Various Artists

156 Strings: Nineteen Totally Original Acoustic Guitarists

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Curated by American guitarist Henry Kaiser, 156 Strings features 19 guitarists playing six-string acoustic or 12-string acoustic guitars (there are seven of the latter case; just do the math). In Kaiser's eyes (and ears), they all approach the instrument from an original standpoint and have creative voices. They come from various backgrounds: rock, folk, avant-garde. No doubt you will recognize a few names, but some will be completely obscure to you. Some you may also know better as electric guitarists, in particular Fred Frith, Raoul Björkenheim (ex-Krakatau), or fusion-rock guitar hero Scott McGill. The biggest names are Frith, Kaiser, ex-Zappa guitarist Mike Keneally, and Richard Leo Johnson, who delivers one of the most beautiful tracks on this album -- his fans won't want to miss it. Each track was specifically recorded for the project and features solo acoustic guitar only, without electronic treatments. The sound quality is consistently excellent and the interest generally sustained throughout, no matter what your tastes are. Some players will make your folk string vibrate (Gyan Riley, U Tin, and the aforementioned Johnson contribution stand out); others will make you wonder "how they do it." Frith and Janet Feder use preparations to unleash unusual sounds; Steffen Basho-Junghans closes the set with a captivating piece, an exploration of an untuned 12-string guitar. One can file in a few complaints about who made the list and who didn't (the absence of Eugene Chadbourne raises an eyebrow), but in the end Kaiser's compilation simply works. It makes a great recital, gentle on the ear.

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