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Steve Booke: Rare Earth (CD, 71:21); Earth Tones Music, ET-0916 Give a guy an acoustic guitar, open tunings, a solid percussionist, David Penna, to accompany him and he can drone and raga strum nearly indefinitely. Harmonics thrown in, rhythmic changes, syncopation, mini-riffs, a pull off here, a hammer-on there, slides, open chords banging, and that adrenalin gets going. Remember Woodstock and Havens’ “Freedom, freedom!” and his power strumming? This kind of flowing, strum-drenched, abandon made Tibbetts and Hedges happy campers. Yet Tibbetts, Hedges, and others had many more fascinating tricks up their sleeves and threw in an electric lead flourish when necessary. But Booke remains endlessly acoustic and loves to strum. On “Alone”, track four, the strumming ceases and a beautifully melancholy, fingerpicked piece calls to mind Anthony Phillips. A welcome break from marathon strumming! Next three tracks -- more strumming and percussion. Track nine, “Tears”, brings us back to fingerpicking delights and another strumless respite. Alex De Grassi seems influential here. The remaining tracks, ten through fourteen, are -- you guessed it -- Booke strumming his heart out, chord change upon chord change, callouses upon callouses. Frankly, I tired very quickly of the “sameness” that saturated my headphones. Booke is a competent rhythm guitarist yet lacks a needed element -- variety. Easily, at least a couple solos dubbed in somewhere -- guitar, flute, synth wash, a bass solo or even violin, would have sufficed to add interest from song to song. Penna’s creative percussives were exceptional but couldn’t lift Booke’s strumming above that unavoidable monotony, inherent in many exclusively acoustic guitar releases. On the other hand, if you want that droning, strumming wash of acoustic guitar playing, to relax away the hours or to jam with, then Booke’s Rare Earth is for you. ~ John W. Patterson
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