The Art of
by El McMeen
By Paul Kucharski
One of the first paying gigs I ever had as a guitar player was playing for early morning mass at a Catholic church in Racine WI while in college. In those days (mid 70's) there was no fingerstyle arrangements of Gospel songs published anywhere so I had to create my own arrangements on a weekly basis. But times have changed and thanks to El McMeen there is an alternative way to build a repertoire of Gospel song arrangements. El's latest, "The Art of Gospel Guitar" covers a wide swath of well known gospel tunes all arranged in the popular Dropped D tuning but in a number of different keys.
If you aren't already aware, the Dropped D tuning is just the low 6th string dropped down one whole step to D so you have DADGBE.
Players who are familiar with El know that he has numerous books and videos out on fingerstyle guitar. Most of his work prior to this has focused on a tuning he adopted and refined more than any other player before him; CGDGAD. But his last publication focused on traditional tunes arranged in Dropped D (reviewed on this site). Many of his arrangements in that tuning were of Celtic tunes, but also some Gospel tunes as well. In this newest book, El decided to again arrange all of the tunes in Dropped D probably because it doesn't venture that far from standard and it offers that deep bass of the dropped D to provide a more dramatic range of sound.
A book that focuses on one single tuning is an interesting idea but also creates some unique challenges. The challenge in such an endeavor is find a way to present a broad sampling of the possibilities that the tuning can offer. One the interesting things that El did in this set of works was to include many of the arrangements in keys other than D. You will find tunes arranged in keys G, C, D, F, and A. So one thing you will notice is that the songs have a wide range of tonal variation and don't sound similar.
Another interesting thing about his arrangements is that he sought out the best time signature for each arrangement. You'll find pieces in the common 4/4 time, a number in the well known 3/4 waltz timing, and a few in 2/4 as well. There is no shortage of variety in this book, that's for sure!
The book contains 22 solo guitar pieces (listed below). The book is very well laid out with large easy-to-read Tab and standard notation. The preface of the book also contains an introduction and some introductory information on how to approach the various songs.
All-in-All, I would have to say this book is a sure-fire winner and would be a great addition to any fingerstyle players library. The variety of the arrangements really does showcase the flexibility of the Dropped D tuning and you'll find the music fun and challenging to play. Be sure to try Will The Circle Be Unbroken and Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho .... wonderful!