When I was young and someone said “You play like a chick guitar player,” they’d be either smiling or ducking. After hearing this anthology, it could only be construed as a compliment.
Produced by Patty Larkin and Bette Warner, La Guitara brings together the work of 14 exceptional guitar players, all women. Musical styles include classical, folk, acoustic blues, electric blues, rock, Latin, and even near-Eastern. The artist list covers a wide swath with old pros, up-and-comers, and historical icons including Sharon Isbin, Memphis Minnie, Mimi Fox, Kaki King, Ellen Mcllwaine, Badi Assad, Alex Houghton, Vicki Genfan, Muriel Anderson, Rory Block, Jennifer Batten, and Elizabeth Cotton joining producer Patty Larkin. Given such a variety of styles, this anthology could have all the continuity of a public radio broadcast, but Larkin manages to give the anthology an overall musical shape and form. It begins with a contemplative mood and gradually weaves its way into more upbeat and experimental material before climaxing with Cotton’s triumphant “Wilson Rag.”
Choosing the most outstanding selections on La Guitara is as much a function of taste as it is an analysis of the music. To my ears, Memphis Minnie’s “Let’s Go To Town” ties with Vickie Genfan’s “Joy” and Alex Houghton’s “The Bear” as the cuts most likely to have you pushing the “repeat” button on your CD player. All three guitarists combine superhuman physical technique with a novel rhythmic and melodic musical structure to create arresting music. Producer Patty Larkin’s specially recorded contribution combines old-fashioned guitar sounds with modern sonic treatments to create a novel composition that’s unlike most of her previous work.
All but a few of the selections have been previously released on each artist’s own CDs. Still, this anthology, some of whose proceeds go to the non-profit “Guitars in the Classroom,” manages to be more than the sum of its parts. Even though the variety of sources does make for a range in sound quality – you can’t expect a ’30s recording to sound as good as an ’03 recording; the overall sonic quality is more than acceptable and never gets in the way of the music.
With the advent of the IPod, much of the impetus behind purchasing anthologies has been lost. After all, anyone can program ITunes or their CD changer to create instant anthologies of their own collections. Still, there’s a unique appeal to arranging music around some sort of theme guided by an overriding intelligence. La Guitara successfully delivers the wide spectrum of great female players on a well-crafted silver platter.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.