Reviews

Northern Sky EMagazine (UK)

Posted by on Aug 14, 2011 in Reviews | 0 comments

Planet Solitaire – Virtuoso guitarist Walter Strauss brings something extraordinary to his guitar playing as he continues to explore World influences such as the West African music of Guinean band Ba Sissoko, Malian kamal’ngoni player Mamadou Sidibe and fellow Malian, the kora player Mamadou Diabate. Transferring these complex pieces onto just six strings is no mean feat; the results are astonishing. Having spent many years honing his craft as a sideman and session player, working alongside such artists as Vassar Clements, Martin Simpson, Corinne West and Alex de Grassi, Strauss embarked on his solo career with PULLING SHADOWS (2005), which demonstrated the work of a distinctively original guitar player. If the first album leant towards jazz, incorporating the assistance of several musicians from around the world, this second and very much solo release certainly owes more to a healthy World influence with a rich tapestry of diverse sounds. Strauss explores the fret board with an ardent acquisitive curiosity. If the instrumentals hint at the places the guitar has never before ventured, the songs also have a curious innovation about them, exploring uncommon time signatures and ambitious subjects. The Salamander for instance, views the world through the eyes of a woodland amphibian. Ishi tells of the last surviving member of the Native American Yana people, who survived forty-years hiding in the foothills of Mount Lassen in California before reluctantly integrating himself into modern society. Such songs have a curious appeal. Along with several traditional West African pieces such as Djeli, Soutoukou and Djimbaseh, Strauss also includes something closer to home, selecting a handful of verses from a sprawling Woody Guthrie song The Great Historical Bum as well as paying homage to one of the most notable British musicians to embrace World Music very early on, George Harrison, with a spirited instrumental version of the Sgt Pepper classic Within You, Without You, which captures the beauty of the actual melody of the song, which we suspect was probably overlooked in 1967. – Allan...

Read More

Bob Harris BBC Radio (UK)

Posted by on Jun 14, 2011 in Reviews | 0 comments

“Glorious… the master guitar playing of Walter Strauss” – Legendary British broadcaster Bob Harris

Read More

FAME

Posted by on Jul 14, 2011 in Reviews | 0 comments

Pulling Shadows – California-based guitarist/vocalist/composer/producer Walter Strauss has spent the past fifteen years as a sideman, waiting for the time to present his own compositions both as artist and producer. He has performed as an ensemble musician throughout the United States, Canada and Ireland, touring extensively with Rounder Records’ The Burns Sisters Band, in a duo with Grammy nominated Malian kora master Mamadou Diabate (appearing on this CD), and sharing the stage with other— and better known top-notch musicians like Vassar Clements, Martin Simpson, Hank Roberts, and James Montgomery. Pulling Shadows is his first solo effort, a soulful journey of stellar guitar playing and songs suffused with tenderness and wit, a CD that stands up to anything out there from folk-world-roots artists. For his many admirers, it was worth the wait. Imagine blending the beauty and strength of Bruce Cockburn’s fingerstyle guitar playing, the gravity of Joni Mitchell’s jazz, and the elegant simplicity of American roots. Strauss wrote or co-wrote all but one of the songs, arranged all of them and sings lead on all but the two instrumentals. Most of the tracks open with acoustic guitar that may be joined by percussion or drums, fretless bass, electric guitar, pedal steel, West African kora, horns or flutes. Lyrics touch on themes from nature and ancient cultures to sensual abandon and love. The entire album is performed and produced with a crystalline beauty. The opening track, In the Stone, practically leaps off the disc in a dance driven by Strauss’ earthy, rhythmic guitar and hand drums, fretless bass from Rich DePaolo and kora from Mamadou Diabate. We’re shown a magical lost world that’s still perceptible in the desert southwest: “Redrock ringing through me / the silver hiss of a million suns / Sandstone totems to nobody.” At the tail end of the fade we hear ancient voices, a haunting excerpt from a piece by the American Indian Dance Theater. Strauss has the rare ability to take us from a wider perspective to a deeper, more personal view, subtly and without artifice. Where the opening track dances, the next one, Spring Song, sways. The first line is riveting: “I saw a newborn owl on a riverbank breathing steam into the air.” Bob Carlucci’s pedal steel floats over Strauss’ electric guitar and DePaolo’s fretless bass, accented by percussion from Mike Ricciardi. Love Puddle is a bold invitation: “I’m aiming for your empathy / the soft spot behind your knee / I’ll teach your tongue to Portuguese /I’ll hold you up inside of me / If you let me into you.” Just try to sit still listening to this! The Buffalo Song, written by Marc Berger, is a melancholy portrait of the great American delusion: “I won’t ask which way they went / if you will keep my Buick on the highway/In America your mother can become the president/and you can make your fortune on the phone.” Farthest from folk is The Beast, written in the sarcastic voice of the artist’s disabling inner critic. A Latin rhythm is driven by Bill King’s excellent drumming and horn arrangement/programming by avant-pop CMP recording artist Andy Rinehart. It’s reminiscent of Carlos Santana’s Smooth, or Stevie Wonder’s Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing. You would never know the horns are sampled, only that a big brass section is in the house. Deeper in the record I found my favorite, the moody Like Water, with its wash of acoustic and electric guitars, broad stokes of fretless bass, delicate drumming and ethereal background vocals from Uniit Carruyo. The bridge, with it’s harmonizing flutes from Ken LaRoche, is like the...

Read More

Maverick Magazine (UK)

Posted by on Sep 14, 2011 in Reviews | 0 comments

Planet Solitaire – A specialist market this, highly skilled guitar and harp playing of American and African roots music, in its original meaning with one or two good vocal tracks also included. Even a proficient guitarist would have to sit and listen to this, an intimate, light sound, highly melodic, and the overall sound washes over you in a very pleasant way. A Californian, Walter Strauss is a hard working, time served musician with a long list of sideman credtis now highlighting his own considerable individual talents and he has recently completed a successful solo and shared billing tour of small halls the length and breadth of the UK. The album is topped and tailed by traditional West African tunes played on the kora, a 21 string harp which Strauss learned to play from touring with a virtuoso, 2010 Grammy winner, Mamadou Diabate. The tracks are Djeli and Djimbaseh and they are expressive tributes to the musicians of Africa. The vocal tracks are side dishes really, a bit like Chet Atkins used to throw into some of his albums. The Salamander a tale of the life and loves of a woodland amphibian was dull. Much better was Woody Guthrie’s The Great Historical Bum with Strauss’ vocalisztion sounding, I would think quite deiberately, very like Arlo Guthrie. My picks are a version of George Harrison’s Sgt Pepper track Within You Without You and two evocative self penned tracks Gypsydish and Ishi, the latter related to the true story of the last surviving member of a Native American tribe. If this is your style of music you won’t find a much better proponent than Walter Strauss. – Paul...

Read More

Folk and Roots (UK)

Posted by on Jul 14, 2011 in Reviews | 0 comments

Pulling Shadows – A native of Wyoming and almost incidental wizard of the fingerstyle guitar, Walter’s also a singer-songwriter who drags rootsy Americana from the open spaces of the Midwest out into the far reaches of the globe. In the past, he’s worked with musicians from West Africa to Australia to Finland, weaving together seemingly disparate musical strands and disciplines into a surprisingly seamless whole. The ten tracks on this, his debut CD, comprise eight songs and just two instrumental cuts. Taking the latter first, one (Dustdevil) is a plain astounding piece, a whirling, spinning mass of kora textures (on which Mamadou Diabate guests, no less), whereas Spinner’s Cascade is also aptly named, being a tumbling solo acoustic guitar painting on which Walter demonstrates his consummate mastery of the instrument in a pastoral, neo-folk-baroque context (think acoustic Led Zepp perhaps). The vocal items, all songs of Walter’s own composition, are also exceedingly satisfying, indeed tasty, and embrace a variety of roots idioms, from the tenderly soulful Latin-inflected Time, Peace And Honey through the deep-throated horn-bedecked The Beast and the contemplative Like Water. Walter’s gently soulful, smoky, sometimes dreamlike vocal tones suit each song so well, whether he’s framed by edgy Beefheartian rhythms (Love Puddle), funky percussive picking (In The Stone) or a yearning pedal steel (as on Blue Horizon and Spring Song) or carrying the expressive heart while kora and guitar cascade meaningfully around him. Walter’s chosen his guest musicians well – they include Rich DePaolo, Bob Carlucci, Ken Laroche and Bill King – and Walter’s keen incorporation of the African influences in particular leads to some creative and stimulating musical adventures, wholly naturally blending the rippling rhythmic patterns into his own inventions. Pulling Shadows was recorded a couple of years ago at least, yet it sounds bang up to the minute, and a followup is due this year sometime, maybe (I hope) to coincide with a short UK tour starting May 2009; this guy’ll certainly be worth seeing. www.walterstrauss.com – David...

Read More

Guitar and Bass Magazine

Posted by on May 14, 2011 in Reviews | 0 comments

Pulling Shadows – Strauss does a grand job of weaving American roots and African rhythms (not to mention the odd Latin jazz excursion) into his tunes. Just relax and let his featherlight fingerstyle playing wash over you.

Read More