steve cunningham
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steve cunningham

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"Dubious Tones Review"

Featured Artist: Steve Cunningham

CD Title: Dubious Tones

Year: 2003

Record Label: Independent

Style: Soul / Funk Jazz

Musicians: Steve Cunningham (electric guitar, nylon guitar, lap steel, slide dobro, acoustic slide); Brian Hall (bass); Mike Haid (drums); Randy Hoexter (keyboards); Bob Lewis (trumpet, trombone); Sam Skelton (tenor saxophone); David Silverman (percussion); Gwen Hughes (voice)

Review: There’s nothing dubious about Steve Cunningham’s tones. Doubt is removed from the start of the first track, “BruddaBru,” as he steadfastly resists classification and instead goes his own way of mixing up musical genres for what in the end is a celebration of the guitar. Cunningham doesn’t so much shun categorization as simply being blithely indifferent to it, letting the music speak for itself. As the opening act for Barenaked Ladies, Jeff Beck and Kool and the Gang, Cunningham has proved himself adaptable to a variety of musical situations. From the evidence of Dubious Tones, he knows how to rock and groove as well, and very well indeed, directing his sound to the hearts of his listeners.
Even though Cunningham uses the same rhythm section throughout the CD, he varies his own instrumentation, not to effect novelty, but to create novel effects that bring out the essence of the music, helping him realize the musical intentions that arose from his own imagination on ten of the tracks. With an obvious background in rock, jazz and country guitar, Cunningham picks up on a groove and runs with it, the melody being less consequential than whether the music makes an audience want to get up and dance. So, even when Cunningham plays “Busted Lip” on lap steel in a twangy sort of way, it becomes, after Brian Hall adds the walking bass lines, a jazz jam tune ala John Scofield, as Cunningham zings listeners with vibrato effects, little swoops, chorded descents and bent notes resolving ever so slowly over several measures. After that workout, Cunningham relaxes on “The Creeping Man,” allowing the notes to laze and glide, similar in its effects to Santo & Johnny Farina’s classic guitar piece, “Sleep Walk.”

The good thing about Cunningham’s treatment of the standards is that he doesn’t stiffen from the intimidation of tradition or adhere to the accepted lines of improvisation…or even to instrumental orthodoxy. Consistent with Thelonious Monk’s breaking of rules, Cunningham does so too on “Rhythm-a-ning,” creating his own space, as country meets Monk. Saxophonist Sam Skelton makes his single appearance of Dubious Tones on this track, anchoring Cunningham in the jazz tradition with references to Charlie Rouse, even though Cunningham steadfastly refuses to conform, as if Les Paul were jamming with Monk. And Cunningham does Les Paul proud since both of them are innovators of sound, in their own separate ways, who absorb all there is to absorb before experimenting with the unique approaches to the guitar, no matter what the musical style.

Iconoclastic as ever, Cunningham performs “America” as a country roads interpretation, solo, as if he were picking out in the wide open spaces of the American Midwest, and like Les Paul, overdubbing his own dramatic whole-note accompaniment. “How Great Thou Art” is seen through the eyes of a musician who attains fervid declaration of faith above the crashing of cymbals. But that’s not all. After the initial chorus, Cunningham kicks off rollicking barn dance of a western swing version over an unabashed back beat, the strings singing their own exclamations before he takes off on inviting improvisations.

“Backtalk” assumes the character of a slow shuffle while Cunningham’s backtalk consists of a slip-sliding repetitive melody, as if pitch were a center around which notes stretch and snap like rubber bands instead of being a fixed constant. And then there’s “Hemp,” on which Cunningham explores Middle Eastern modes without chord changes but with the unison lines sung wordlessly by vocalist Gwen Hughes.

Based in Atlanta, Steve Cunningham nonetheless remains busy with touring, commercial work, recordings, movie soundtracks and concerts. Undaunted by conventionality, Cunningham’s dedication is to his instrument and to the ways that it can move his listeners just by its groove and its irrepressible presence.

Tracks: BruddaBru, Dubious Tones, Hemp, Sphere’s Blues, Busted Lip, The Creeping Man, Backtalk, Rhythm-a-ning, Peace, She Never Knew, How Great Thou Art, America

Artist's Website:

Reviewed by: Don Williamson


"Dubious Tones - Music Dish Review"

Steve Cunningham - Dubious Tones

By: Michael Allison (Associate Writer)

Artist: Steve Cunningham (
Title: Dubious Tones
Genre: Instrumental Jazz/Blues Guitar

Steve Cunningham is a remarkable guitarist with one heck of an album to offer up here. Dubious Tones is a collection of jams by Steve that simply rip. The main groove of this album is jazz with a heavy blues feel. I spent the weekend enjoying this album over and over. The music has just the right feel to make your feet move without your mind working. It's all feeling, and that's always a good thing.

The grooves on this album are full of emotion and energy. There's nothing like a guitar album that cooks to make you want to listen over and over. This is certainly an album that must be in your collection if your a guitar enthusiast of the jazz/blues variety. Dubious Tones comes highly recommended for all guitar instrumental fans. There's a ton of inspirational playing on this album that any guitarist can find enjoyable.



Steve Cunningham - Travels
Steve Cunningham - Dubious Tones
Steve Cunningham - Rustic Spirit
Steve Cunningham - Slide (coming soon in 2008)



Rochester, NY native Steve Cunningham began playing guitar at age 14, where he was influenced by such diverse artists as Led Zeppelin, Pat Metheny, Yes, and the Brecker Brothers, as well as classical and bluegrass music. After years of playing and touring with various rock, country, and Top 40/dance bands, including his own original instrumental rock trio "The Value of X", Steve released his first solo CD, "Travels", in 1995. Featuring blazing, yet tasteful electric, acoustic, and slide guitar playing, "Travels" still enjoys steady sales, as well as daily airplay on national radio. Later in '95, Steve relocated to Atlanta, where he began playing the lap steel, immersing himself in the styles of David Lindley, western-swing great Tom Morrell, and Sacred Steel player Aubrey Ghent.

In 2003, Steve released his second solo CD "Dubious Tones", a blend of jazz, rock, blues, and bluegrass. "Dubious Tones", has received national airplay and rave reviews in publications such as "Modern Drummer " and "20th Century Guitar" along with on-line publications including and

In 2006, Steve released "Rustic Spirit", a collection of hymns performed on slide guitars combined with his own unique musical voice complementing these traditional songs. "Rustic Spirit" is a roots-based instrumental approach with a blend of blues and gospel, with jazz inflections added in. This soulful blend of styles will be a favorite of all music lovers.

In 2008 Steve will release his fourth solo cd "Slide", an instrumental composition showcasing Steve's talent on the lap steel. The music is a blend of all styles from swampy rock jams to latin ballads and smoky jazz tributes. Steve let's his singing strings soar with this release that's sure to appeal to all music fans!

One of the most in-demand guitarists on the Atlanta scene, Steve performs over 200 dates a year playing jazz, R&B, rock, funk, gospel, country, blues, pop and western-swing among other styles. He has played with Grammy nominated Susan Tedeschi, long-time members of the James Brown band, and Grammy Award winner William Bell, as well as opening for Jeff Beck, The Barenaked Ladies, Kool and the Gang, Dream Theatre, The Four Tops, Chuck Mangione, and Blondie. In addition, he has performed at the Southeast Emmy Awards, The World Series, and headlined at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

Steve is a first-call session player, playing on hundreds of local and national CD releases, TV and radio commercials, and movie soundtracks. He has recorded for Coca-Cola, Ford, IBM, Cartoon Network, Microsoft, CNN and NASCAR to name a few, as well as recording with the London Symphony Orchestra.