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Autoharp Clearinghouse

Review of "Chestnuts" by Harvey Reid
(March 1995 by Eileen Roys)

Harvey Reid's tenth "solo" album, Chestnuts, is a 60-minute all-instrumental collection of nineteen old classics which have been beautifully resurrected and superbly reproduced. Recorded direct-to-digital, in what has become Harvey's trademark style, this un-gimmicked project will be sincerely appreciated by anyone who likes their music straight on the rocks. No overdubs or multi-tracking of any sort were done on this album. As indicated, Harvey is the dominant instrumentalist here, although he is assisted by a host of fine musicians. Ten of the cuts are duet and trio pieces. Throughout these numbers, one is aware that there is a lot of subtle dynamics, blending, and arranging going on. It's almost as though there was one mind controlling all the activity, yet each instrument keeps its own identity. The setting is such that it allows listeners to tune into each lick. I particularly enjoyed the addition of Brian Silber's viola. The mandolin of David Surette dances through "Buffalo Gals," and guitar legend Dan Crary makes a significant cameo appearance on "My Grandfather's Clock" and "Bill Bailey." All in all, I found the "backup ensemble" to be highly complimentary to Harvey's lead.

As was established in AC's February 1995 cover story, Harvey Reid is the consummate musical technician. His playing is deliberate, polished and precise, and he knows his way around the "fingerboard" of whatever instrument he chooses to pick up. Each and every number is executed with dignity, refinement and the utmost in good taste. Harvey has something that eludes more pickers than not in that he is able to give each piece personality and character. But then, would you expect anything less from someone who won the National Finger-Picking Guitar Championship, and then returned a year later to place second in the International Autoharp Championship?

Harvey plays brilliantly on the three autoharp tracks. The tone that he manages to get from an Oscar Schmidt 1973 Appalachian 21-chord 'harp is nothing short of astounding. It just goes to show you what can be accomplished through meticulous tuning and the skilled use of microphones. I hope I live long enough to see this man record an all-autoharp album. Harvey plays an unusual Deering 6-string banjo. He has "invented" a fake clawhammer style for the instrument, and embraces that technique on "Jesse James." The banjo is also heard on "Listen to the Mocking Bird" and "Bill Bailey." His highly-developed sense of music is likewise evidenced on the 6-string, ]2-string and slide guitar offerings. Harvey is focused, and he doesn't try to be all things to all people. His notable strands of originality serve to further elevate this album above others of its kind. Instrumental recordings that can bear straight-through playings on a repeated basis are rare, but this one qualifies. If is difficult, if possible at all, to choose favorite selections when a recording project is consistently good from start to finish. The material is balanced between fast and slow numbers, and is acoustically rich throughout the album. Chestnuts has more that its share of moments to savor. Comprehensive liner notes (including guitar tunings and capo locations) provide a wealth of interesting and useful information. The album should garnish immediate favor with guitarists, but autoharpers will also want to find a spot for this recording in their collections.

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