Bruce Piephoff

Hamburger Square [CD]

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The difference between the Hamburger Square album and this compact disc of the same name is that the digital production also contains the full Anson County release from a few years later. It is good news for new fans of North Carolina singer/songwriter Bruce Piephoff who might want to catch up on his work from the early '90s. While the two projects blend together sonically, overlapping in instrumentation as well as a few players, the resulting marriage is not one of great equality. The 1990 material, representing the first dozen titles in the set, is not as consistently engaging as the work from 1993, which includes several masterpieces such as the haunting "Oasis." The singer's voice and timing are the aesthetic areas that seem to have undergone the most refinement between the two recording projects. The early Piephoff is less relaxed about his material than he would be later, and it is this easygoing sense that really brings songs such as the 1993 "Mr. Garibaldi" to life. In the context of a song that attempts to create a portrait of an individual, the critical expression "brings to life" should be taken completely literally. During this song, the sensitive listener will see the man, feel the room, smell the old books, and by the end wish they could really be there. This is one of the great things an artist from this genre can do, the personal nature of the singer/songwriter art making these moments seem like they are held in confidence between the performer and the listener. Though not bad, and with plenty of good instrumental picking, the Hamburger Square material just doesn't offer such strong moments. Many of the pieces seem more like light coffeehouse material, although the quality of the instrumental playing hardly merits them being passed off as losers at an open stage. Mandolinist Arnie Solomon -- under-recorded even in his own bluegrass world -- is wonderful. Dobro player Scott Manring comes up with tasty solos, one of them coming flat out of the left channel as if the fellow had camped out in the listener's speaker box with his supply of slides. Guitarist Sam Frazier reveals the kind of solid rhythm playing that has made him an in-demand local player in the Greensboro area.

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