REVIEW: Solo Sounds Label Releases Nine Beautiful Clear Christmas Albums: One Instrument Apiece


There are two things every Americana music fan requires: authenticity and quality, and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel sets the standard for both. Ambel is a roots rock musician’s Renaissance man, with magical irons in every fire imaginable. He’s been a guitarist with Joan Jett and Steve Earle, as well as dozens of other bands including a cameo with Jason Isbell; as a member of the Del-Lords and the Yayhoos (with Dan Baird); and leading his various solo original incarnations. Roscoe has cut albums of his own music, notably his recent release Lakeside (Last Chance).  Ambel’s Cowboy Technical Services studio in Brooklyn has crafted music by artists from Ryan Adams to the Squirrel Nut Zippers.  He co-owned the Lakeside Lounge bar & stage in Manhattan’s East Village and was tapped to co-design other stages like Slim’s Distillery in Raleigh, and the Mercury Lounge and Bowery Electric in Manhattan.

And several months back he quietly launched a record label, Solo Sounds, with partner Scott “Bullethead” Reilly. Long time colleague, engineer Tim Hatfield, and Jimbo Mathus are also on board.

The Solo Sounds label offers solo instrumental interpretations of smash hit classic albums done on different instruments. They are all mixed by Ambel’s Cowboy Technical Services Recording Rig, personally or by his engineer Mario Viele, and bear the fingerprints of his trademark sound purity. Each album is recorded at 192 kHz/24bit, which means, for us mere mortals, the range of sound is so broad, and so clear, you can literally hear the sound of the human fingers on the strings or mallet fibers striking the surface. It’s true! Put that in your headphones and reconnect with genuine significance!

And now Solo Sounds is giving us a series of nine, yes you read that right, nine, Christmas albums just in time to rescue us all from mediocrity this season. Stop whatever you are doing and absorb the quality of these recordings immediately; your inner self will thank you.

In keeping with Ambel’s notoriously relentless pursuit of perfection, and the rest of the label’s releases, the Christmas albums treat us to beauty and clarity with enough depth and grit to satisfy even the staunchest seekers of complexity.  These offerings prove you don’t need bells or a tambourine, or even words or vocals to reach a person’s soul. One solo instrument, skillfully played by two human hands, and adeptly captured with the highest quality recording methods and equipment, can bring our focus to the stunning, layered beauty of that instrument.

Americana fans will relish every one of the three solo guitar albums. First and foremost is Ambel’s centerpiece Solo Electric Guitar: Eric “Roscoe” Ambel Christmas Single, featuring two tracks: “White Christmas” and Mel Tourme/Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song.”  The elegance and effortlessness of his playing is unparalleled beauty; you’ll wonder how one person’s fingers can be so graceful and nimble as you escape directly into the relief of sonic heaven this holiday season. Not to be missed is Solo Blues Guitar: Jimbo Mathus Performs “Squirrel Nut Zippers Christmas Caravan.” You might think of Mathus as a complicated energetic bandleader, but the songs on this album are fluid and gentle, revealing his expertise along with his thoughtful side, especially on “Gift of the Magi” and “Hanging Up My Stockings.” Solo Slide Guitar: Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner Performs Top Christmas Favorites, where Brenner (Marah) plays familiar Christmas songs on solo slide guitar, is another truly spellbinding performance.

In addition to solo guitar releases, there are releases on Solo Ukulele: Pete Kennedy and two by Rob Arthur: one on Solo Fender Rhodes Piano and another on Solo Hammond Organ: Rob Arthur plays Top Christmas Favorites. Kennedy reveals the ukulele’s more complex capabilities here, especially on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” And the organ is very carnivally and festive, notably on “Silver Bells.” Solo Harp: Katie Curley Performs The Nutcracker Suite is charming and melodic, in addition to being a very rare treat to hear. When was the last time you tuned in and listened to a harp? Then there’s the thrilling vibraphone percussionist Solo Vibes: Arthur Lipner Performs Top Christmas Favorites; and the very lovely Solo Cello: Trevor Exter Performs Top Christmas Songs. Exter plays the cello pizzicato, which means he plucks with his fingers and never a bow. You absolutely must check this out!

All of these are superior, excellent interpretations of Christmas favorites. Indulge yourself in the authentic quality of Solo Sounds’ Christmas releases this season, and check out the more than seventy other albums in the library while you’re at it. You’ll discover the entire enterprise is the best kept secret of the year. They are only available digitally.

For Eric Ambel’s Christmas single, on solo electric guitar, click here:

For Jimbo Mathus’ Christmas solo blues guitar album, all the Christmas albums, other albums and Solo Sounds information click

For Eric Ambel’s album, Lakeside (available on hard copies), other music and tour dates click here:


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