Eric Hofbauer,
American Vanity
(Creative Nation, 2002)

Jazz guitarist Eric Hofbauer strikes out to capture the mood and foibles of a theme, in this case the perception of social hubris of America and Americans, on American Vanity. That the album is a presentation of solo guitar work is notable for the tone it sets, the shouting of the solitary voice at the larger machine. That the album not only accomplishes the grafting of image to tone, but swings in the process, is simply great.

You get a little concerned initially: the screaming blatancy of the theme is underscored by gimme titles like "New Coke (Part 1)" and "The Fad," and the liner notes suggest an almost pathological need to keep the listener from confusing any of the tunes for love songs just because they're slow. (To wit: "As Americans we are simultaneously victims and purveyors of vanity and this recording mocks, scolds, and celebrates us for having the balls to do that to ourselves.")

Fortunately, Hofbauer is a first-rate guitarist in the spirit mold, able to deftly switch gears in the middle of passages and play against himself amazingly, while not merely catching you up in his virtuosity (which, on tracks like "BA-DEE Image" and "The Fad," is easy to do). You still get the subtle point somehow through the musical choices, which bear pointing out; not content to simply commit to time an instrumental manifesto of socialism or some such thing, Hofbauer keeps his choices loose and witty, offering up celebratory fare such as a cover of Mingus's "Better Get Hit in Your Soul," the theme from The Dukes of Hazzard (which is even marked on the insert as an example of "popped culture") and that old A-Ha pop classic "Take on Me." The guy's got a sense of humor to go wit his skepticism and the record wins for it.

Hofbauer knows that the people who actually need the message of the CD likely won't ever hear the contents of it, but he clearly feels the need to rail against the wind here, saying he took his stand the way he knew how. It's enough to make you wonder what kind of world we'd be living in if everyone had not only his critical thinking skills, but his faith.

- Rambles
written by Scott Woods
published 30 August 2003