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James O'Halloran, The Nashville Sessions 

(Oh La La Records, CD)

James O'Halloran, whose guitar repertoire runs from blues to flamenco, is one of Vermont's most sought-after music instructors. Listening to his latest CD, The Nashville Sessions, it's easy to see why.

The disc is released on his own Burlington-based imprint, Oh La La Records. It was recorded and mixed at project engineer Cliff Goldmacher's home studio in Nashville, Tennessee. Production assistance comes courtesy of O'Halloran's friend Jay Ottaway, a guitarist/songwriter who also co-organizes the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation's Plymouth Folk & Blues concert series. The entire proceedings are dedicated to the late sax man Big Joe Burrell, whose bluesy style may have been an influence on O'Halloran.

Throughout the disc, O'Halloran's easy vocal phrasing and downhome lyrics nicely complement his rootsy guitar licks and strums. He's accompanied by Steve Conn on organ and piano, Don Kerce and Steve Mackey on bass, Glen Caruba and Jen Hoeft on drums, Cathrine Marx on organ and piano, and Melissa Cusick on additional vocals. Each of the 11 tunes feels like a breezy stroll through O'Halloran's musical backyard.

Opener "Travel On" is a lovely acoustic sing-along. "Rosie" and "We Run Together" feature unfettered, matter-of-fact lyrics that hang over his elegant chords like a comfortable old coat.

Although fairly simple in structure, the tunes boast enough variation in style and tempo to hold your attention. From the down-the-line-chug of "Ashes to Ashes" and "Come Down Easy" to the delicate, airy ballads "Down by the Lake," "We Run Together" and "Hit and Misses," O'Halloran serves up pure, unadulterated Americana.

Conn's subtle organ strokes on "Down by the Lake" offer a splash of instrumental color, while vocalist Cusick's work on "Who Loves the Night?" is a welcome change of pace. Later, she evokes vintage Loretta Lynn on the twangy "Come Down Easy."

A versatile instrumentalist with a strong ear for melody, O'Halloran shifts musical styles with tactful ease. The Nashville Sessions gives a glimpse of his dexterity without coming on too strong. A class act from start to finish.

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