Before My Time

Todd Hallawell, National Fingerpicking Guitar Champion (Winfield), plays his winning entries and much more!

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1. Leola Kay

2. Jiffy Jam

3. The Last Steam Engine Train

4. Cydney

5. Flat Foot Floogee

6. Miss You Like Crazy

7. Brazil

8. Tico Tico

9. Ballad 1

10. Ballad 2

11. Bluesman's Tears

12. Reedology

13. Music For a Found Harmonium

14. Simple Gifts

Liner Notes

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“Before My Time” Liner Notes – by Pat Kirtley

There was a time when most of the contestants at the National Fingerstyle Guitar competition in Winfield Kansas were amateurs in the truest sense of the word-people who played guitar simply for the love of it, and lived day to day lives outside of the music world. In recent years, as word has gotten around and acoustic guitar has experienced a revitalization, that has been changing, with the winners now more likely to be working professional performers. Even so, still rare are players who come away with top honors on their first try.Todd Hallawell walked up to the stage in 1997 and won “the big one” his first time out. He did it by playing with the verve and consistency that are his trademarks, and his enthusiasm showed a trait that goes back to Winfield’s origins-playing for the love of it. Todd’s Winfield-winning entries (Tico Tico and Leola Kay for the preliminaries, Brazil and Jiffy Jam the finals) appear in this collection, and show some of the varietal flavors of the current fingerstyle world, stretching from a modern Jerry Reed tune to a 1930′s Latin American pop hit. In his performance of these tunes he demonstrates an innate sense of musicality and variety. It is those qualities-not the mere flash of executing difficult licks and passages-that keep listeners’ attention and bring satisfaction after the notes stop flying. Another of Todd’s strengths is years of live performance experience, sometimes as a solo artist, and sometimes with saxophonist Jeff Ervin, who collaborates in duets on four of the selections here. Todd begins with his own Leola Kay, a joyous piece he wrote for his wife that flows with the stylistic touch of Leo Kottke at his best. Next is Jerry Reed’s swinging Jiffy Jam, where Todd uses the sonic qualities of the half-an-octave-lower baritone guitar to great effect. The Last Steam Engine Train is an old tune that was unearthed as fingerpicking guitar fare by John Fahey and Leo Kottke in the late 60′s, and has been an acoustic jam session staple ever since. Here Todd and long-time compatriot Greg Sarena pour on momentum with a fine duet that meshes the sound of Todd’s McCollum baritone guitar against Greg’s hammering rhythm like gears on a driving wheel. The poignant Cydney is another of Todd’s original pieces, and deviates from the typical “song form” with ever increasing intensity, showing his formidable compositional skills. Flat Foot Floogee is a big band tune from the 40′s that comes off as just plain fun for Todd’s one man band, with a multi-horn section put together by Jeff Ervin, and some neat solos by flatpicker John Moore.I was pleased and honored when Todd wanted to do a rendition of one of my previously unrecorded tunes, one that I had carried around on the guitar for years, called Miss You Like Crazy. The melancholy feeling that brought this jazz waltz into being comes to life with Todd’s fine arrangement featuring intertwining counter-melodies between guitar and tenor sax. Brazil and Tico Tico are two great Latin tunes, with a difficulty rating that warns off all but the most intrepid guitar adventurists. Todd is undaunted, and makes them roll from the strings like butter.Ballad 1 and Ballad 2 are, for me, the highlight of this collection. They are previously unrecorded works by Russian guitarist and composer Nikita Koshkin, and enjoy a fine debut here through Todd’s thoughtful interpretation. They are followed by a lighthearted ensemble rendition of another Koshkin piece, Bluesman’s Tears, where Jeff conjures up a breezy flute-and-reed section, and plays a fine solo. Reedology is arguably the quintessential Jerry Reed tune. Written around 1970 and presented on a mainly vocal-based album by this twentieth-century master of guitar composition, it remained largely unknown to guitarists until it was transcribed – decoded is probably a better term – a decade later by John Knowles.When I first heard Music for a Found Harmonium, it seemed familiar. I was sure I had heard it before, and suspected that it was adapted from Mozart or something of that era. I was surprised to learn that it was a modern piece, written around 1991 by British art-rock avatar Simon Jeffes who first recorded it with his eclectic group Penguin Café Orchestra. I was even more surprised to learn from Todd that this tune is one of the current favorites for round-the-campfire jamming at the Winfield festival, which is where he picked it up. Hey, what ever happened to those easy tunes like Cripple Creek and Salty Dog? Joining Todd here for a round of solo-swapping are Gordon Acri on banjo, John Moore on guitar, and David Peters on mandolin.

Todd even let me play along on a tune, and the set ends with our duet of the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts. He was uncompromising as an arranger and producer, exploring myriad possibilities while we worked out parts over a couple of days, but to his credit, the final result still has that most important quality-simplicity.

At the end of listening to the set here you realize-especially if you’ve ever considered entering a competition yourself-why Todd triumphed at Winfield. It’s not about hot licks or fancy flourishes, but more about getting difficult things to flow with ease, and making music that any listener can appreciate. The most respected winners of musical competitions always seem to do it that way.

-Pat Kirtley


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Review by Andy Ellis, Guitar Player Magazine:

Before My Time [Soundset] heralds the arrival of an extraordinary fingerpicker, Todd Hallawell. Winner of the 1997 National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship in Winfield, Kansas, Hallawell attacks his Lance McCollum steel-strings with the precision of John Williams and punch of Jerry Reed. The disc’s 14 instrumental tunes showcase his melodic clarity, bouncy swing feel, razor-sharp intonation, timbral diversity, and unerring technical accuracy.

He has a restless musical soul: His solo selections include the spry classics “Brazil” and “Tico Tico,” the harplike original “Leola Kay,” and the funky “Reedology,” as well as two superb, previously unrecorded compositions by Russian guitarist Nikita Koshkin. Hallawell also presents several duets-Reed’s “Jiffy Jam” performed on baritone with sax accompaniment is a standout-three trios, and a sextet. His fat baritone rings again on John Fahey’s “The Last Steam Engine Train” (played with guitarist Greg Sarena) and on the timeless Shaker tune “Simple Gifts,” performed with Pat Kirtley, the ’95 National Fingerstyle Guitar Champ. Gorgeous.

Hallawell’s righteous picking and rich arrangements sound so effortless and logical that it’s easy to overlook his physical prowess. What can’t be missed, however, is the music’s scope-Before My Time soars, rumbles, whispers, and shouts. Each hearing reveals more detail and depth-truly stirring stuff.


Review by Allan Fark, Minor 7th

“Before My Time” is the debut CD for Todd Hallawell, who won the National Fingerstyle Guitar competition in Winfield, Kansas in 1997, and who has associations with the Department of Music at Arizona State University. But this music is not just a stiff, erudite and professorial showcase of guitar technique, it’s a collection of bouncy, cookin’ and feel-good fingerstyle tunes which will just happen blow you over if you listen carefully. To the casual listener, Hallawell churns out these contagious melodies seemingly effortlessly. But the magic of Hallawell’s playing is in hearing difficult riffs flow off his fretboard as fluidly as water flows downstream. The two tunes on this CD written by Hallawell are “Leola Kay” and “Cydney”, and are beautiful songs “with the stylistic touch of Leo Kottke at his best” (so say the liner notes and I would agree). Hallawell has a gift for crafting a melody that latches onto your neurons and replays in your mind through the day. “Jiffy Jam”, “Flat Foot Floogee” and “Reedology” are swing numbers to set the most stoic foot to tapping. “Brazil” and “Tico Tico” are Spanish-influenced, conjuring an ambiance of verandas and red adobe. “The Last Steam Engine Train” is what Blind Willie McTell or Reverend Gary Davis might sound like had they had access to digital recording equipment. My only reservation about this CD is the use of saxophone on “Flat Foot Floogee” and “Miss You Like Crazy”, where the music might be better served as a solo guitar piece. Call me a purist… An excellent CD!



The Acoustic Scene

“…Exceptional guitar playing. It is easy to see why he had the 1997 title of champion, because he has truly mastered his instrument…”

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