Reviews

Taplas (Wales)

Posted by on Dec 5, 2011 in Reviews | 0 comments

Planet Solitaire – How has this innovative guitarist stayed off the radar for so long? Technically, stylistically and most important of all, passionately he is up there with the greats. Think Martin Simpson, Stephen Fearing, Leo Kottke, the late Isaac Guillory, he genuinely has what they have and in similar quantity. What, very interestingly, sets him slightly apart is an even greater breadth of stylistic influences. Sure Messrs Fearing and Simpson have their share of experimentalism, but Walter Strauss here incorporates the sound of the West African kora, a little Native American folklore, and just a sprinkling of 60s psychedelia into his repertoire. Apparently he has been performing at festivals in the USA, Canada and as close as Ireland, but only visited England and Wales earlier this year. Keep your eyes peeled for dates. On the evidence of Planet Solitaire, he is a guitarist you just have to see. – Trefor...

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Guitarist Magazine – 4 Stars

Posted by on Nov 5, 2011 in Reviews | 0 comments

Planet Solitaire – World music with one foot on home turf. For listeners with eclectic tastes, Planet Solitaire offers a glimpse into the ear-bending possibilities of bringing the harp-like phrasing and polyrhythms of West African kora music to the steel-string acoustic guitar. Strauss is a spirited player and a strong vocalist – and this new album meanders pleasantly between guitar interpretations of world-music styles and nuanced songwriting with shades of Al Stewart in tracks such as Weather Rule. Bridging the gap between pop and world music can sometimes lead to cringe-making ‘fusions’ but American-born Strauss has managed to integrate the musical traditions of far-flung continents very effectively with those of his homeland. –...

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Folk and Roots

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

Planet Solitaire – A native of Wyoming and acknowledged wizard of the intricacies of the fingerstyle guitar, Walter’s also a 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. Like his debut CD Pulling Shadows, which very much impressed me on its appearance back in the spring of 2009, Planet Solitaire is an astoundingly eclectic collection that at its best delicately stuns with its breathtaking solo virtuosity (no other musicians appear on the record) and enchants with its supple imagery. I don’t necessarily warm to all Walter’s solitary planetary excursions (I find The Salamander mildly pretentious), but at its most inventive and listenable (which is the vast majority of the time) Walter’s music recalls that of Brooks Williams, perhaps with a more pronounced African influence but without quite the same degree of espousal of his blues heritage. Walter’s own melodies tend to ramble in what often seems more random tonal progressions, but generally to potent effect, as in the Native-American-inspired homage Ishi. This time round, the album contains six instrumental cuts (including one brief reprise) and just five vocal numbers: one of the former is a creative, raga-rippling non-vocal rendition of George Harrison’s Within You Without You, and finely realised though that is, perhaps the most intriguing of the instrumental cuts is Gypsydish, which intermingles inspirations from Spanish guitar tradition and the funky cross-rhythms typical of Malian harp music played on the kamal’ngoni; not far behind in the satisfaction stakes, though, is Walter’s exploration of the traditional kora song Soutoukou, learnt from the great kora master Mamadou Diabate (with whom he’s toured in a duo). Among the songs, the most curveball of Walter’s choices is an abridged resurrection-cum-reworking of the lesser-known Woody Guthrie number The Great Historical Bum, while Walter also shows a keen response to the gentle poetics and tricky, windswept harmonic changes of fellow-songwriter Andy Rinehart’s Weather Rule. Another vocal highlight comes with Walter’s own composition Blessed Sunday, a masterly reflection on the lives and inner stories of several men of his father’s generation whose choices led them to a solitary life. Planet Solitaire is definitely one of those few-and-far-between genuinely satisfying and wholly stimulating solo records where the listener really doesn’t miss the presence of supporting musicians in any way. – David...

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fRoots Magazine (UK) – Thumbs Up

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

Planet Solitaire – fRoots Magazine (UK) – Thumbs up. If you haven’t encountered Strauss’s guitar take on kora music, this is a great place to start. He brings his incendiary technique to George Harrison and even Woody Guthrie songs as well, and his own stuff is left-field and good, too.

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Allgigs (UK)

Posted by on Dec 5, 2011 in Reviews | 0 comments

Planet Solitaire – Sometimes you stumble across a musician who defies definition. This can be a good thing, or a very bad thing. Walter Strauss possesses a paradigm of monikers – Walter certainly isn’t ‘rock and roll’ and ‘Strauss’ evokes the image of large ballrooms and sweeping orchestral movements. Thankfully there isn’t much evidence of either, but what you do have with “Planet Solitaire” is a rare breed of world-fusion that actually works. Strauss is a master of the picking-style of guitar-playing favoured by African musicians such as the late Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate, plus also jazz-luminaries such as Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie and the totally non-classifiable Vini Reilly – plus he can also sing with a resonating sub-baritone quiver. Bastard. Aside from a respectful and busy reading of Woody Guthrie’s, “The Great Historical Burn” and George Harrison’s, “Within You, Without You”, much of this engaging album is comprised of West African traditional and self-penned innovations.  If you are slavering at the thought of me sticking the boot into another irksome, twee and mawkish ‘world-music’ dribbling from a WOMAD reject – seriously, think again. Walter Strauss kicks global arse and is a serious contender. Intricacy is the name of the game, to start with, and “Djeli”, “Gypsydish” and “Djimbaseh” are perfectly-executed acoustic workouts that may well serve a purpose for wine-tasting sessions in Clapham, but are more suited to kicking back on a sandy enclave in Cornwall, Kent or the Western Isles. Basically, much of Strauss’s work knows no boundaries, yet appeals to anyone with a mind broad enough to enjoy the technical and emotional skill that this man can bang out. When he sings, as on the Woody Guthrie tune, he holds his own, but his real forte is when playing acoustic guitar – the man is a wizard. He’s even learnt the workings of the king of African stringed-instruments, the kora, for the closing track and “Soutoukou”, a cracking piece derived from the renowned icon, Mamadou Diabate. This whole album is so good, I’m genuinely surprised that ECM or RealWorld haven’t licensed this enthralling set of songs. It encompasses Western classical and jazz-values, plus rootsy African and Americana with bewildering aplomb. Hello major-labels, get your cheque-books ready! – Paul...

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Maverick Magazine (UK) – Feature Article

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

Feature Article – Walter Strauss: Multi-Genre Guitarist, Producer and Songwriter It happens all the time. After hearing American string wizard Walter Strauss play guitar and sing, first-timers to his shows invariably turn to each other slack-jawed and wide-eyed, whispering: ‘Why the hell have I never heard of this guy before?’ Good question. But there are good reasons, too. For years now, Walter has been in the copilot seat, as it were, as sideman for various acoustic American and African artists, and as album producer for other people’s projects. But of late, the spotlight has turned onto Walter himself. Fortunately for Maverick readers, he will be touring England, Scotland and Ireland this May, and will have on offer both the full-band PULLING SHADOWS CD and a six-song EP of guitar and voice entitled PLANET SOLITAIRE. Much as his growing legion of fans love the live and recorded work he’s done with Malian kora and kamele ngoni masters Mamadou Diabate and Mamadou Sidibe, American folk trio the Burns Sisters, New York alt before alt was cool rockers the Head Cleaners, his own east-coast quintet Ten Sleep and west-coasters the Walter Strauss Trio. That said, it’s in a solo situation, they say, that they can hear most clearly just what a many-layered, multi-textural, one-man folk festival Walter Strauss really is. And the general consensus seems to be that—as delicious as the melodic and harmonic elements of Walter’s singing and guitar playing are—it’s his rhythmic drive that is absolutely freaking irresistible. “Drums were my first instrument. Well, actually, the very first thing I played was the laundry hamper, with pencils. One brother would play the tennis racket, and the other played an actual guitar. I have a cassette recording of us playing Wipeout when I was six. We were good!” You were born on in Rawlins, Wyoming. Is that right so far? “That’s right,” Walter laughs. “My dad was not a musician himself, but had a great interest in classical music, particularly Bach. And just having that around the house, that was influential, I’m sure. So was his singing. He had a beautiful singing voice, my dad …” “My mother played piano. Lots of German volkslieder. She is a painter, and a painter of the Big West, of the mountains and the vast expanses. I think her art has a similar aesthetic to my music and vice-versa, of course.” You left home to follow your muse at the age of 15? “Yup. And that probably made me look inside in a more reflective way than most teenagers do. I first lived in the basement of a bridal shop that, strangely, never ever had a single customer. A Mafia front? Probably. And then lived by myself out in the countryside, and that was actually a very spiritual time for me. I’d put my stereo speakers out the window over this beautiful valley, and listen to Christopher Parkening play Bach. Such transcendental performances on that record. Each note is perfectly placed, but not just in a technical way. A couple of Jackson Browne records were also on the turntable at that time, which probably influenced my songwriting. And Pink Floyd. I’ve always loved a lot of rock’n’roll.” Tell us a bit more about your musical history. “I started playing guitar when I was eight. By...

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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...

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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

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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...

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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...

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