Russ Rentler,
Acoustic Minstrel
(self-produced, 2004)

Believe it or not, Acoustic Minstrel could be a great promotion for green stamps. Russ Rentler first played on a ukulele purchased with those staples of times past and, as the saying goes, he never looked back. This aptly-titled CD showcases Rentler's writing and interpretation of some beautiful traditional material.

The opening track, "Girl Like You," is a gentle love song, well-crafted and beautifully played. The hammer dulcimer seldom appears to such good effect as it does on his instrumental "Planxty Fluharty," also from his pen. "Jewel of the Caribbean" is another lovely vocal offering. Rentler seems to sing from the heart in this story song of a visit to Haiti.

Christmas songs are always a risk on any album. Even so, my favorite track on this CD is a Christmas song, and I believe that with airplay it could become a staple of the holiday season. "Window in Heaven" is a new take on the Nativity, beautifully told with a gentle backing. Amid the 13 tracks, there always sits an odd cut that will either amuse or infuriate. Bach and the autoharp are a seldom-heard pairing, but Rentler's version of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" both amused and captivated me.

The liner notes tell us that Rentler is a doctor who recently closed his practice to take his music on the road, which may be a better contribution to society. The music lifts spirits, cures the blues and may help us think better than pills, but beware -- it could be just as addictive.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 24 October 2004

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