by Paul Kucharski
Within the last year or so Mel Bay started releasing the 2000 Solo Anthology series in celebration of the new millennium. The anthology series books are substantial collections of instrumental solo pieces in various styles and/or instruments in the area of Blues Guitar, Fingerstyle Guitar, Flatpicking Guitar, Jazz Guitar, as well as Dulcimer, Hammer Dulcimer, Fiddle, Mandolin, and Banjo.
I'll review two of the books most likely to be of interest to fingerstyle guitarists: 2000 Fingerstyle Guitar and 2000 Blues Guitar. Normally I would have these reviews in my book/video review pages, but there was so much to say about these books, I felt they deserved an article unto themselves. What's most interesting about these books is the shear size of each collection and the fact that two or more CDs are included with each. One thing these books have in common; the CDs alone are worth the price of the books!
So why is Mel Bay publishing such a voluminous series of books at such a great price? Well it's only conjecture on my part, but I suspect the main goal is to re-introduce the book buying public to the talents of the many authors who publish with Mel Bay. I suspect that their hope is that once you are familiar with these authors abilities, you'll buy more books; a good marketing strategy really.
2000 Mel Bay Publications, 3 CDs, 408 pages
Intermediate to Advanced
Also titled as: "MASTER ANTHOLOGY OF FINGERSTYLE GUITAR SOLOS"
This comprehensive book/CD set presents the majority of today's finest fingerstyle guitarists. A generous collection of challenging solo pieces by a virtual who's who of fingerstyle guitar (see the tune list below); in looking through the list of authors, I am very hard pressed to think of a fingerstyle player who isn't represented here. This book is really quite unique in that in this one publication, you get a very broad sampling of most everyone who is playing fingerstyle guitar today.
I would grade the tunes in this book as intermediate to advanced (not one for a beginner) since many of the tunes appear to be selected to showcase the authors.
Written in standard notation with tablature for most pieces, these tunes are all solo instrumental guitar; there are no "songs" in this book. One of the first things you'll notice is that there is absolutely no consistency in the notation, fonts, TAB sizes, or TAB styles. It' hard to believe there are that many different notation packages out there, but every piece looks different from the others; including some written out by hand and photocopied (but all are easily readable). Each author was obviously allowed to submit their piece in whatever format was convenient.
There are 69 tunes from 68 artists played in a variety of styles including Jazz, Classical, Contemporary, Celtic, and Country. There is quite a number of tunes in alternate tunings, but standard tuning is by far the most common at 60% of the pieces, with DADGAD being the second most common at 17%, and Dropped D next at 10%. The rest of the tunings are pretty diverse and a few are just plain strange.
There are so many outstanding tunes in this book, I'd be very hard pressed to select any favorites, but a few that caught my ear were John Standefer's 'Badlands', Guy Van Duser's 'Cindy and Norm', Robin Bullock's 'Lost Hollow Lament', and El McMeen's "Jacob's Ladder", but there are a whole bunch more as well. There are few books around that I would categorize as absolute "must buys", but this one is clearly one of those. Just listening to the CD's is enough to inspire you to play, but being able to see how these artists are playing these pieces is tremendously educational all by itself.
2000 Mel Bay Publications, 2 CDs, 232 pages
Intermediate to Advanced
Also titled as: "MASTER ANTHOLOGY OF BLUES GUITAR SOLOS"
This comprehensive book/CD set presents some of today's finest guitarists; some who are also widely recognized as blues guitarists (See the tune list below).
But before I get into all the reasons why I am recommending this book, let me spend a few moments telling you about the one thing that really bothers me about it. My main issue with this book is the subtitle; "Featuring solos by the world's finest blues guitarists". Quite a statement don't you think? The problem I have isn't with who is included in the book, but about who is not. You will not find for example Kelly Joe Phelps, Mike Dowling, Pat Donohue, Woody Mann, Bob Brozman, or Roy Bookbinder, or John Jackson, or Paul Geremia, etc, etc. I could go on but you get the point. Sorry, but many of today's finest blues guitarists simply aren't included. In fact a full 40% of the tunes on the CD were recorded on nylon string guitars...maybe it's just me, but playing the blues on a nylon string guitar pretty much says blues guitar isn't their claim to fame. Mel Bay simply overstated things in subtitling this book to keep it consistent with the others in the series. OK...I'm better now!
So let's talk about what is so good about this book...clearly the music itself. Even if many of these guitarists aren't recognized as "blues" guitarists per se, they have all contributed some outstanding tunes that are both fun to listen to and challenging to learn. Muriel Anderson's "Blues for Macedonia" for example has a very unique sound with it's use of 7/8 time. Some that really caught my ear were tunes by Fred Sokolow, Dale Miller, Paul Rishell, Vincent Sadovsky, John Zaradin, and Martin Simpson. There are also some wonderful Jazz blues and Country blues pieces as well; although you'll also find a tune or two where the only thing close to 'the blues' is the title...and maybe that they were written in a minor key (you'll know them when you hear them...they stand out like an honest politician in Congress).
Standard notation and tablature are offered for most of the pieces; but there are a few oddball standard notation only 'piano scores' (ironically these are also the only 'songs' in the book with lyrics....and they're not on the CD either). Also, like the 2000 Fingerpicking book, there is no consistency in the notation, fonts, TAB sizes, or TAB styles. Every piece looks different from the others; including some written out by hand and photocopied (but all are easily readable).
Here are some of the gory statistics: 53 tunes (48 on the CDs) and 43 artists. Out of the 48 tunes on the CD, 40% are played on Nylon string guitars, 31% on Steel/Resonators (2 on 12 string), and 30% on electric guitars. Included with each tune is an artist bio along with a photo.
Although I do have a few problems with this book, I must say I really like it and recommend it. The reason is simply that I like all the music it contains and really enjoy listening to the CDs. There are at least a half-dozen tunes in this book I plan to take the time to learn and fully expect you'd find similar value in it yourself.
Hi Paul, I always appreciate your web site. Just noticed your reviews of the new Mel Bay books. Your comments are right on. I also picked up the Jazz 2000 book, which you might want to check out. There's actually lots of fingerstyle guitar stuff there as well. It's the same mixed bag as the others, but has some interesting material, and the 3 CDs are certainly worth listening too.