Alex Houghton,
(self-produced, 2001)

Happybody features the excellent fingerstyle guitar playing and composition of Alex Houghton, and my only complaint is that, with a playing time of half an hour, it is far too short!

Houghton's music is given further definition by nine other equally competent musicians. Peter Kieswalter provides adept string arrangements and Ross Murray is on percussion. "Compression" in particular benefits from the mellow trumpet accompaniment of Kevin Turcotte; this was one of my favourite tracks, sensual and deliciously laidback. "Slow in C" is another richly enjoyable atmospheric piece, and both of these tunes have added depth, courtesy of John Geggie on bass. Not all are so calm and relaxing, however, with the title track having a demanding, deeply provocative beat reminiscent of the pulse of flamenco.

Happybody provides no background information on Houghton, leaving her enigmatic and mysterious. It does not even credit her with the composition of the tunes, so to confirm my certainty, I turned to her equally understated website to find that Camouflage (1995) and Rocket Science (1997) precede this current release. She is continuing a trend of being visually obscure about the kind of music to expect, this third CD cover giving no indication that contained within is acoustic guitar playing and original composition of extraordinarily high standard. Her playing, so precise and skilled, is surely eluding much of her prospective audience because of this cover camouflage! Having heard the quality and style inherent in the music, I am now converted, but were I browsing in store or online, I wouldn't have given these discs a second glance.

Happybody is ideal for close listening or background music, relaxing yet not soporific -- its 11 tracks intriguing and attractive. I'm no expert, but I felt reasonably confident in tracing classical influences, melding effortlessly with hints of jazz and flamenco. Her playing spans delicate, gentle caresses and bold, emphatic strokes -- there wasn't a track I didn't like: it was a genuine pleasure to listen to! I can enthusiastically recommend this delightful album, and the talent of Houghton and her companion musicians. If you enjoy the sound of the guitar, acquaint yourself with this young artist and look out for her next release.

[ by Jenny Ivor ]
Rambles: 28 September 2002