With an ear toward
the revived interest in traditional pop singers, Johnny Mathis’ Isn’t
It Romantic: The Standards Album Columbia) offers tender renditions
of old favorites by Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, and others. After five decades,
Mathis’ voice is as vibrant and sensitive as ever.
Persian musician Reza Derakshani and American drummer John Densmore
team up on Ray of the Wine (www.henhousestudios.com). Using instruments
from many cultures including djembe, sitar, and didgeridoo, Derakshani and Densmore
(who also produced) create a multi-textured musical epic poem.
Pierre Bensusan’s Altiplanos (Favored Network) is a mostly
instrumental collection, using Bensusan’s guitar and touches of flute to create
an ethereal mood between classical and jazz.
Trance/pop artists Blank and Jones’ Mind of the Wonderful
(Water Music DANCE) is an EP featuring six variations of one song. Short, long,
acoustic, club mix heavy on the drum ‘n’ bass-there’s a mix for every taste
from these popular club-hopping DJs.
Taste the overseas hip-hop scene with Interesting Flavours (Chocolate
Fireguard). The album showcases various UK and European artists performing innovative
rap, breakbeat, dance, and R&B numbers, with humor and social content that
raise them notches above the American product.
Jazz combo Shapes go all out on The Big Picture (Burning
Down The House), a double-disc effort that showcases the group’s fusion style
on originals as well as standards. Pauline Wilson’s powerful, yet smooth
vocal on Rodgers and Hart’s “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” deserves to be
Devil In A Woodpile’s In Your Lonesome Town (Bloodshot
Records) features a mean harmonica and a deep-voiced singer playing down-home
traditional blues in a very uncompromising style-nothing electric, completely
unpretentious. This stuff is the roots, alright.
James Combs is a high-voiced singer-songwriter with a style recalling
Neil Young and other early ‘70s troubadours. His Nice Dreams If
You Can Get It (Disingenuous Records) features songs that are dreamy,
but sometimes sardonic.
In Voodoorama by Thee Missouri (Blue Disguise Records)
is not about voodoo, although it has a dark and mysterious mood. It’s more like
Depeche Mode meets the blues as this German-based group melds melancholy
lyrics to electronic beats.
Voodoo Boogaloo by Ron Levy’s Wild Kingdom (www.levtron.com)
serves up good and greasy get-down jazz. Versatile musician Levy plays keyboards,
vibes, basses, and clavinet, with assists from buddies like Karl Denson.
Tommy Castro is the Soul Shaker (Blind Pig). Accompanied
by his funky band, Castro belts out roots rock and blues, almost single-handedly
reviving the tradition of the soulful rock frontman.
Former Toad The Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips returns with
Winter Pays For Summer (Lost Highway), a collection of songs with
Phillips’ signature philosophical bent and intricate guitar-drenched melodies.
As the title indicates, some innocence has been lost since the Toad days - these
songs represent a more mature, somewhat sadder perspective, but the enjoyment
of life and love is still there.
Blues Mongrel (www.northernblues.com) is Carlos del Junco,
a harmonica champ who really works his axe on “recycled blues.” There are some
gutsy blues tunes here and even a harmonica rendition of the Our Man Flint
Blues man Eddie Turner plays guitar and sings on Rise (www.northernblues.com).
A dash of Chicago style, homages to Jimi Hendrix and Freddie King,
and a refreshingly different sound these days -bottlenecking! It’s good to hear
guitar work without electricity for a change.
What do you do when you’re one of the “other” Rolling Stones? If you’re
Bill Wyman, you put together a top-notch band called The Rhythm Kings
and record Just For A Thrill (Fuel), performing lots of old-time
boogie woogie numbers, funk, harmonica blues, and even a Ray Charles
tribute. And the result is an album that is just plain fun!
The concept of Rewind! 4 (Ubiquity), as with the three previous Rewind!
compilations, is cover versions of familiar hits by current dance/R&B artists
like The Rebirth, Nicole Kramer, and Platinum Pied Pipers. Everything
from “Word Up” to Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” gets a creative make-over
on this modest but entertaining CD.
Seattle musical gadfly Carrie Akre fronts Goodness on a live CD
called Live Seattle 12/03/04 (www.kufala.com). It
has the atmosphere of its venue, Seattle’s Crocodile Café: raw, smoky, and dramatic.
Clean, melodic soft rock characterizes Dallas band The Afters. Their
album I Wish We All Could Win (Ino/Epic) features upbeat ballads
that sing of love for women, life, and God.