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Johnny "Bowtie" Barstow: A Bowtie Christmas and More (2004)

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Johnny "Bowtie" Barstow: A Bowtie Christmas and More No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Every now and then an artist emerges whose vision is so unique that it creates an entirely new musical paradigm. Stretching the realm of technique by introducing harmonic or rhythmic contexts far removed from the norm, they're often unappreciated in their time, but the passage of years can ultimately bring recognition for their genius. Ornette Coleman was one such artist. Now we have singer Johnny "Bowtie Barstow.

Keyboardist Larry Goldings, known for his work with John Scofield and Madeleine Peyroux—as well as his ongoing cooperative trio with Peter Bernstein and Bill Stewart—discovered Bowtie performing at New York's The Angry Squire's open mic night in the early 1990s. Immediately stricken by Bowtie's distinctive approach to the Great American Songbook, he made the decision that Bowtie, an artist sadly overlooked by a visionless music industry, demanded documentation. Over the course of two years, Goldings recorded Bowtie at his home studio, the result being A Bowtie Christmas and More—an album of holiday music and timeless standards that's sure to set the hairs on the neck of the most discerning listener at full attention.

Some musicians spend years on technique, working hard to hone accepted skills like pitch and time. Barstow dispenses with such limitations. His interpretive sense is so unorthodox that once you hear his renditions of classic Christmas tunes including "Joy to the World, "The First Noel, and the tongue-in-cheek "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, you'll never see them the same way again.

Bending pitch and time in ways rarely heard on record, Bowtie challenges Goldings—a consummate accompanist clearly in awe of his art—to keep up. Unshackled by musical convention, Bowtie brings a truly emancipated harmonic approach to the hymnal "O Come All Ye Faithful and a surprisingly untethered sense of swing to "Winter Wonderland.

The second half of the generous 24-song program finds Bowtie tackling standards like "Mack the Knife, "Blue Skies, and "In the Mood. To add dimension, Goldings brought Bowtie into a professional recording studio, recruiting the legendary James Farber to engineer the session, to record four songs accompanied by drummer Bill Stewart and guitarist Bernie Peters (a cleverly-conceived pseudonym). In many ways it's the trio's almost fanatical adherence to musical convention that so vividly highlights Bowtie's unbound approach.

Despite being a distinctively lo-fi recording, a second version of "Blue Skies concludes the disc, with Bowtie in his preferred context—the concert stage, where risk is de rigeur and there's no safety net to rely upon. He finds new ways to articulate Irving Berlin's timeless words.

Unquestionably the most challenging Christmas album ever recorded, A Bowtie Christmas and More raises the bar, forcing the serious listener to question every musical value he or she holds dear. In the same way Ornette Coleman was initially thought to be simply unmusical, so too does Johnny "Bowtie Barstow run the risk of having his unschooled aesthetic misunderstood. Only time will tell.

This recording is available from CDBaby on the web.

Track Listing: A Bowtie Christmas: Joy to the World; Jingle Bells; The First Noel; Deck the Halls; O Come All Ye Faithful; Winter Wonderland; Do You Hear What I Hear? Santa Claus is Coming to Town; Silent Night; Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. And More: Mack the Knife; Blue Skies; Thou Swell; If I Only Had a Heart; Fascinatin' Rhythm; In the Mood; Oh Danny Boy; On the Sunny Side of the Street; Put Your Arms Around Me Honey; The Girl From Ipanema; Has Anybody Seen My Gal? I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover; As Time Goes By; Blue Skies (live).

Personnel: Johnny "Bowtie" Barstow: vocals; Larry Goldings: electric keyboard, organ, piano; Bernie Peters: guitar (11-14); Bill Stewart: drums (11-14); Michael Zisman: bass (24); Johnny Ellis: drums (24).

Record Label: Sticky Mack Records


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