El McMeen,
(Piney Ridge, 2002)

Breakout is a mixture of cover versions, improvisations and originals by guitarist El McMeen. He begins with one of his own compositions, "Le Mans," a strong and pacy opener that encourages further listening through the contrastingly dull "Give Me Jesus" that follows. He compiles an interesting Motown medley -- "My Girl/Stand By Me/It's The Same Old Song" -- a tantalising but peculiar blend, as they are presented in the unusual format of solo guitar; they sound simultaneously familiar and unknown!

El tries his nimble fingers at the Scottish jig, "Turf Lodge," and manages to maintain the swiftness usually brought to the piece by the pipes for which it was originally written. He then dedicates a tune of his own to his wife, Sheila. It is unfortunate that the squeak and slide of fingers on chord changes is particularly prominent on this track, which begins as ballad and then increases tempo, altering as the emotions and pace of a relationship progresses.

The halfway point of the CD is marked by the title track, a nippy number showing off his finger-picking skills nicely. He leaps the centuries to bring the odd inclusion of "Greensleeves" and returns to present for "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" -- one of his weakest tracks, better suited to another instrument with sympathetic vocals. The next medley mixes two traditional sombre, plaintive tunes honouring heroes, suitable for his obligatory homage to the victims and heroes of 9-11. McMeen gives the well-known Irish tune "Star of the County Down" a mixture of timings, varying from waltz through hornpipe and jig; I prefer the faster timing, having learned the song to a more sprightly rhythm, and wish he'd deviated from the ballad/waltz tempo earlier in the track. His improvisation of "Shenadoah Air" had me watching the seconds tick by, but I quite enjoyed his finale, "Carolan's No 179," played as a slow love song.

I wasn't particularly taken with Breakout on first listen but it got better the more I heard. I much preferred the few faster-moving tracks over the slower selections. This CD will appeal mostly to guitar enthusiasts who appreciate the intricacy of McMeen's fingerwork on the strings, and while the eclectic range of tracks may not appeal to everyone, most listeners should find something they wish to hear again.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 23 November 2002

[ visit the artist's website ]

Buy it from Amazon.com.