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Review from the Tucson Weekly, June 3-9, 2010

FROM VOCALS TO GUITAR AND BACK

According to his press kit, Michael Friedmann got his start in music by fronting a bluesy power trio in New England before he moved to Tucson in the late-'90s; that's when he began studying under Jeff Haskell at the UA and taking gigs as a jazz guitarist. He did this for 15 years, earning a degree in guitar performance and jazz studies along the way.

But this week, with the self-released Stuck in Samsara, he returns to his first love, as a singer-songwriter.

Lest you get the idea that Stuck in Samsara is standard folky singer-songwriter fare, the fingerprints of Friedmann's jazz background are all over the album, right from the get-go: The opening "Intro" is a straight-up jazz-guitar instrumental, both wistful and uplifting. In the next song, "Lizard Man," against jazz-keyboard chords, Friedmann's phrasing splits the difference between Steely Dan's Donald Fagen and a less-swinging Mose Allison, telling a tale about the tricks we play on each other, and on ourselves, in the realm of love. And there is, of course, a gorgeously fluid, if too-brief, jazz-guitar solo tucked within, too.

The arrangements are mostly barebones, usually just a guitar and/or keys and drums, though there are moments of deception: On "The Sun," the layered vocal harmonies can trick you into thinking there's more going on musically than there actually is. A lot of the songs are lyrically bleak: "Van Buren, 3 a.m." is an ode to the loneliness sprung from the infamous Phoenix street, and the title "Love Is Suicide" should speak for itself. Even in "Supergirl," one of the closest things to straightforward pop here—which relies on an extended metaphor ("I know she can't live in my world / There's too much kryptonite there")—the hero doesn't get the girl.

Stuck in Samsara
After a 15-year foray into jazz, Michael Friedmann returns to his pop roots with his debut album Stuck in Samsara. A brooding, melancholy passion play, it is at turns wistful, dark, hopeful, and philosophical. This is beautifully crafted pop music, with rich harmonies and captivating guitar solos.
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