"Uptown Blues"
(American Roots Guitar)
Book/CD & DVD Review
By Paul Kucharski
May 2004

Every guitar player can generally list a number of other guitarists who were most influential in their playing.  But Mike Dowling is one of those guitar players who seems to be on the A-list of players all over the world.  His talents on guitar excel in pretty much every category and we all only wish we could be as accomplished.  But one of the other things he does as well as anybody is compose and arrange songs that never cease to inspire, entertain and move us.  His ability for finding and expressing melodies in his compositions and arrangements have given him a wealth of outstanding material to record and perform over the years. So when I found out he was tabbing out some of these pieces for a new book, I just knew his guitar-playing fans would be lining up for a copy.   Well that day has come and his new Book/CD and DVD, from Warner Bros. Publications and Solid Air Records, is now available (out of print).  Individual songs now available from Sheet Music Plus.

Players who are familiar with Mike know that he spends as much of his time teaching as he does performing, so it should come as no surprise when I say that this new book/CD is more than just a book of Tab with the songs "performed" like so many of them are.  The CD with this book is more like taking a class with Mike where he slowly goes through each tune and discusses the intricacies of each piece.  He breaks them down and describes the important points in his typical laid-back manner and plays through them slowly and at speed.  

The book contains 16 complete solo guitar pieces (listed below); most of which are on his "Bottomlands" CD.  The book is very well laid out with easy-to-read Tab and standard notation and includes the chord names so you can see the chord progression.  The tab is filled out with special performance notes where needed to show important information (i.e. like where to play with the slide, pick or fingers).  The front section of the book also contains an introduction to each tune with some additional performance notes and important chord diagrams. 

Songs marked with ** = DVD Master Class, *=DVD Performance only

The separate DVD supplements the book and CD by providing more detailed  information that only "seeing it" can convey.  He selected some of the more complicated pieces like Johnson City Rag, Nitpikin', and Bottleneck March that require a little more skill to execute correctly.  The complete list of tunes on the DVD are shown in the pull-down above.  There are a few "bonus" performances on the DVD and these are also marked in the pull-down.  If you've taken workshops with Mike or attended one of his Yellowstone camps, it'll bring back memories of Mike's relaxed teaching style.  I really like the fact that the DVD can also be run in a performance mode.  So once you have the information you need for learning the tunes, you still have a concert video when you're done; what a great idea!

Taken together, the book/CD, and DVD give you everything you could possibly need to be able to master these works (short of taking a class from Mike himself).  In the introduction to the book, Mike states "with a little practice, intermediate players should be able to get several tunes under their fingers, and advanced players will find more difficult material to work with as well."

All-in-all, I must say the package of Book/CD and DVD is one that every Mike Dowling fan needs to have.  The music is first-class and the presentation is exceptional.  Since Mike stated he'd be flattered if one or two of these tunes make into our repertoire, I fully intend to take him up on that!

Individual songs now available from Sheet Music Plus.

Here's Swamp Dog Blues.