If I had to name instruments that seem to be made to play solo the piano and the harp guitar would be right up at the top of the list. So when Brad Hoyt told me that he had recorded a collection of duets with piano and harp guitar I just had to hear it for myself. Together Alone turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
The reasons for checking this CD out are the same ones that explain its quality. Brad Hoyt is a sensitive songwriter (he wrote all of the songs) and an equally adept duo partner - the songs suit both instruments and the piano never overshadows the guitar. The third reason for this album's success is the high-calibre guest guitarists.
The CD begins with Midwestern Expansion, and with the very first notes we are greeted with the beautiful textures that guest Antoine Dufour provides on his Noble harp guitar. We know that Antoine Dufour is a terrific guitarist, and here he is at his best. Brad Hoyt complements Antoine's playing by adding to the texture, and also staying out of the way of the harp guitar's beautifully booming bass strings. This easy-going tune is great to just wind down and start enjoying the music.
Martyr's Last Crossing is a more introspective piece inspired by St. Ignatius of Antioch's voyage to be executed in the Roman Forum. Jeff Titus presents a softer approach on his Carlson "Oracle" harp sympitar as befits so meditative a subject. His soloing is at turns bluesy, contrapuntal, and modally melodic, with a sitar-like drone sounding in the background at points. You can view photos of this amazing combination of woodworking beauty and modern technology here.
Sharper's Lament is a funky jazz workout that Brad Hoyt plays with Mike Doolin on his Doolin jazz harp guitar. This one is great fun, at times flirting with reggae and even ska. By the way, "sharper" is a very old word for a con man or grifter. Here our sharper is a bit down on his luck and so feeling a bit blue. Jon Crabiel adds some tasty percussion.
Together Alone begins in an almost classical style, a mood echoed perfectly by Stacy Hobbs on his Noble harp guitar . Despite the songwriter's disclaimer this piece does speak of places and times far away, with hints of the past and possible futures. The intertwining of the instruments is particularly fine .
Tonight We Dance is a bit more exotic, with touches of Eastern European music infused into the heart of the song. Muriel Anderson adds to the exoticism with her Doolin harp requinto. This fascinating instrument consists of a smaller-bodied classical guitar which sounds like a regular guitar capoed at the third fret, with bass strings extending down from G. You can see this very instrument on the Doolin Guitars site. It really is worth a visit to the site. And it sounds as good as it looks.
Continuing with more of these unique harp guitars, John Doan plays his Sullivan-Elliot 20-string harp guitar on Letting Go. The high strings sound like the purest silver floating their melody high up there in this introspective tune. Yet another tune to luxuriate in its wonderful sonic space.
Fisherman's Mistress has the sound of a somewhat mischievous dance, with just a touch of honky-tonk and a pinch of country blues. Gregg Miner contributes both his Zimmerman harp guitar and his Knutsen harp mandolin to this tune which was originally to be a Greek fishing song. This is one of the songs that will stick with you even after the first hearing.
Gregg Miner co-produced the CD with Brad Hoyt, and so it is only fitting that he appear on a number of tracks. On Moravian Deluge he plays his Dyer harp guitar. This sadder tune comes from Brad's reflections on the catastrophic flood that devastated Prague in 2002. Once again the instruments intertwine beautifully.
The Other Things is an instrumental version of the song, with Don Alder on his Spillers harp guitar. This is another gentle ballad with the harp guitar and piano sharing the melody and trading off phrases.
Westside Rendezvous sees the return of Mike Doolin and his Doolin jazz harp guitar. This is a nice mid-tempo jazz tune with some mellow soloing and a steady beat courtesy of Jon Crabiel on percussion.
To Last A Lifetime is Gregg Miner's third appearance, this time with his Gibson harp guitar. Jon Crabiel stays on to provide percussion for this slightly more up-tempo song which is powered along by Mr. Miner's pulsing bass strings. The chemistry between these two performers is obvious as they deftly answer each other's solos and phrases. The guitar's chordal solos at the end are particularly fine.
Forever Faithful is a ballad, as you might expect from the title. Carter Lancaster guests on his Dyer harp guitar. Brad Hoyt could not have asked for a more sympathetic duo partner for this finely-wrought ballad. The filigree counterpoint at the end is simply lovely.
The Girl With Glasses is an introspective song that begins with the melody on Pete Bradshaw's Wingert harp guitar. (I was wondering when one of Kathy's beautiful instruments would show up!) After a middle section that culminates in an almost classical dance rhythm, Pete Bradshaw returns with the melody and is soon joined by Brad on the piano for some fine harmony leading to the ending.
In many ways Brad Hoyt saved the best for last. Sheechka Moye is a lovely tune that Mr. Hoyt "guests" with himself on. The sound of his Sedgwick 30-string arpa viola caipira is indescribably gorgeous, with more resonance than the finest 12-string coupled with full rich bass notes and shimmering high-end super-treble strings. You can see the whole genesis of this harp guitar, from plans to the finished instrument, on this site created by Brad Hoyt. After you hear this beautiful song and see this amazing instrument, you are going to want one - bad!
In summary this is a fine album of mellow songs with some great character pieces. Every one of the guest artists gives a fine performance, and the one of the CD's special charms is the wide variety of instruments all from the same "family" of harp guitars. The insert has photos of all of the harp guitarists with their instruments. Ultimately, though, praise and credit go to Brad Hoyt for his vision of duets that must have seemed unlikely to most people. He has written a substantial set of songs in a variety of moods and styles that have drawn excellent performances from his guests, and he has been up to the challenge of meeting them in each of these styles. More than anything, he is a sensitive and talented musician on both piano and harp guitar, and we can expect more lovely songs from him in the future.
Bravo Brad Hoyt for this very fine album with some of the most beautiful sounds that two instruments can make!
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