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Album Review

To call Mike Dowling a master guitarist is stating the obvious, as he's proved before. But this instrumental collection takes him in some interesting directions. While nominally bluesy, it's really more of a journey through American roots music, with stops in ragtime ("Bottleneck March") and gospel (his take on the classic "Amazing Grace"), and several other places around the way. While he's not averse to being upbeat and dextrous, Dowling's at his best when his playing is more thoughtful and considered, like the softer "Hard Times," which closes the album on a wistful, ambiguous note. There's a great deal more to his skill than formidable technique; there's also a wealth of experience behind each note, and the realization that the unplayed notes are every bit as important as the plucked ones. That comes down to having taste, something Dowling possesses in bucketloads — just listen to his work on the title track, evoking the muddy field, or the gorgeous, accomplished slide playing on "Bottleneck March." If there's any point where this album doesn't work, it's "Amazing Grace": the song is simply too familiar, and it's been recorded too well so many times that it's impossible for Dowling to bring anything new to it. That misstep aside, however, this is a delightful record that challenges the senses and makes you wonder why Mike Dowling continues to toil in relative obscurity.

Bottomlands, Mike Dowling
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