Jim Earp,
Smiles to Go
(BMI, 1999)

Wow, this guy is good! OK, I only know a few chords on guitar -- suffice it to say that I'm not yet qualified to be called even a beginner. But I have the fortune of knowing plenty of guitar players (for example, my dad), and everyone for whom I've played this CD has had the same response: "Wow, this guy is good!"

Now that that's been established, we can talk about Jim Earp's album Smiles to Go. The album is all solo guitar, performed on a six-string that Jim custom-built himself. He also wrote most of the tunes, although they have the comforting feeling that you've heard them before. He has been playing guitar since 1973, and his style is (I love this!) "Nouveau-Celtic-Classical-Folk." If that sounds broad, then it definitely suits this album. The songs are a great blend of pleasant cascades, warm tones and percussive strikes.

While listening to the first track, "Happy Lad," I couldn't believe that all that sound was coming out of one guitar. This astonishment continued throughout the album, actually. "Clouds over the Mojave" starts off as a mellow tune, then picks up into fast arpeggios, like the wind suddenly picks up over the sand dunes. This is a great piece in every sense; I especially like the timing and the well-placed percussive notes.

"Two Sisters" is a classical-sounding tune with a playful air. I like it. Then it's "Summers Past," a composition Earp has dedicated to the owners of Summers Past Farms and Herbal Gardens, on Olde Highway 80 in California, for those who care to visit. (I looked it up.) "November" is the month in which I was born, but it is also the title for a pleasant track. Upon listening to this song, I imagine Novembers in California must be nice. Here in Manitoba, the song would be titled "Dang, Winter's Here Again...."

Continuing the monthly theme is "One Morning in June," a nice, relaxing number. "Fancy That" picks things up, as Jim lets his fingers fly, and continues to do so in "Bareback Rider." Next is the theme from Lord of the Dance, here using its Shaker title "Simple Gifts." It's way too short (yes, the first criticism that I have so far), but he performs it very well. "Borrego" is great for the different forms of percussion he does on his guitar. "Pilgrim's Reel" is probably my favorite tune on the CD, the notes seem to fly off the guitar strings.

If you like fingerstyle guitar playing, you should get this album. If you haven't listened to much guitar before, you should definitely get this album. The sheer talent will amaze you, and the well-written, catchy tunes will keep you pressing the play button again and again.

[ by Patrick Derksen ]