"A many-layered, multi-textured, one-man folk festival." Maverick Magazine, UK
"...dazzling...guitar-based music with an artistry that’s unparalleled." The Daily Freeman, Kingston, NY
If you haven’t heard Walter Strauss play, then you’ve never heard music like this before. This California guitar maestro's songs are full of the groove and fire of an African dance party, the dynamics and textures of a string orchestra, and the back-porch soul of American roots music. It’s out of this world music.
Walter Strauss digs deep grooves for his audiences - his singular guitar style layers on highly articulated melodies and harmonies, rhythms and counter-rhythms, giving the impression he is magically playing several instruments at once. His songs soulfully trace forgotten histories and life's paradoxes in the 21st century, and his vocals have a smooth wood smoke and whiskey intimacy that pulls the listener in, making them feel as if the song is for them alone. Walter's guitar interpretations of exotic world music are showstoppers.
In addition to touring solo in the US and abroad, Walter has collaborated with wide-ranging talents, including a duo with 2010 Grammy-winning kora player Mamadou Diabate, guitar virtuoso Alex de Grassi, and The Burns Sisters. He’s worked with musicians from West Africa to Australia and Finland, and masterfully weaves threads of American roots, world music traditions, and jazz into a brand uniquely his own. Of late, Walter has been performing solo, in a duo with Wassoulou hunter’s harp player Mamadou Sidibe (Mali), and with The Walter Strauss Trio – with bassist Sam Bevan (David Grisman, Joe Craven) and drummer/percussionist Kendrick Freeman (Alison Brown, Joe Craven).
Before embarking on his solo career, Walter was widely respected as an ensemble musician, performing for more than 15 years at concert venues, theaters and festivals throughout the United States, Canada, England and Ireland. He toured extensively with Rounder Records’ eclectic folksters The Burns Sisters Band and performed alongside numerous first-rate musicians, such as fiddle legend Vassar Clements and British guitar luminary Martin Simpson.
Recently, Walter has established himself as a solo performer in the UK and Ireland. After his featured-guest performance on national BBC Radio 2, Walter received stellar press throughout the Isles then followed with a Spring ‘09 breakout tour of 22 clubs, arts centers, and festivals everywhere from London to Limavady. His Spring '11 Planet Solitaire CD release tour tour will take him to 25 UK venues and festivals throughout England and Scotland.
Walter's most recent project as a producer and arranger – former Waybacks frontman Stevie Coyle's creative concept CD "Ten in One" – has received rave reviews throughout the States and Britain.
Legendary British broadcaster Bob Harris gives Walter a big thumbs up, applauding “the glorious playing of Walter Strauss,” and “what a lovely album it is” [Pulling Shadows]. fRoots Magazine says simply, "The man is class.” Both live and on disc, he weaves together a cohesive quilt of musical styles and somehow renders each more 3-D, more psychedelic. Walter colors outside the lines.
Walter Strauss - fingerstyle guitar/vocals
Walter Strauss and Mamadou Sidibe also includes:
Mamadou Sidibe from Mali - kamal'ngoni (hunter's harp)/vocals
Walter Strauss Trio also includes:
Kendrick Freeman – drum kit/percussion, background vocals
Sam Bevan – bass guitar (standup and electric), background vocals
Pulling Shadows, Redstone Records 2006
Planet Solitaire, Redstone Records 2009 (EP - UK release only).
Planet Solitaire (full length LP) 2011. UK release May 2011, US release summer 2011.
The CDs have recently been receiving airplay on national BBC and RTE in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, most notably on legendary broadcaster Bob Harris' BBC2 shows, Iain Anderson's BBC Scotland show and Frank Hennessy's Celtic Heartbeat on BBC Wales.
Walter’s credits as a record producer and arranger include:
Stevie Coyle (formerly of the Waybacks) "Ten in One".
Walter Strauss "Pulling Shadows" (self-produced)
Jonathan Stevens "Missing in America"
Marc Berger and the Headcleaners "Beat of Life"
Walter Strauss "Planet Solitaire" (self-produced)
Walter's guitar has graced numerous recordings, including those of The Burns Sisters, Andy Rinehart (CMP Records), Benjamin Antell (Finland), and Mamadou and Vanessa (Mali).
Walter Strauss Shines a light with Pulling Shadows
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OK, stop everything you're doing and go see Walter Strauss Saturday night. Really. The California...OK, stop everything you're doing and go see Walter Strauss Saturday night. Really.
The California-based Strauss is playing intriguing guitar-based music with an artistry that’s unparalleled. Not generic singer-songwriter fare, but something a cut above the rest.
The first track, "In the Stone", is a prime example of his formula. Even before the voice enters, the amazing interplay of the acoustic guitar and bass (Rich DePaolo on fretless) is jaw-dropping with its clever counterpoint and rhythmic textures. His flexible pipes serpentine around this motion, until an airy chorus pulls back and the organic lyrics reveal themselves.
With "Spring Song", Strauss moves to an electric, but the same approach applies. "Love Puddle" is more disjointed and angular, "Dustdevil" is limber and loose. "Like Water" is distant and dreamy, while "Spinner's Cascade" is stunning instrumental.
His instrumental prowess is dazzling, and an inherent spiritual quality hovers over this work. Delightfully different, do not miss Strauss, his guitar, and his music.
Strauss plays Saturday at the Rosendale Cafe.
Visit www.walterstrauss.com for more information.
– David Malachowski
WALTER STRAUSS Multi genre guitarist, producer and songwriter
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It happens all the time. After hearing American string wizard Walter Strauss play guitar and sing, f...It happens all the time. After hearing American string wizard Walter Strauss play guitar and sing, first-timers to his shows invariably turn to each other slack-jawed and wide-eyed, whispering: ‘Why the hell have I never heard of this guy before?’ Good question. But there are good reasons, too. For years now, Walter has been in the copilot seat, as it were, as sideman for various acoustic American and African artists, and as album producer for other people’s projects. But of late, the spotlight has turned onto Walter himself. Fortunately for Maverick readers, he will be touring England, Scotland and Ireland this May, and will have on offer both the full-band PULLING SHADOWS CD and a six-song EP of guitar and voice entitled PLANET SOLITAIRE.
Much as his growing legion of fans love the live and recorded work he’s done with Malian kora and kamele ngoni masters Mamadou Diabate and Mamadou Sidibe, American folk trio the Burns Sisters, New York alt before alt was cool rockers the Head Cleaners, his own east-coast quintet Ten Sleep and west-coasters the Walter Strauss Trio. That said, it’s in a solo situation, they say, that they can hear most clearly just what a many-layered, multi-textural, one-man folk festival Walter Strauss really is.
And the general consensus seems to be that—as delicious as the melodic and harmonic elements of Walter’s singing and guitar playing are—it’s his rhythmic drive that is absolutely freaking irresistible. “Drums were my first instrument. Well, actually, the very first thing I played was the laundry hamper, with pencils. One brother would play the tennis racket, and the other played an actual guitar. I have a cassette recording of us playing Wipeout when I was six. We were good!”
You were born on in Rawlins, Wyoming. Is that right so far? “That’s right,” Walter laughs. “My dad was not a musician himself, but had a great interest in classical music, particularly Bach. And just having that around the house, that was influential, I’m sure. So was his singing. He had a beautiful singing voice, my dad ...”
“My mother played piano. Lots of German volkslieder. She is a painter, and a painter of the Big West, of the mountains and the vast expanses. I think her art has a similar aesthetic to my music … and vice-versa, of course.”
You left home to follow your muse at the age of 15? “Yup. And that probably made me look inside in a more reflective way than most teenagers do. I first lived in the basement of a bridal shop that, strangely, never ever had a single customer. A Mafia front? Probably. And then lived by myself out in the countryside, and that was actually a very spiritual time for me. I’d put my stereo speakers out the window over this beautiful valley, and listen to Christopher Parkening play Bach. Such transcendental performances on that record. Each note is perfectly placed, but not just in a technical way. A couple of Jackson Browne records were also on the turntable at that time, which probably influenced my songwriting. And Pink Floyd. I’ve always loved a lot of rock’n’roll.”
Tell us a bit more about your musical history. “I started playing guitar when I was eight. By that time I was ready for an instrument that was melodic as well as rhythmic, and I wanted something I could play more by myself. Still, I think I’ve always had that quirky rhythmic sensibility. I played in bands with my brothers Dave and John. Lots of harmony, and finger style guitar. Jackson Browne was big with us, Neil Young and James Taylor, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and later on Bruce Cockburn, who I started writing a bit like, apparently, even before I got turned on to him.” “I’ve always loved Peter Gabriel and I was hugely influenced by Keith Jarrett, his expressiveness, and his spiritual vibe, too, really. And I actually got around to the banjo for a while. Should I mention this, [laughs] I played my own way, but I did cop some feel for bluegrass. And later, on guitar, I approached it in that way that banjo players do, where every note in a given run is on a different string, whenever you can, to give it that very legato, harp-like sound.”
When did you go pro? “At about 18. I did little bit of gigging around Philadelphia, but then I decided to go to college in Western Massachusetts. I did some playing out while I was there, but never really went for it as a solo artist at the time. I had a cut on one of the Fast Folk records out of New York City when I was 24 or so. Also at the time I did a little demo for Windham Hill. But it was about this time I started doing the side man thing, mostly over the years with a folk trio called the Burns Sisters, but also as part of the Head Cleaners, with Marc Berger there in New York City, and that was very urban, very electric ... lots of social commentary.”
So much African vibe in your music ... “I really got into it in the eighties. I had friends who turned me on to African music as well … rootsy music, not just Afropop. I have a collection of field recordings of pygmies that I just loved. Unbelievable singing. Very polyrhythmic, with four vocal parts that would interweave and make this phasing thing happen and even the phasing would be rhythmic! It was along about this time that I started writing multilayered rhythmic stuff myself, definitely influenced by Foday Musa Suso, the kora musician I was listening to, even on stuff that otherwise had a classical feel to it.”
Who are some of the African musicians you've played with? “Mamadou Diabete I met in Ithaca, New York through our mutual friend Samite, a Ugandan multi-instrumentalist that I had gotten to know. We began jamming and before you know it we had done a few duo tours over 3 years. It was through him that I met Mamadou Sidibe. Now, this Mamadou plays kamale ngoni, which is a modern version of a traditional West African hunter’s harp. That’s one of the collaborations I’m doing these days.”
For songwriters, there's always that chicken-and-egg question of what comes first, the words or the music ... “It’s always the music that comes to me first ... or through me, perhaps I should say. On the new EP Mr McKenzie came through all in one piece and all at one time. Of course, that’s not typical. But usually, I’ll get my fingers around a riff and see where that takes me. And typically, I won’t even start on the lyrics until I’ve got some really foundational stuff set on the guitar.”
Is Ishi a good example of that, perhaps? “It is. Ishi started off as a three-over-four idea, rhythmically, and eventually it morphed into just three beats per measure. And once that form had revealed itself, I could start on the lyrics.”
The Beast, on the PULLING SHADOWS album, ... the words and music are so tightly integrated in that song, it almost sounds like everything got created all at once. No? “No, that’s that same process. Music first, and then lyrics. I had been working in this sort of Brazilian mode, both rhythmically and harmonically. I didn’t consult any chord books, or anything like that. I just sort of put it together the way it sounded right. And then the words came along later.”
“Same sort of thing for Love Puddle. I was just working it through in a jazz/blues idiom, and listening for the harmonic movement that appealed to me, going from chord to chord. I rarely work from theory, as it were ... just from whatever theory is in my bones.”
For a lot of people who love your music, In the Stone is such a signature piece. Almost despite itself, it really does evoke images of the American southwest. How does that happen? “That’s sort of hard for me to put into words. On In the Stone, I listened more to nature than to something musical. What I tried to do was to portray things, both the expansiveness of nature, and the ethnic history, the sense of ancient ones who were there, but all in an abstract way. The groove is kind of African, the flutes Andean, and there is a Native American chant out at the end of the piece. Bringing the kora into the arrangement midway, I wanted to evoke a sense of somebody running through a Utah canyon, and even though that’s an African instrument it helped me set the scene.”
To paint the pictures heard on twin releases PULLING SHADOWS and PLANET SOLITAIRE, free-range musical epicure Walter Strauss selects deftly from an enormous sonic and musical and ethnic palette. While the former is fully fleshed out and the latter is stripped down and essential, world music on guitar is perhaps the best way to describe either and both. And always there’s that inescapable groove ...
“I’m always looking to other parts of the world for influence. And I’m always trying to bring my own voice to that, whatever it is, to run those influences through my own lens.” For more information and the latest tour dates visit www.walterstrauss.com
BBC 2: United Kingdom
"The glorious playing of Walter Strauss..." "What a lovely album it is!" [Pulling Shadows"]
Walter Strauss – Pulling Shadows (Redstone Records 002)
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A native of Wyoming and almost incidental wizard of the fingerstyle guitar, Walter’s also a singer-s...A native of Wyoming and almost incidental wizard of the fingerstyle guitar, Walter’s also a singer-songwriter who drags rootsy Americana from the open spaces of the Midwest out into the far reaches of the globe. In the past, he’s worked with musicians from West Africa to Australia to Finland, weaving together seemingly disparate musical strands and disciplines into a surprisingly seamless whole. The ten tracks on this, his debut CD, comprise eight songs and just two instrumental cuts. Taking the latter first, one (Dustdevil) is a plain astounding piece, a whirling, spinning mass of kora textures (on which Mamadou Diabate guests, no less), whereas Spinner’s Cascade is also aptly named, being a tumbling solo acoustic guitar painting on which Walter demonstrates his consummate mastery of the instrument in a pastoral, neo-folk-baroque context (think acoustic Led Zepp perhaps). The vocal items, all songs of Walter’s own composition, are also exceedingly satisfying, indeed tasty, and embrace a variety of roots idioms, from the tenderly soulful Latin-inflected Time, Peace And Honey through the deep-throated horn-bedecked The Beast and the contemplative Like Water.
Walter’s gently soulful, smoky, sometimes dreamlike vocal tones suit each song so well, whether he’s framed by edgy Beefheartian rhythms (Love Puddle), funky percussive picking (In The Stone) or a yearning pedal steel (as on Blue Horizon and Spring Song) or carrying the expressive heart while kora and guitar cascade meaningfully around him. Walter’s chosen his guest musicians well – they include Rich DePaolo, Bob Carlucci, Ken Laroche and Bill King – and Walter’s keen incorporation of the African influences in particular leads to some creative and stimulating musical adventures, wholly naturally blending the rippling rhythmic patterns into his own inventions. Pulling Shadows was recorded a couple of years ago at least, yet it sounds bang up to the minute, and a followup is due this year sometime, maybe (I hope) to coincide with a short UK tour starting May 2009; this guy’ll certainly be worth seeing. www.walterstrauss.com
FAME review - Pulling Shadows
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California-based guitarist/vocalist/composer/producer Walter Strauss has spent the past fifteen year...California-based guitarist/vocalist/composer/producer Walter Strauss has spent the past fifteen years as a sideman, waiting for the time to present his own compositions both as artist and producer. He has performed as an ensemble musician throughout the United States, Canada and Ireland, touring extensively with Rounder Records' The Burns Sisters Band, in a duo with Grammy nominated Malian kora master Mamadou Diabate (appearing on this CD), and sharing the stage with other— and better known— top-notch musicians like Vassar Clements, Martin Simpson, Hank Roberts, and James Montgomery.
Pulling Shadows is his first solo effort, a soulful journey of stellar guitar playing and songs suffused with tenderness and wit, a CD that stands up to anything out there from folk-world-roots artists. For his many admirers, it was worth the wait.
Imagine blending the beauty and strength of Bruce Cockburn's fingerstyle guitar playing, the gravity of Joni Mitchell's jazz, and the elegant simplicity of American roots. Strauss wrote or co-wrote all but one of the songs, arranged all of them and sings lead on all but the two instrumentals. Most of the tracks open with acoustic guitar that may be joined by percussion or drums, fretless bass, electric guitar, pedal steel, West African kora, horns or flutes. Lyrics touch on themes from nature and ancient cultures to sensual abandon and love. The entire album is performed and produced with a crystalline beauty.
The opening track, In the Stone, practically leaps off the disc in a dance driven by Strauss' earthy, rhythmic guitar and hand drums, fretless bass from Rich DePaolo and kora from Mamadou Diabate. We're shown a magical lost world that's still perceptible in the desert southwest: "Redrock ringing through me / the silver hiss of a million suns / Sandstone totems to nobody." At the tail end of the fade we hear ancient voices, a haunting excerpt from a piece by the American Indian Dance Theater.
Strauss has the rare ability to take us from a wider perspective to a deeper, more personal view, subtly and without artifice. Where the opening track dances, the next one, Spring Song, sways. The first line is riveting: "I saw a newborn owl on a riverbank breathing steam into the air." Bob Carlucci's pedal steel floats over Strauss' electric guitar and DePaolo's fretless bass, accented by percussion from Mike Ricciardi.
Love Puddle is a bold invitation: "I'm aiming for your empathy / the soft spot behind your knee / I'll teach your tongue to Portuguese / I'll hold you up inside of me / If you let me into you." Just try to sit still listening to this! The Buffalo Song, written by Marc Berger, is a melancholy portrait of the great American delusion: "I won't ask which way they went / if you will keep my Buick on the highway / In America your mother can become the president / and you can make your fortune on the phone."
Farthest from folk is The Beast, written in the sarcastic voice of the artist's disabling inner critic. A Latin rhythm is driven by Bill King's excellent drumming and horn arrangement/programming by avant-pop CMP recording artist Andy Rinehart. It's reminiscent of Carlos Santana's Smooth, or Stevie Wonder's Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing. You would never know the horns are sampled, only that a big brass section is in the house.
Deeper in the record I found my favorite, the moody Like Water, with its wash of acoustic and electric guitars, broad stokes of fretless bass, delicate drumming and ethereal background vocals from Uniit Carruyo. The bridge, with it's harmonizing flutes from Ken LaRoche, is like the best of late 70's Mitchell. "Cause we run like water / Right out of here / It's a short ride brother / No matter what we do." Beautiful. Blue Horizon, the closing track (music by Strauss and DePaolo, and lyrics by Strauss and Jonathan Stevens), will stay with you, returning again if your heart is a little bit broken.
Walter Strauss has the scope and musicianship to express himself in multiple genres, and he has the production skills to render each song in a fresh way, without cliché or repetition. Finally emerging from the shadows of sideman and support player, his beautiful solo CD Pulling Shadows has a light that shines very brightly.
Copyright 2006, Peterborough Folk Music Society
".. really musical and quite innovative."
Walter Strauss: Pulling Shadows (Redstone)
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Strauss does a grand job of weaving American roots and African rhythms (not to mention the odd Latin...Strauss does a grand job of weaving American roots and African rhythms (not to mention the odd Latin jazz excursion) into his tunes. Just relax and let his featherlight fingerstyle playing wash over you.
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Just fantastic. A beautiful mixture of all kinds of music and what a performer! A great songwriter a...Just fantastic. A beautiful mixture of all kinds of music and what a performer! A great songwriter and singer... a fantastic guitar player.
Walter Strauss: Pulling Shadows
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There are a lot of very good things on this album: excellent guitar work by Strauss, both fingerpick...There are a lot of very good things on this album: excellent guitar work by Strauss, both fingerpicked and electric, ecological songs, pretty straight country-pop, tricksy rhythms, and kora work from Mamadou DIabate. The sheer diversity of the material, however, dilutes the impact of each track a bit; but no matter, the man is class.
Walter Strauss Planet Solitaire
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A six track EP showcasing the guitar mastery of this fine Californian musician. Many Maverick rea...A six track EP showcasing the guitar mastery of this fine Californian musician.
Many Maverick readers will remember Walter Strauss from his previous UK tours accompanying singer songwriter Corinne West. The EP PLANET SOLITAIRE is to be released to coincide with the first solo UK tour by Walter and what a vibrant musical mix it is. African and North American influences abound on this collection of six tracks ranging from the opening instrumental Djimbaseh, a song that Walter learned from the legendary Malian kora player Mamadou Diabate to the tune Ishi, a homage to the last survivor of the Yahi tribe of North America. Also covered is an instrumental version of the George Harrison penned Within You, Without You, written at a time when George was experimenting with Indian music and sound. Above all on this EP the guitar playing is what stands out the most and those of us who get a chance to witness Walter when he is playing shows in the UK during May and early June will be in for a real treat.
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Our published week comes to a close with an appearance at the Larkspur Cafe Theatre by the Walter St...Our published week comes to a close with an appearance at the Larkspur Cafe Theatre by the Walter Strauss Trio. Strauss' debut solo disc, Pulling Shadows (2007) arrived at my house with a little help from his friends -- and I've been spinning it since.
I've been a fan of Walter Strauss since I received a copy of his project with kora master Mamadou Diabate, who also performs on "Pulling Shadows". Of local interest, some of the recording for the 10-track disc was done in Fairfax. Strauss has harvested a rich melange from several styles, and his new recording is a showcase of what the man can do.
From his previous recording, I was ready for Strauss's smooth and fluent worldbeat rhythms and runs. An affinity (and corresponding ability) for jazz is apparent as well -- Walter Strauss can make those strings sing! What came as a surprise, especially after the somewhat spiritual lyrics of other songs (such as the first track "In the Stone"), was song number six "The Beast". With sampled horns and all, this dark homage to everyone's inner critic sounds like nothing else on the disc, especially regarding the lyrics.
With all sorts of percussion, mandolin, pedal steel and more helping him construct many a mood, Strauss has pieced together a musical quilt that covers quite a sonic area. It'll be fun seeing how he fits it all together for a live performance.
Number and length of sets vary with concert. The most common arrangement is two 45 minute sets plus encores.
Original songs punctuated by upbeat instrumentals and guitar adaptations of music from far flung locales, particularly West Africa.
Here are typical sets for the most common format, consisting of 2 x 45 minute sets plus encores:
2) In the Stone
3) Spring Song
5) Like Water
6) Love Puddle
7) Blue Horizon
8) Buddha’s Pillbox
1) Salamander Blue
2) The Beast
3) New Years Day
4) Time Peace and Honey
5) Spinner's Cascade
6) Weather Rule
7) Blue Sky over Dreamland
9) The Buffalo Song
There are no upcoming dates at this time.