Luckily I like guitar, I mean really dig it, 'cause Dan Lambert's three CDs, The Clearing (1997), Plaids (1998), and Melodies/Improvisations (1999), are pure acoustic guitar. Martin and Tony Revel to be exact. Sometimes solo, at others accompanying himself (he laid multiple tracks in studio), but all originals and uniquely Dan Lambert.
Into the Mist, is a perfect opener for The Clearing, a full fourteen cuts of Dan's versatile voicings. A blend of lilting Celtic fingerstyle melody (featuring the Welsh Revel guitar) and strong, yet mellow rhythm accompaniment on the Martin, announce Dan's roots in traditional music. I settled into the folksy feel of it, only to be surprised out of my stupor by the first of many jazz improvisations. Superimposed right on top of the primary rhythm too! My first reaction was "Huh?" Maybe I've lived near Nashville too long, where you walk into one joint to hear one kind of tune, then leave and go down the street to hear something different. Dag-nabbit, I was korn-fused! But the eclectic melodies are delivered with compositional competence, and the longer I listened, the more they grew on me.
By cut #4, Telepathy, I thought I had it figured out. Wrong! This one is straight on jazz. Tight grooves. Edgy. No roots here! Then, whoops! Back to traditional with the next, Tartan Swing,"during which I was tempted to don a kilt and jig along with his strong thumb-picked bass line and fancy Scottish-pipe fret work. He does it all! Raga Pam (#8) features Dan on a late 1940's model Gibson (I'm a connoisseur-I HAD to know, and e:mailed Dan for the scoop!). There's a lot going on in that tune and I knew it was more than just a change of tuning on one of the other guitars. Full, interesting sound. Jazz a la D'jango! Maybe because jazz is not necessarily 'my thang,' I'm sure I don't appreciate cut #12, If Dogs Wore Hats, as fully as others folks might. The riffs lack fluidity; discordant chords jangle as if forced in places. The melody line is a bit repetitive. Compared to others, this one just doesn't work.
He won me back with Festival on High Street (#13), my pick of the litter. Light-hearted like the title, with dramatic tempo changes, reminiscent of a Ferris Wheel's dips and climbs. It was the tune I was still humming later in the day, even though it was followed by a Martin solo, Melody for the End of the Day (#14). Simple elegance: a perfect end piece.
You really get your money's worth on Lambert's second effort, Plaids (1998), a set of 16 self-accompanied cuts, on the Martin and Revel guitars.
Dan's roots are showing again on the opening number, Road to America, a medium tempo Celtic tune. Tricky string-work jazzes up the ending a bit, a good lead into the psychedelic funk of the second piece, 60's Love Theme. Dan reveals his age a little, with intimate instrumentation: fine use of the treble strings for a 'guitar as sitar' effect. Very nice. Spruced Up (With Wood) (#3), is a toe-tapping good time, followed by a melancholic, I Wish I Was." It truly is sad; I don't care for the disjointed phrasing and rather elementary accompaniment. There again, maybe my 'less-than-jazz' ear can't follow the concept. I wanted to skip to the next song! In contrast, I enjoyed the slow, solo Revel in Shepherd's Request (#6). Simple, yet technically masterful, a much better example of quality arrangement. I wanted this song to go on a bit longer!
By cut #8 on this CD, I was getting a definite indication of Dan's direction. Strummed, Cymru sounds unstructured-by design! That's not to say undisciplined, just different. Interesting. An eclectic 'song-soup,' as it were. The appropriately named Sandstone (#11), carried me to wind-swept mesas, galloping horse-hooves keeping the beat. Clearly, Dan Lambert likes to do differing styles, demonstrating an equal talent for them all. He includes a trilogy of inter-related tunes he named the Franklin Mountain Fantasy, near the end of the release. Sandwiched between the sleepy, Smuggler's Pass (#13), and the uneventful The Elephant and the Needle" (#15), lies the cream of this crop. North Ridge (#14), a vigorous, technically challenging piece, showcases Dan's competence. I like it because it is stylistically more straightforward than the others-no folk/jazz "korn-fusion" going on!
He closes the set with I Don't Want to Leave (Forever This Time), making it clear that this CD is all about expression. A man's soulful revelation of emotion, unabashed, and an artist's statement of individuality. Although this and The Clearing are not Dan's first CDs, I got the feeling that recording them was the first time he really got to 'do his own thang.'
Melodies/Improvisations (1999) is a true solo achievement. Dan chose not to lay multiple tracks for this CD and is, instead, playing more like he performs live-in a much more relaxed mode. Straightforward, fewer hybrid mixes. That's not to say it lacks texture; quite the contrary, but it's easy-on-the-ears music, more of why I buy acoustic guitar instrumentals.
Dan opens with a jaunty tune called, October Rhythm; perfect for a cool night of porch sitting bundled in quilts, then warms you completely with Harbinger (#2). 'Nice' is the only word to describe it. Dressed down, a primer on simple structure in good form. Back to cool jazz licks on the third cut, Baysbrown, turning reminiscent, almost wistful in a requiem, To Donny (#4). Without asking Dan about it, I could hear the importance of the person to which the song is directed. Packs a powerful punch to the heart.
Maybe it's the emotional impact that makes this CD my favorite of the three. I want music to move me in some way-and do so without being complicated. While some of the numbers were a little on the longish side, (A Life's Dream #5, stretches on for over six minutes), you don't seem to mind. Pirates in West Texas (#11), is a groovy tune, even if it is seven-minutes-plus-some long. I gather it tells the story of an epic episode in the life of an El Paso guitar player we know as Dan Lambert. Made me wish it was a live album so that I could get the song's commentary while he tuned.
Speaking of live. If you're interested in doing a Dan-gig in person, you'll find his tour schedule on the web: www.musi-cal.com/search?performers=Dan+Lambert. You can read more about the development of his highly individualistic approach on the Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitar page: www.execpc.com/~pgkuchar. I went away from this last CD with the impression that the final piece (#15), Song Within a Song is more than just a tune title for Mr. Lambert. Woven together, Dan's simple strands of folk tradition and blustery, zig-zagging jazz overlays create a complicated pattern of deeply textured material. Inside every one of them there lies a bit of himself. Unconstrained imagination in human form, just waiting to try it all.
Ok, so what if he doesn't have the speed of Australian phenomenon Tommy Emmanuel, (who else does, after all?), or the stylistic melody-making mastery of Bill Mize? Dan's unique stylings stand on their own. James Sallis, in his book, The Guitar in Jazz, says it best. "Dan Lambert's playing is highly individualistic-sometimes relaxed and in a groove, often full of stabbing odd turns-and immediately recognizable." Indeed.
Edited by: Roberta B. Schwartz