wine. Dierberg Vineyards was selected and the buyer in charge committed to a few thousand cases. Unfortunately, three months into the program, the buyer left for another job, leaving Dierberg without a buyer.

Enter WineAccess. I bought a case of Dierberg’s “Steak House” proprietary red ($144.00 or $12.00/bottle) from then during their special offering and I’m immensely pleased that I did. The wine is a blend of estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon (64%), Cabernet Franc (15%), Merlot (13%), Malbec (7%), and Petit Verdot (1%). It’s bright ruby red with aromas of tart cherries and black raspberries with flavors that follow the nose. It’s medium-bodied, supple, and has a vibrant finish. You can find it online, but it’ll run you about $20.00 a bottle, still an excellent value. It’s a perfect compliment to Dylan’s music.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Dominic Miller & "E-2"

Dominic Miller is a little known, but fabulous Argentine-born English guitarist who has played on every Sting album and tour since 1990. In fact, he’s co-written many of Sting’s songs, including  one of my favorites, “Shape of My Heart.”

He was born March 21st, 1960 and lived in Argentina for the first ten years of his life. His family moved to Wisconsin for two years then settled in London. He comes from a musical family and became a serious guitarist by the age of eleven. He has studied at London’s Guildhall School of Music as well as Boston’s Berklee College of Music.

His influences are diverse ranging from classical guitarist John Williams to Lindsey Buckingham to the late Jerry Garcia. In his group he alternates between electric and classical guitars and he’s a killer on both. Check out Rhani Krija, his drummer and percussionist. He’s remarkable, especially on “Rush Hour”. I’ve included two versions of “Shape of My Heart; one with his band and a stripped down version with just he and Sting. There’s also a clip of him accompanying Sting on “Brand New Day”.  Miller is a dynamic guitarist/song writer and one whom you should definitely get to know.

Fragile/Bring on the night:
Shape of my heart (Sting):

Miller’s music always strikes me as moody, brooding, and bit on the dark side due to his extensive use of minor chord progressions. That calls for an equally dark and brooding wine like “E-2” from Dave Phinney’s Locations project ($19.00). Phinney has a long history of winemaking at high-end wineries in the Napa Valley including Opus One, Whitehall, and Mondavi. His own premium label Orin Swift is best known for it’s “The Prisoner” and “Papillon” wines. The Location wines are based on the concept of taking the best grapes from a country and blending them to make the best possible wine.  The name, “E” stands for España or Spain and is a blend of Grenache from Priorat, Rioja and Toro, Tempranillo from Riojo and Carignan from Ribera del Duero and Carinyena. The wine is dark purple and full bodied with explosive aromas of black fruit followed on the palate by blackberry, kirsh, and a touch of pepper. It has stunning richness and opulence and for my money can’t be beaten for the price. In fact, the Locations wines are some of the best wines money can buy for under $20.00. It’s a perfect compliment to the guitar of Dominic Miller.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Mark Kroos & Bila Haut Cote de Roussillon Village

I’m back after an eight-month hiatus. While I  haven’t been blogging, I have been writing—two more thriller novels (Color Me Deadly and Tenebrae) completed and the third (SybrKombat) about to go to my editor for final cuts. Just to refresh your memory, I review mostly acoustic guitarists as well as a few electrics and a smattering of bass players and I pair them with a wine that I think fits their music. As far as the wines go, I limit them to those that I can find for less than $30.00 as it’s more of a challenge and probably suits the average Joe’s budget best.

Tonight I’m featuring one of my favorites, Mark Kroos. Mark attended Bowling Green University’s school of music from 2004-2006, majoring in guitar and jazz. While he learned much from his instructors, Chris Buzzelli and Matthew Ardizone, he decided jazz wasn’t his thing and left to tour with a punk band. When the band disbanded in 2009, Mark began teaching and switched to the acoustic guitar. The musical wizard that is him today was birthed after a whole lot of writing and practicing on a double necked guitar.

He uses a number of open tunings and relies on incredible tapping technique to play both necks simultaneously. His influences are drawn from folk, Celtic, indie and even a few punk artists as well as other virtuoso guitarists like Michael Hedges, Tommy Emmanuel, and Leo Kottke.

In July of 2011 Mark was invited, along with four other musicians, to compete in Guitar Player Magazine's International Guitar Superstar Competition in Nashville. The judges were Larry Carlton, Muriel Anderson, Reeves Gabrels, and Carl Verheyen, all of whom are guitar giants. Mark took 1st place out of the 5 invitees who were chosen from thousands of others who had submitted demos online.

In March, 2013, Mark posted a video of him simultaneously playing both the banjo and guitar parts of the Deliverance theme on his double neck. It exploded on YouTube, and I think after you see it, you’ll understand why he’s so unique in the world of guitar. Hope you enjoy him.

An incredible guitarist deserves to be paired with an equally incredible wine, so I suggest the 2012 Bila Haut Cotes de Roussillon Village les Vignes de Haut ($14.00). This French vineyard, owned by Michel Chapoutier, is located on the slopes of the Angly valley, just north of the Spanish border. Chapoutier is a reknown enologist and anything he makes is excellent. This particular wine is dark purple with an aromatic mix of red and black fruits and herbes de Provence. It’s a rich, juicy wine filled with blackberry, raspberry, red currants, and a touch of white pepper on the palate, finishing with a vibrancy characteristic of the region. You can find it online from a number of vendors. Pick up a case then wait for a rainy afternoon and curl up in front of a fireplace with a good book, a glass of the Bila Haut, and the music of Mark Kroos.