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This is music to savor. Twenty-first century pioneer music to be sure. Gar Ragland has taken the role of the classic "singer-songwriter," where the troubadour with his guitar sings his tales, and has quietly updated it for a new era. On one level, it is music at its most bare-bones - just voice and acoustic guitar. Yet on another, there is so much more - Gar's music weds the dark, gentle tenor of such 70s greats as James Taylor, Nick Drake and even Cat Stevens with modern harmonies and rhythms. During his tenure as a student at New England Conservatory, Gar learned from his mentor Ran Blake (himself a masterful and unique piano stylist and interpreter of the American songbook) that silence and mood can embrace the simplest of melodies and transform them into something more sophisticated, something richer. Listen to Gar's version of Blake's "Vanguard" and you'll see what I mean. As evidenced from his interpretations of Lennon and McCartney's "Blackbird" and "Rain," Gar demonstrates his ability to really get inside a song and gently turn it inside out, leaving the listener wondering if what he just heard was really a cover or not. Gar's own songs are terse distillations of melody and harmony, blended together forming a gauzy web around the listener. Echoes of the crushed splendor of Nick Drake's dark suspensions ring out in songs like "Summer Haze" and "Loneliness Leads to Madness." And Gar's simple, peaceful lyricism shines brilliantly in his tender lullabye "Mrs. Knight." But this is not all mood and brood music. Gar kicks up quite a hoe-down in "Antiques Made Daily" and exudes plenty of earthy, New Orleans funkiness in "Tchefuncte Funk." This is an intimate and varied debut full of honest, soulful music. But don't just take my word for it. Listen. Help yourself. Dig in.

-Bob Holub
Iowa City, IA


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