Various Artists

Unitone Guitar Series: A Portrait for Strings

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Pop producer and film composer Patrick Leonard launched this boutique label as a home for well-known session musicians and veteran artists to do music that's a bit off the beaten path from radio-friendly. This is the label's first sampler and features a handful of the world's great guitarists showing off their acoustic prowess. Many you've heard of (Australian legend Tommy Emmanuel, Steve Morse from Dixie Dregs, Leni Stern, Jan Akkerman) and some may as yet be beneath your radar (Bruce Gaitsch, Leonardo Amuedo). Jimmy Haslip from the Yellowjackets is co-executive producer. All of the fingerstyling is certainly solid, but because of the sparse production, only a handful of the tracks really engage or ignite a powerful response. Gaitsch's "Barcelona Nieve" is gentle flamenco that's very pretty but very subdued. Ameudo's "Otonal" is a bit more plucky, but it's pretty much melodic noodling, as is the flamenco-tinged "Caminante" by Romero. Stern brightens the pace with the peppy, loping "St. Agnes and the Burning Train," and Morse has the good sense to enhance his jumpy "Old World" with a fiddle harmony for a cool Celtic effect. Emmanuel is capable of much better than the also noodling "The Robin." Akkerman's "Pavan" has a sitar flavor that adds a touch of exotica. Listened to all at once, the tunes tend to blend together at times, creating a relaxing atmosphere -- but it's hard to say if that was the intention. These are all good players and friendly melodies, but it's just not very exciting.

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