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Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo: Melody Magic

Dan Bilawsky By

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Melody Magic is a fun-and-attractive, finely crafted collection of some of the greatest classic(al) music melodies in existence, arranged by one of the most talented, earnest-and-enlightened guitarists in the business today. Frank Vignola, who's worked with everybody from guitar innovator/icon Les Paul to trumpeter/jazz figurehead Wynton Marsalis, and Vinny Raniolo, his young guitar wielding brother-in-arms, join forces here to bring Vignola's arrangements of Bach, Bizet, Beethoven, and a few people whose last names don't start with the letter "b," to life.

Both guitarists have logged plenty of stage hours together, with more than a hundred shared shows under their collective belt, and Melody Magic gives them a chance to studio test a small sampling of tunes taken from their repertoire. Five guest musicians join them at various times, and in various combinations, so this isn't strictly a duo date. In fact, "The Beatles Medley" is the only number that doesn't feature a third—or fourth, or fifth—wheel. That performance is one of several pop-oriented pieces, including an unusually feisty-and-fabulous "Eye Of The Tiger" that features accordionist Julien Labro and violinist Zach Brock, to make the non-classical cut. Others include an understated take on a hit from Jazz Police ("Walking On The Moon") and a nod to Kansas ("Dust In The Wind").

The seven remaining numbers are re-writes of very old favorites, with an emphasis on the work of Romantic-era composers. Vignola sticks to the hits, as he adds propulsive rhythm guitar to instantly recognizable numbers ("Beethoven's Fifth") and brings a sense of lift to the dawn of the day (Grieg's "Morning"). His clean-toned guitar work and stellar chops are at the heart of this project, and Raniolo and the guests show the same allegiance to the idea of acute accuracy and technical precision.

The music that Vignola and Raniolo make can be seen as a jazzier counterpart to the work of the California Guitar Trio but, while that group takes delight in re-investigating a song's majesty in their own way, Vignola and Raniolo are all about recasting this music in their own image. Both men clearly know how to have a good time, but they also take their work very seriously; Melody Magic constantly demonstrates that duality which exists within both men.

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