Bryan Bowers,
Friend for Life
(Rounder Records, 2000)

Whenever I think of the autoharp, I think of an old friend, his large frame hunched over an autoharp he'd acquired from somewhere, trying to make music. He wasn't particularly musically inclined and he didn't do too well with it. Consequently, I've never thought of the autoharp as an instrument for anyone other than the musically inept or children learning to play an instrument for the very first time.

Bryan Bowers changed that with his CD Friend for Life. Bowers can make the autoharp do amazing things. He can make it sound like a guitar or like a whole herd of harps playing together. Clearly he is the master of his instrument.

His singing, on the other hand, isn't as amazing. His voice reminds me a bit of Kenny Rogers (as does his photo on the CD's cover), but he really seems to be straining to reach notes in a couple of spots. This doesn't mean that his singing is awful, just that he sounds much better when he sings in a lower register.

In the liner notes for this CD, Bowers states that he considers some songs to be friends for life; he can always remember where he first heard them. Presented here, then are some of his "friends." These are mostly traditional songs including "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," "Amazing Grace," "Red River Valley," "Glory Land" and "Auld Lang Syne." There is also "Friend for Life," a song that Bowers composed with Bill Danoff.

The songs range from the slow to the fast; on "Shortening Bread," for example, his fingers fairly flash over the strings. And you simply won't believe what he does with "Cluck Old Hen."

If you're looking for something new and different, give Bryan Bowers and Friend for Life a try.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]

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