Guitarist Guy Van Duser's extraordinary facility and faultless technique have never been properly recognized or rewarded, despite appearances on Prairie Home Companion and National Public Radio. His definitive early recordings are well worth acquiring. That assignment could be challenging, as Rounder has been uncannily sluggish about reissuing Van Duser, and one Japanese import's $34.00 price tag cannot have encouraged the curious. Released in 1987, Rounder's American Finger Style Guitar is an excellent introduction to Van Duser and his artistry, with 19 selections drawn from three different albums. Tracks 1-4 and 19 come from his very first LP, which dates from 1977. Why a few more of the short solos from that excellent album weren't included is a mystery; his charmingly intimate version of Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek," for example, is sorely missed. The zippy penny whistle heard on "Sweet Georgia Brown" was played by Billy Novick, a witty vocalist and clarinetist who has been Van Duser's partner for decades. The "Great Western TV Medley" is a marvelous piece of Americana, as is John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," a dazzling demonstration of Van Duser's ability to make one instrument sound like an entire marching band. These two titles represent relatively rare deviations from Van Duser's staple repertoire of classic jazz and Tin Pan Alley pop tunes. Tracks 5 -12 originated on his Stride Guitar album, a Harlem stride piano-inspired effort from 1981. If you want definitive examples of this man's artistry, choose "Black Beauty," "Viper's Drag," and the sinuous "Alligator Crawl." Tracks 13-18 were drawn from Got the World on a String (1985), an album that included a nine-minute medley of Duke Ellington tunes and "The Syncopated Clock," another remnant of early television that epitomizes Van Duser's quirky sense of humor. Most people who have heard of Van Duser know him for his later collaborations with Novick. While those are wholesome, entertaining, and worthwhile, the albums from which the material on this collection was extracted are still the best way to get to know him.
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