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CD Review: Howard Emerson “The Wall Talks”




The fourth album by guitarist Howard Emerson was worth the wait

Formidable fingerstyle finely fretted, both solo and accompanied by other instrumentation – The Wall Talks, and people should listen

Hitting Play on a new Howard Emerson album is like receiving a visit from a favorite old friend, where even the instrumental tunes are like hearing about the places they have been and the people and events they encountered along the way. More often than not, Emerson’s music captures the listener’s attention and pulls them along through plot twists and varying vivid moods, both sober and whimsical, with nothing but his fingerstyle guitar-playing to weave his yarns, and no vocals or accompaniment. That is certainly the case with the opening track of his latest CD entitled, The Wall Talks.

The tune is called “Rumble Strut,” and there is an intent and steely determination in the step and swagger of the high-end guitar strings, as they call out over the steady thump laid down on the woodier bass strings. It is nearly impossible to listen for long and be able to keep still whenever the “Rumble Strut” starts playing.

Upon hearing it for the first time, I said to myself, “Oh, yeah. That’s the stuff! That’s Howie all right,” filled with his love of the infectious steady groove, punctuated and countered by punchy double stops and chords left to hang in the air; tasty little flourishes of licks at the end of phrases, and the occasional drawn out and bluesy lead run that races up frets, or tumbles from on high to way down below.

That introduction very much draws one into the world of The Wall Talks and sets up the rest of the album, which builds on that straight forward guitar playing with more complex arrangements and instrumentation.

As usual, there is on display the guitarist’s unusual prowess for “cross tuning”, e.g. composing in alternate tunings, but with the harmonic key of the tune being different than the key of the tuning. Only guitarists might fully appreciate the degree of difficulty therein and Emerson’s ability to make it seem like a walk in the park, or a strut down some vibrant avenue, or the tense treading of some shadowy alley, depending on the specific tone poem.

Although he was seen by countless throngs as a member of Billy Joel’s band, back in the day, Howard Emerson is one of those truly memorable guitarists who deserve much wider recognition than they typically receive. In Emerson’s case that may be due in part to the fact he was never a touring recording artist in his own right with a major record distribution deal.

But his first CD of solo instrumentals, Crossing Crystal Lake, earned him enthusiastic fans around the U.S. and abroad, among anyone who was lucky enough to encounter it. And the follow-up CD, A Tale to Tell, took those fans into new musical territory, which included Emerson’s singing songs of his own composition, and one righteous cover of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” played on a detuned 12-string guitar, with overdubbed bottleneck slide guitar. His third album, It Ain’t Necessarily So, returned to mainly bare bones guitar arrangements, with a bluesy slant to many of the compositions.

The Wall Talks offers tunes of both sorts. Among those that could be at home on the stripped-down, one man and his acoustic albums is the evocative and melancholy memorial entitled “Bitter Suite: Oso Landslide.”

Other tunes expand upon the R&B multi-instrument arrangements on the second album, with subtle percussion, slap-back reverb effects, and the inclusion of overdubs that allow Emerson to play more than one guitar part, with some amplified bottleneck slide work that at times brought to mind the likes of Ry Cooder and Lowell George.

Among these multi-instrumental tracks is the suspenseful drama in Emerson’s take on “Fever,” the steamy Cooley and Davenport standard ala Little Willie John. And the slide work is perhaps most affecting on the album’s lone song with vocals, “Water Off A Duck’s Back,” which should bring a smile to even those who have never experienced the shepherding of a precocious and adorable daughter through the age where she still nestles in the comforting care of her parents, while no longer heeding the bridle of their attempts to rule her whims and will.

I remember said daughter from a show Emerson played at Mandolin Brothers many years ago now. Then, she was “just a kid” and he was just starting to perform one of my favorites among his compositions called “Phelp’s Flats,” which he later recorded. And on The Wall Talks he has given the tune a reboot, which is a bit more cheerful, laid-back and spacious than the hard-driving stomp and groove of the original.

This satisfying album ends with an upbeat Latin-tinged hip mover called “Uh Oh!” It always leaves me wanting more, and I tend to listen to this CD with Repeat All turned on. It’s upbeat grooves and moving contemplative moments have been a staple of my NYC fitness hikes, and journeys of longer distances, as it accompanied me all the way to Grand Canyon and back.

And now, Howard Emerson’s The Wall Talks is getting its official CD Release Party, scheduled for Saturday, October 28th, in Seaford, NY, on the South Shore of Long Island. Search Facebook for “Soundbox House Concert Series” to obtain further information.

As for the specifics of guitars and bells and whistles, in his own words Emerson decided early on “that job 1 is: Serve The Song.”

Rather than dwelling on perfect mic placement and stressing the acoustic aspects of the guitar, etc. he focused on the result he wanted, in terms of what the music should convey. Hence the percussion by Mauro Refosco, and the slinky drum program heard on one tune created by music biz veteran Jimmy Bralower.

Emerson’s main acoustic guitar, custom-built for him by David Flammang, does appear on a couple of tracks recorded through microphones only. And he plays it on another track through a Fishman amplifier. He also makes the most out of a National Resolectric guitar heard through a Danelectro amp, vintage 1955. All in all, it keeps things interesting, expressive, and prone to repeated listening.

That is one man’s word on …

Howard Emerson’s The Wall Talks

Check out all Howard Emerson’s music at http://howardemerson.com/

Martin Model America 1 Review

Domestic tonewoods shine in the Model America 1

America’s premiere guitarmaker makes a premiere guitar from woods all made in America

Specs Include: Solid tonewoods with high gloss nitrocellulose finish, including sycamore back and sides, Adirondack spruce top, 5/16” forward-shifted scalloped Adirondack spruce braces; satin finished cherry High Performance neck with Modified Low Oval profile, and black walnut fingerboard with 1-3/4” width at the bone nut, 2-1/8” at the 12th fret; black walnut bridge with 2-5/32” string spacing at the compensated bone saddle; Corian dot fret position markers, Style 18 top trim and soundhole rosette; open-back tuners with butterbean buttons, faux tortoise shell binding and pick guard

“There is a firmness to the sycamore trebles and a fullness to the bass notes, and a chiseled definition to the center of the voice, thanks to the Adirondack spruce top. The Adirondack effect makes the center of the voice quite straightforward, leaving lots of space behind it, in that almost “vintage openness” sort of way.”

Read the Full Review with Video

a Martin Model America 1 shoulders

Martin D-18 Jason Isbell Review

With aged Adirondack Over Mighty Mahogany, the D-18 Jason Isbell is more stallion than workhorse

As unpretentious and as powerful as the songs of its namesake.

Specs Include: Solid tonewoods with extra-thin high gloss nitrocellulose finish, including mahogany back and sides, torrefied Adirondack spruce top; 5/16” rear-shifted Adirondack spruce braces with Golden Era style scalloping; satin finished one-piece mahogany neck with 1939 profile, two-way adjustable truss rod, and ebony fingerboard with 1-11/16” width at the bone nut, 2-1/8” at the 12th fret; ebony pyramid bridge with 2-1/8” string spacing at the drop-in compensated bone saddle; custom tattoo fretboard inlay; Ditson style rosette; black binding; Schaller open-back tuners with “clover” buttons; Fishman Infinity Matrix electronics; signed interior label

“Simply put, this guitar sounds huge. Explosive chords burst into the room with near-concussive waves of power and punch, and relaxed, expressive picking lights up an expansive tonal chamber, as if by ballroom chandeliers.”

D-18 Jason Isbel Ditson tatoo inlay
Full Review with Video Here

Martin D-28 (2017) Review

Full-bodied tone is at the heart of Martin’s new D-28

Vintage looks and a modern neck combine with forward-shifted bracing to create an even higher standard for the classic rosewood dreadnought




“It is an invigorated version of the classic D-28. When a player wants to dig in and drives the top, it can get quite throaty and even growly. And yet, light fingerpicking sounds buoyant and cheerfully expressive. On the whole, the D-28 (2017) is one particularly versatile Martin, with a new kind of dreadnought voice, even if it is made to look more like a vintage D-28 than its predecessor.”

Martin D-28 2017 Style 28 trim

Full Review With Video

“With its retro styling and ultra-modern neck, the new 2017 model is a souped up enhancement of the straight-braced D-28, given a more powerful engine, with a roomier interior.”

Martin 00-28 Review

The seldom made Martin 00-28 in a triumphant return

Marvelous rosewood tone from the grand concert powerhouse 00-28 is first rate

Specs include: Solid tonewoods with Indian rosewood back and sides, Sitka spruce top, ebony fingerboard and bridge, scalloped 1/4″ Sitka spruce bracing; high gloss nitrocellulose finish; short-scale, satin finished mahogany High Performance neck, with 1-3/4″ width at nut, 2-1/8″ at the 12th fret, 2-5/32″ string spacing; bone nut and saddle; open back nickle tuners with “clove” knobs; mother of pearl dot fret markers, black pickguard, white biding.

“Singing with silvery purity up high, commanding mids, and full-bodied lows, all riding atop the lush and lovely depths saturated with what I call that “smoky rosewood presence,” the new 00-28 provides classic, nay even legendary Martin guitar tone.”

Full Review with Video Here

Review – Gibson SJ-200 Ebony Limited Edition

Gibson’s 2017 Ebony Limited Edition adds jet black looks to the classic SJ-200




With L. R. Baggs Anthem dual-source electronics, it comes ready to rock.

Specs include: Super Jumbo body size; maple back, sides, and neck; radiused AAA-grade Sitka spruce top; hand-sprayed, high-gloss ebony nitrocellulose finish; rosewood fretboard and mustache bridge; bound fretboard and headstock; gold Grover Imperial tuning machines; round neck profile; bone nut with 1.725″ width; approx. 2-3/16″ string spacing; Tusq saddle to go with the Baggs Anthem undersaddle pickup.

“The bass is big but not boomy. The trebles are clear and ringing. The midrange notes are distinct but have a woody warmth to them… In other words, the SJ-200 is a classic. And this jet black version is pretty darn classy.”

Read the Full Review Here

Gibson J-200 Ebony Limited Editio Video

Martin 000-42 Conversion from a 1953 000-28 – Review

A 1953 000-28 converted by the Martin factory to 1939 000-42 specs

Old Brazilian rosewood retopped with torrefied Adirondack spruce and solid abalone pearl

*This instrument is currently for sale. Inquire at oneman@onemanz.com*

Specs include: All-solid wood with hide glue construction throughout; Brazilian rosewood back and sides originally constructed as a 1953 000-28; highest grade Adirondack spruce top, torrefied with level M1 of Martin’s proprietary Vintage Tone System; Vintage Style 42 appointments including period correct solid abalone pearl rosette ring, top purfling, and snowflake fret markers; grained ivoroid binding with ebony borders at end pin box; aggressively-scalloped 1/4″ Golden Era style bracing with period correct rear-shifted X brace; genuine Big Leaf mahogany neck with full vintage V profile supported by an internal steel T-bar, 1-11/16” width at nut and 2-1/8” at the 12th fret; ebony fingerboard and Golden Era style bridge; bone nut and glued in saddle with 2-1/8” string spacing; open-back Grover tuning machines; period-correct gold foil headstock logo on Brazilian rosewood face plate grained; ivoroid binding; thin high gloss nitrocellulose finish with faux tortoise shell pickguard under the finish.

“This converted 000-28 has my favorite kind of Brazilian/Adirondack tone, warm and richly colored, with a bass that is plump but not woofy, spawning a rich undertone that at times hugs but never smothers the higher registers, and trebles of fine purity that are precise but solid, yet radiating shimmery harmonic overtones.”

Read the Full Review Here

Martin 000-42 conversion pearl work