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Lenny Breau: “Swingin' on a Seven-String”

(Art of Life AL1013-2)

Discography | Digital Downloads | About the Music | Liner Notes | Selected Quotations

Lenny Breau: "Swingin' on a Seven-String"

Lenny Breau: acoustic seven-string guitar,
electric guitar, vocals
Buddy Emmons: pedal steel guitar
Jim Ferguson: acoustic bass
Kenny Malone: drums

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Back In Indiana
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You Needed Me
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Bonaparte's Retreat
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I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You
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I Love You Because
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Please Release Me
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Blue Moon Of Kentucky
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She Thinks I Still Care
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I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry
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Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain *
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* Bonus Track - Previously Unreleased.

Digital Downloads {top}

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About the Music {top}

"Swingin' on a Seven-String" was recorded on August 12th & 25th in 1982 and originally released in 1984 as "When Lightn' Strikes" on LP. In addition to being the last studio album that Lenny Breau recorded before his untimely death in 1984, "Swingin' on a Seven-String" also remains as the only studio recordings of his seven-string acoustic guitar playing. In addition to the five tracks featuring Lenny and acoustic bassist Jim Ferguson performing duets, Lenny is joined by pedal steel guitar legend Buddy Emmons and drummer Kenny Malone on the remaining quartet tracks. Eight of the eleven tracks feature Lenny on seven-string acoustic guitar, while the other three tracks feature Lenny on six-string electric guitar. All tracks have been digitally remastered from the original analog master tapes using 24-bit digital technology. The CD also features one previously unreleased bonus track, "Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain". The 12-page booklet includes extensive liner notes by author Ron Forbes-Roberts as well as commentary from Buddy Emmons and Jim Ferguson.

Liner Notes {top}

I first met Lenny Breau in the early eighties. We were introduced by the late guitarist, Richard Cotton, who was one of Lenny's biggest fans and sponsors. Richard often provided for Lenny's basic needs when he was visiting Nashville. Richard had booked some performance dates for Lenny in local venues and asked me to join him.

Playing with Lenny, particularly in a duo setting, was always a wonderful challenge. We might be floating along on a lovely 4/4 treatment of a well-known song when suddenly Lenny would go out of tempo and play it as a waltz for a chorus or two. As I recall, he did just that on You Needed Me, the lovely Anne Murray melody included in this collection of Country standards. Sometimes he'd take a left turn and play the melody with a Classical guitar treatment for 8 bars or so. I remember hearing a recording that Chet Atkins had of Lenny playing the old song, Freight Train. He covered so many musical styles in just a few choruses of that timeworn melody. I was always amazed and amused at his spontaneous imagination and on-the-fly compositional skills. One story I was told was that Lenny grew up listening to Chet Atkins and Bill Evans, the wonderful Jazz pianist. He was certainly a beautiful collage of many musical influences, but he melded all those into his own unmistakable voice.

I'll be forever grateful for the opportunities I had to work with Lenny. Despite his personal struggles I found him to be a sensitive and warm-hearted person as well as a giving musician. I miss him dearly.
Jim Ferguson

I was fortunate to have worked with Lenny on several occasions prior to this album, both live and in the studio; but what made this so special to me was Lenny's personal invitation to be a part of it. He was, is, and will always be an inspiration.
Buddy Emmons

Playing with Lenny was always a surprise, but it was always fun!
Kenny Malone

Selected Quotations {top}

Recorded in 1984 as When Lightin' Strikes, this Lenny Breau set features the pedal steel guitar playing of the great Buddy Emmons in mostly Country standards as I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You and I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry by Hank Williams. In case you didn't realize it, the seven string Lenny plays is a high seven string. This is the last recording by the incredible Lenny Breau. He himself didn't live to see the release of this recording. There are some fantastic sounds by Lenny and company. I recall when this record was first put out, many fans of his were distressed and thought this was an attempt to make a totally commercial recording. That's rather funny when you listen to the beauty that Lenny can coax from a simple tune. Lenny uses his wonderful artificial harmonics plus the classical tremolo he's so famous for. The few tracks Lenny plays electric guitar (1,11) are I think, a six string. The nylon guitar is a seven. The CD starts with Back Home In Indiana. Lenny and Buddy go crazy exchanging solos with Buddy sounding positively possessed. The warm and delicate You Needed Me is Lenny at his best, emotional and controlled. I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You (Track #4) and here's Lenny making you feel as if he almost wrote the tune. Fabulous harmonics and you get right into the spirit of what this simple but beautiful tune is all about. The touching I Love You Because, Pllease Release Me and She Thinks I Still Care are delightful renditions. Lenny Breau goes for it all on this record. The wonderful Buddy Emmons plays on all the odd numbered tracks and is sensational. The interplay and fun between them is easily apparent. This is still mostly Lenny's recording. What is interesting to me is that someone like Lenny can take a tune that most people would think of as a country or pop tune and play it like a Kern, Porter, or any other great composer and make it sound like a standard tune that we are all so taken with. It's a joy when these records are released on CD and this is one all Lenny Breau fans will love. I've always been a huge fan of Lenny's and this recording is one of his most satisfying.
Jack Wilkins - Guitarist

While guitarist Lenny Breau's innovations may not seem so significant now, he was like a bolt of lightning when he emerged in the `70s out of Manitoba, Canada. A true self-accompanist who integrated virtuostic skills in jazz, country, and flamenco into an unmistakable voice, Breau made his guitar sound like an ensemble. Legend has it that Chet Atkins was walking down the hall of a Nashville studio and, hearing music coming out of one of the rooms, said to himself, "Who are those guys?" When he went into the studio and found Breau playing by himself, it was the beginning of a friendship that would last until Breau's untimely and still mysterious death in '84.

With the upsurge of archival Breau sessions in recent years, Art of Life Records' recent rescue of Breau's last studio release, When Lightn' Strikes-now remastered with a bonus track and retitled Swingin' on a Seven-String-finds him at the peak of his musical powers. That Breau was a substance abuser for most of his adult life seems miraculously to have had absolutely no effect on the pristine perfection of his playing. Breau pioneered a number of techniques, including a self-accompaniment that roots contemporary players like eight-string guitarist Charlie Hunter, as well as an uncanny ability to wring rapid-fire harmonics out of his instrument that gave his guitar an almost bell-like timbre. He was equally at home on classical guitar-and a seven-string variant comprises the majority of Swingin' on a Seven-String-as he was on electric.

The new title is wholly appropriate, given the way the entire session swings along comfortably with an unhurried pace. Five duet tracks feature bassist Jim Ferguson; on six tunes, Breau fleshes things out to a quartet with drummer Kenny Malone and pedal steel player Buddy Emmons (both of whom Breau had already collaborated with on Emmons' '78 recording, Minors Aloud, to be reissued by Art of Life in August of '05). Breau's growing posthumous discography has plenty of high points, most notably his '83 live duet set with bassist Dave Young, Live at Bourbon Street (Guitarchives, '95), but he has never sounded so completely relaxed as on Swingin'.

The record draws from popular tunes of the time, like singer Anne Murray's hit "You Needed Me" and Engelbert Humperdinck's faux country tune "Please Release Me," as well as country tunes like Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Breau reinvents and reharmonizes, shaping a programme where a wealth of musical riches are masked by an unforced and easy-going complexion.

Breau may not have broken any turf in terms of pushing jazz out of the mainstream, but his interpretive skills and ability to retain a tune's essence while reimagining it in a pure jazz context remains evocative to this day. For those unfamiliar with Breau's magic, Swingin' on a Seven-String is a perfect place to start.
John Kelman - All About Jazz

In 1982 the great guitarist Lenny Breau decided to combine a couple of his strongest musical loves, recording Country songs with Jazz chords in a swinging setting. Half of the music on this set is comprised of duets with bassist Jim Ferguson, while the remainder is played in a quartet with Ferguson, pedal steel guitarist Buddy Emmons and drummer Kenny Malone. It has long been an open secret that many Country standards have fairly simple chord changes that are ideal for jamming. Breau, who splits his time between an acoustic seven-string guitar (on eight tracks) and a regular electric guitar (and takes a completely spontaneous off-mic vocal on Bonaparte's Retreat), is in exuberant form throughout this laid-back but happy release. But because Jazz/Country fusions were not exactly in vogue in 1982, this date was only released very briefly by the tiny Tudor label before the company failed and the record went out of print. Lenny Breau was killed in 1984 and this was his last studio album. It is a long-overdue joy to have this highly enjoyable music available again, and it is highly recommended to anyone at all interested in Lenny Breau's artistry.
Scott Yanow - All Music Guide

Lenny Breau was a talented guitarist steeped in Country music with an interest in Bebop. He blended both loves during these 1982 sessions, playing both acoustic seven-string and six-string electric guitars. The previously unreleased track, Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain, is an added bonus to this CD reissue. Highly recommended.
Ken Dryden - Chattanooga Free Press - Chattanooga, TN

I just about flipped after listening to this CD! I couldn't believe the stunning sound quality of the CD. Lenny's guitar has never sounded this natural in years! This CD is so good I would vote it best Jazz CD of the year! Everybody on this CD is just all out great!!
Wally V. - Canada

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