Creating engaging music on two instruments that occupy the same sonic space can be trickier than it might seem, but there’s nothing like the sound of a fine guitar duo. The best guitar duets transcend the simple division of rhythmic and melodic duties to create intertwined arrangements that make the two instruments sound as one. Anyone who has attempted to arrange a duet with another player knows that sometimes you get magic, and sometimes you struggle to come up with anything other than the obvious.
When I heard that Italian flatpicker Beppe Gambetta and Scotsman Tony McManus had joined forces on a duo project, I had no doubt that magic would happen. But I was also curious what the pair would sound like, as Beppe and Tony are not only wonderful solo performers, they’re also individualistic and immediately recognizable players: how would they merge their styles? Beppe and Tony’s paths have crossed before, of course. They were one-half of Men of Steel, the steel-string guitar supergroup that also included Dan Crary and Don Ross (the group released Live: The Art of the Steel-String Guitar in 2003).
On Round Trip, Beppe and Tony make it evident that they are a natural match right off the bat. Listeners who only know Tony as a fingerstyle virtuoso may be surprised to find that the opening tune, “Bonnie Mulligan’s,” is a flatpicking duet. Gorgeous tones abound on the next track, “Sleeping Tune,” a fingerstyle piece that has long been in Tony’s solo repertoire, but is enriched by Beppe’s smart harmonies. Beppe’s charming Italian vocals on “Valzer Per Un Amore” almost make you miss the brilliant twin-guitar arrangement of the tune.
On the majority of Round Trip, Beppe plays his R. Taylor and Tony his PRS signature model guitars, but the album is also a showcase for some other very cool instruments. Tony brought along a Linda Manzer 36-string Pikasso harp guitar for “Ligurian Bells Melody,” an electric for “Slightly Go Blind,” and a bouzouki for a high-energy version of the traditional Greek “Moustambeiko.”
Even a cursory listen to Round Trip makes it clear how much fun was being had behind the microphones. The album captures the joy of two musical friends jamming and taking chances together, and will be a welcome addition to the audio collection of every fan of virtuoso guitar playing. borealisrecords.com
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