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Open Fire, Two Guitars

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Album Review

The open fire of the title is a warm hearth, not an invitation to gunplay. On this 1959 album, Johnny Mathis creates an atmosphere of fireside intimacy by dispensing with his usual orchestral accompaniment so that the purity of his voice entices the listener's full attention. Al Caiola and Tony Mattola play the two guitars that supplement Mathis' crooning, with an upright bass providing the album's only other instrument. Producer Mitch Miller is often associated with gimmicky or novelty productions, but his work on Open Fire, Two Guitars is perfectly understated, emphasizing the gentle caress of Mathis' voice over the relaxed counterpoint of the two guitars. The songs give prominence to the pop standards of Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter, and the Gershwins, but the title track, "Open Fire," is a new composition by Leiber & Stoller. The album's effect seems nearly a cappella at times, but "In the Still of the Night" finds Mathis intoning the lyrics over gently rhythmic guitar figures that educe new harmonic complexities from a well-known song. The enduring popularity of Open Fire, Two Guitars is attributable in part to its hypnotic aura of closeness and confidentiality, but also to the simple instrumentation that appeals to many rock-era listeners' preference for guitars over orchestral arrangements.


Born: 30 September 1935 in Gilmer, TX

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the last and most popular in a long line of traditional male vocalists who emerged before the rock-dominated 1960s, Johnny Mathis concentrated on romantic readings of jazz and pop standards for the ever-shrinking adult contemporary audience of the '60s and '70s. Though he debuted with a flurry of singles chart activity, Mathis later made it big in the album market, where a dozen of his LPs hit gold or platinum and over 60 made the charts. While he originally concentrated on theme-oriented...
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Open Fire, Two Guitars, Johnny Mathis
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