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 Updated: 7/02/14 | © 1999 - 2014 Cool Bunny Media | Da Cool Bunny sez 'Spank that Plank, Baby!'
 

#14

9Muses - Feel To Heal
(Blue Amazon BA4803MBCD)

9Muses - Feel To Heel

9Muses are a new band to me, and somewhat of an enigmatic one as the CD sleeve doesn't list any names other than a guest musician [responsible for the drums and percussion on several of the ten tracks]. In terms of music Feel To Heal seems to be chilled out electronica with a female vocalist - the sound falling somewhere between a pared back Pet Shop Boys [but of the female gender], and the lushly baroque electronica of Enigma. The ten tracks are very easy on the ear with the woman vocalist well mixed to the front of the sound. It actually helps in that she can really sing. The lyrics are a bit new age-ish, but less erotic than that of Enigma - more romantic if anything. The atmosphere of the album is, as I said, rather chilled out, with the vocalist sounding rather aloof from what she is singing about. It's a very accessible album, at home in or out of a club's chill-out room. Feel To Heal is apparently the first of a series about the elements, and I think that the vocalist is the first of nine muses to feature on these albums. It all sounds very mysterious and yes, enigmatic. On the other hand, Feel To Heal is a wonderfully listenable and approachable album that with some decent radio exposure could find a responsive audience.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.9musesnow.com

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Lisa Hilton - Twilight & Blues
(Ruby Slippers Productions 1012)

It seems to me that jazz has never been so popular or thriving as in recent years. Certainly at least 50%+ of the CDs received here for review are some type of jazz - and so it is here with Lisa Hilton's new album, Twilight & Blues. Set in the small group format, mixing jazz originals with some jazz and pop/rock classics, this is an intimate album, think small jazz club, tiny cubicles and smokey candles adding to the ambience. So, with Ms Hilton on piano, the rest of the band consists of Larry Grenadier on bass, Lewis Nash on drums, Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and JD Allen on tenor sax. The album open with Ms Hilton's own composition, Pandemonium, a very tidy swing number that is an excellent calling card for the rest of the album. Followed by a version of Joni Mitchell's Woodstock that is radically different to the original. Likewise with Marvin Gaye's What's Going On [extended take - the album ends with an edited rerun of this track]- she turns this inside out, making it a slinkier jazz piece where the brass section can showcase their ample talents. I rather liked another of Ms Hilton's own pieces, City Streets, which as the title suggests is a musical snapshot of life in the city. The remaining of the ten tracks are: Turbulent Blue, Twilight, Janis Joplins' Kosmic Blues, Ms Hilton's own Blue For You, and finally, Henry Mancini's Moon River. I like jazz but am no expert, but I found Twilight & Blue to be easy on the ear jazz, with some substance and great musicianship from all involved. I think this album could appeal to those who are ambivalent about jazz, and should certainly find favour from the real jazz fans as well. Recommended.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.lisahiltonmusic.com

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Matthew Labarge - October
(CGM 1004)

As luck would have it I am playing this album deep in the middle of October, and its opening track, First Light, could certainly be a musical depiction of the grey half-light we are enjoying here in the afternoon. Pianist Matthew Labarge has created what could be considered an instrumental concept album about one of the most unpopular months of the year. Unpopular because it is the gateway to a long winter, after the bright months of summer. Track Two, Sunrise, is marginally more uptempo and optimistic, but let's face it, compared to May, October is a negative month through and through and it is very difficult to make it a musically uplifting experience. Having said that, Mr Labarge writes some very pretty piano tunes which are restful and pleasant on the ear. Eschewing jazz influences, I think the music fits more into the programmed classical genre, but harkening back to the days when classical music was all about melody and not dissonance - Leaves Dancing is a showcase for this musicality. To be fair Mr Labarge's view of October is different to mine, and the album musically depicts an autumn wedding, along with kids playing, the colours of the leaves, and of course the early sunset and the waiting for November and winter. I don't mean to sound negative about this album, it is the subject matter which depresses me - this is a wonderfully played and recorded album, and the music is intimate and melodious. October deserves to be heard by a widespread audience, anyone who derives visual pleasure from instrumental music should have a feast of lush footage going on in their head while listening to this album!

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.matthewlabarge.com

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Arpatle - Continuum
(Family Garden Recordings FGRCD01)

Arpatle - Continuum

Continuum is an album of ambient music that is actually worthy of the name. Utilising synth loops, samples, drones and lots of atmospherics, the album insinuates itself in your mind, play after play. It is ambient in the same way Brian Eno's ground breaking albums of the 70s were - you can either lavish attention and listen with full focus to it or you can just put it on in the background while working and its tendrils of magic will slowly seep into your brain surreptitiously. The CD contains eight tracks of varying lengths, all steeped in limpid dreaminess this is not an album to rock out to! Track titles are as enigmatic as you would expect: Carnival, Being Safe, Seventeen Sixteen, No I Can't Imagine, Beryllium, Bread, Hisna, and Fogmen. My preview CD was missing a video clip of No, I Cant Imagine, which is on the limited edition CD version of the album and is available to view on the link listed below. Arpatle is the alias of musician/composer Patrick Bossink, who is based in the Netherlands, but I'm not sure that locality has any influence on this music, it certainly doesn't resonate with images of canals and windmills and tulips. The music on this album is international and could have come from anywhere in the world, and is to be listened to anywhere in the world. I would like to think that this music will be picked up by those DJs and radio stations that play chill out music, as Continuum is really a very fine album deserving of a large audience.

For more information about this artist and to download or order the CD version of the album visit:

https://www.beatport.com/en-US/html/content/release/detail/ 175080/Continuum

or visit the artists own website here: http://arpatle.patsmuziek.nl

In addition, the album also contains a video clip, which you can watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= TO4qNA_bpVI&feature=player_embedded

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Arpatle - Gravity Rejection
(Family Garden Records FGR003)

To follow up his debut album Continuum Dutch ambient electronica musician Arpatle has now released a download only EP of four new tracks. It's called Gravity Rejection and it continues in a similar vein to his album - that is, slow beats, sfx sounds, a dreamy ambience, vocal drones and a dusting of that magic stuff that makes it a cut above the average. The four tracks are Electron Walk, Ivor, Mama The Dog and Retrograde Synchronicity. In many ways this is music for embedding in the background of your personal environment - not for dancing or raving to, but perhaps to create an aural wall around you when working or studying or even simply chilling out after a stressful day. A 5.1 surround sound mix for playing on home cinema kit would be an interesting experience, I think. This sort of ambient music is always a personal choice, you either get it or you don't - it is almost a bespoke music that is very personal to the listener. I find that it has echoes of a British musician ploughing a similar style of music called The Glimmer Room, who is another favourite of mine. Mind you, the final track, Retrograde Synchronicity has something of the early Air about it, and that is a very good thing as far as I'm concerned.

Gravity Rejection is only available as a digital download on Beatport: https://www.beatport.com/en-US/html/content/release /detail/183354/Gravity%20Rejection

For more information about this artist, EP and availability visit: http://arpatle.patsmuziek.nl

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David Widelock Trio - Skating On The Sidewalk
(Beegum 005)

The jazz trio format is a potent musical force and a surprisingly versatile one where the lead instrument can be virtually anything at all. In the instance of the David Widelock Trio it is a guitar with drums and bass backing, and in David Widelock one finds a downright funky and bluesy guitarist performing selection of his own compositions alongside covers of Leadbelly's Black Betty and Tom Waits' Sixteen Shells Fom a 30-06. The album begins with Chitchat, a loose, uptempo opener which illustrates Mr Widelock's rootsier side and introduces the versatility of bassist Fred Randolph and drummer Jim Kassis. A Colourful Dream Underwater is a more restrained, melodic affair, featuring some mellifluous picking by Mr Widelock on acoustic guitar. The already mentioned Tom Waits track is a lightly swinging blues number that floats nimbly between the loudspeakers. The title track certainly showcases Fred Randolph's electric fretless bass with its skipping and hesitant rhythms. I have to admit to liking this album from the first few chords - it has a lyrical and rhythmical playfulness that is very appealing. Altogether, the eleven tracks on Skating On The Sidewalk make for a very accessible album of original jazz that should attract and appeal to those music listeners who find most modern jazz too remote and abstract. I think Skating On The Sidewalk would also find favour with those who like their music funky and flavoursome.

For more information about this artist and album and availability contact: widelock@earthlink.com

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Matt Finley - Brazilian Wish
(Kingsmill Music KMI 0025)

I've always enjoyed jazz with a Latin lilt, whether from the Caribbean region, Central America and South America itself. Well, it appears trumpeter and flugelhorn player Matt Finley shares that interest and has composed an albums' worth of instrumental tunes based on his deep affection for the rhythms and melodies of Brazil. Brazilian Wish opens with the funky and party vibes of Father's Day, a track that should hook in even the most disinterested of listeners, and this is followed by the smoother and more sultry album title track. I could pick out virtually every other track for mention, but simply put, there are no substandard tracks on this album, every one is different and a winner to my ears. Matt Finley is a lyrical horn player, rather than one of those who just blasts out as loud as possible and takes no prisoners... his horn sound is well modulated and richly rewarding. This is a quality album backed by a superb group of musicians who add a lot to the overall sound, as you would expect. I'm reminded a little of Shorty Rogers and his smooth west coast style of jazz, but obviously with that extra bit of Latin added to the mixture. I think there is also a dash of classic era Crusaders in there too. Overall, Brazilian Wish is an excellent album, deceptively easy on the ear but with expressive depths to explore. Highly Recommended - even for non-jazz lovers!

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.mattfinley.com

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Donald Malloy - Spirituality

Donald Malloy is a trumpeter who is an Afro-American and uses his debut album, Spirituality, to explore the roots of his African Yoruba tribe ancestry and jazz. That's a pretty big remit, all things considered, and I have to say that this album is sadly more a straightforward jazz album in the Mile Davis vein, early 60's era. Being a big African music fan I couldn't really discern any African musical influences or instruments other than the use of African words in some of the ten track titles. To me the album would have been more interesting with a few African jazz musicians added to the mix. I think Afro-American musicians see Africa as an 'ideal' state of mind, ignoring the realities of the continent and its problems - a little intermixing with its musicians would open their eyes. That aside what you do have is a lively album of bebop-style tracks of very cool jazz indeed. The varying line up of six to eight musicians play their hearts out, and vocalist Barbara Barrett wordless singing on Oshun and Oba are very pretty. Mr Malloy's trumpet playing has power and warmth and there are brief instances where perhaps the African plains are distantly achieved, especially where Seth Johnson's guitar is involved. So while I may question the album's philosophy a little, musically this is a good jazz album and should be sought out by trumpet fans.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.karigaffney.com

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Tone Bent - Say What You Will
(Big Door Prize Records BDPR-612)

Tone Bent are a duo consisting of Bill Horvitz on guitars and banjo, and Robin Eschner on guitar, with both on lead vocals and harmonies. Say What You Will is a collection of their songs: slightly bluesy, slightly folksy and with a dash of country. Over here that would be called Alt. Country - the harmonies and vocals are reminiscent of the Handsome Family, but the lyrics and tunes aren't so gothic. There's a lot of excellent finger picking with the guitars, which should appeal to the acoustic music crowd. But I have to say that the pace of the songs seemed to me a little samey all the way through, with little change in dynamics, though there is a bit of that back porch atmosphere on many of the acoustic tracks. However, this isn't a genre of music that I like much and I found there to be too little variety in the pace of the music for my tastes. Having said that, I can see Tone Bent appealing to the aficionados of acoustic American music, so do check out their website and sample their music before buying.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.tonebent.com

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Brenda Earle - Songs For A New Day
(Allsheneeds Music ASNM005)

This is the fifth album by Canadian pianist/vocalist/composer Brenda Earle, and it contains eleven tracks of jazz songs - some by Ms Earle and the rest by a variety of pop and jazz writers. Along with singing and playing jazz Ms Earle also performs in the classical music field, so literally a very 'classy' lady! Ms Earle shows a fine command of her piano and Fender Rhodes, taking some restrained but very intense solos. Backed by a bass/guitar/drum jazz trio [Ike Sturm, Jesse Lewis and Jared Schonig respectively] on all the tracks, plus individual instances of cello and saxophone on a couple of tracks, this album is something of a chamber piece, with most songs slow to medium pace to highlight the musicianship on this CD. As we Brits would say, Ms Earle can certainly tickle the ivories... Some of the songs on this album include Cole Porter's You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To, Hammerstein and Kern's Nobody Else But Me, and Neil Finn [of Crowded House] Don't Dream It's Over. Ms Earle's own songs, Standing, A Few Lines, The Waltz and Songs For A New Day, all show class and aren't outgunned by the standards, plus the Latin vibe of Valio La Pena and So I Say (Sal Dessa) add some exotic flavour to what is a very accomplished album. I think if you like the work of Diana Kroll and Norah Jones then you may find Songs For A New Day to your tastes. Go to Ms Earle's website and sample a track or two.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.brendaearle.com

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Larry Slezak - No Worries

Jazz flourished and expanded out of many cities in America during its 'birth', Houston, Texas, being one of them. The tradition continues today and Larry Slezak is one of Houston's premier saxophonists. After working in many bands he has finally made the jump to being bandleader himself and recorded his debut album, No Worries. Working essentially as a five piece band, but with extra musicians and a string section added on certain tracks, No Worries is a muscular type of album, honking sax to the fore - you can almost smell the club ambience and cigarette smoke oozing from each track. The main musicians are Clayton Dyess on guitar, Thomas Helton on bass, Jose-Miguel Yamal on piano and a very funky Hammond B3, Joe Slezak on drums, with Larry Slezak playing tenor and soprano sax. The twelve tracks are a mixture of classics like How About You, Girl Talk, Wee Small Hours, Cry Me A River [both with engaging vocals by Sheri Lavo], Secret Love and the self-composed No Worries, which bounces along like a sleek panther. There's something very 'old school' about this album, and that is both its vibe and the sense of musical fun being had by the musicians and the listeners of the CD. No Worries is an album that follows its own advice and just offers some good old fashioned jazz virtues of melody and virtuosity and a good time. I half expect Sinatra to pop in on some of the ballads to sing a verse or two. Definitely one of the best jazz albums I've heard this year.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.tierrastudios.com

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Curt Ramm | Dan Moretti | Bill Cunliffe - Foundations
(Foundations Jazz Records)

This CD features a trio of long-respected and hard working jazz musicians who have pooled their talents to make Foundations. The album is a collection of eleven hard bop and soul jazz tracks - imagine a cross between The Crusaders and Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie at their most successful periods. The album opens with a hard blowing Little Bit, a track which how Curt Ramm on trumpet, Dan Moretti on saxes and Bill Cunliffe on keyboards work seamlessly together. Backed up by Marty Ballou on bass and Marty Richards on drums, this quintet kick up quite a funky storm [check out K-Funk and Zone Seven to hear what I mean], with plenty of solo opportunities for everyone to shine in their turn. But having said that the communal playing is superb too. All the music on Foundations is original, penned by either Dan Moretti or Curt Ramm and Bill Cunliffe. Unlike much 'modern' jazz, the music on this album is stuffed full of great tunes and riffs and oozes that confidence that lifts an ordinary jazz album into something a cut above ordinary. It takes time to become a classic album but Foundations may have that wow factor to win over the dedicated jazz fan. I for one would certainly like to hear more from this combination of musicians, they make great music.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.foundationsjazz.com

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Craig Buhler - Skykomish
(Discernment Music DJ-007)

There's been a trend recently of jazz albums [arriving at this website] covering pop music classics and drilling down for some new nuggets of meaning in radio friendly tunes. Craig Buhler's new album Skykomish is the latest of these, taking a couple of excellent self-penned instrumentals, Roll Over Redmond and Skykomish Shuffle, and then adding a new sheen of brilliance to pop, movie and show tunes such as What A Fool Believes, Eleanor Rigby, Creepin', Oh Happy Day, Save The Best For Last and Flash Dance amongst the dozen tracks on this album. Craig Buhler is a reeds player [sax and clarinet], and can certainly play a very fruity sounding sax as on Roll Over Redmond. Leading an octet of experienced musicians, this album has a very full sound, bright and punchy, it swings hard at times but pulls back on the throttle for the mellow ballads. The material on this album is reminiscent of what the BBC Big Band plays on their radio shows [that is a compliment, by the way] here in the UK - and this is one very easy on the ear album that should appeal to even non jazz fans. But it should appeal even more to all jazz aficionados who enjoy a blasting band and a great tune. And finally, the good humour coming out of the loudspeakers will lift the saddest of spirits, and for that reason this is a highly recommended album. Buy it, you won't regret it.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.craigbuhler.com

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Lara MacMillan - Miss Mercury
(GypsyWASP Records)

It is rather refreshing to find a new pop/rock woman singer who isn't trying to channel Kate Bush, Bjork or Joni Mitchell, so welcome to Canadian Lara MacMillan and her debut album, Miss Mercury. The eleven tracks incorporate many styles of pop, all with an original twist that puts Ms MacMillan's marker on them. The title track is a nice little muscular rocker with a touch of acerbity, as is By My Side. Along with her piano, the songs are either backed by the tradition guitar, bass and drums of a rock band or the more chamber settings of violin, cello and double bass. There are times when you think you have Ms MacMillan pegged as a songwriter in the 'bedsit' realms of 70's James Taylor and Carol King, but then a buzzy electric guitar kicks in and lifts the song into a rocker with some belt to it. It certainly makes for an interesting album which surprises more often than not, and her songs have a mercurial personality to them, reflecting the many moods of the writer. In today's marketplace I would say that Lara MacMillan's music stands more with that of PJ Harvey than, say, Dido. Miss Mercury is well titled, it certainly has a variety of moods going on throughout the eleven songs, and is well worth searching out for at Amazon, iTunes or CDbaby.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.karigaffney.com

Takashi Suzuki - Cycle
(Calm Records TSHIRO-2012)

Takashi Suzuki - CycleLast year I rated Takashi Suzuki's debut album, Resonance, as one of my albums of the year, and I still play the album regularly for pleasure. So receiving his new album Cycle in the post brought high expectations. Mr Suzuki was originally an architect and then a sculptor, and the music on this album has the feeling of being a construct. The music is stark and monolithic, the synthesiser 'voices' kept to a minimal number. There are eight tracks, all called Episode and numbered sequentially. As with Resonance the music of each track inspires the creation of the following one. So while the album sound is uniform each track is a variation of the previous one. While the album consists of extended drones and prolonged washes of sound, there is melody throughout - the pace may be stately but there are also slow bursts of rhythm. It is all lovely, and is as distinctive as that of the debut album. If you want to choose a musical category for Cycle then I guess ambient electronica will do, but I think this music will resonate with its listeners in different ways, moulded by their own perceptions and expectations. I think the term is metamorphic, and I guess it is as suitable a term to use for this music. Cycle is a slow burner of an album, it will take several plays for its real beauty to settle over the listener, but as with Resonance once it secretes itself under your skin then it becomes a regular entry on your playlist. I think Cycle is every bit as good as Resonance, its mood may be starker but it hits home so I make it another album of the year. Takashi Suzuki is a composer and musician to watch out for in the future.

CD Available From: CD BABY: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/takashisuzuki4 and AMAZON.COM: http://www.amazon.com/Cycle/dp/B00842D1HA/ref=sr_1_6?s= music&ie= UTF8&qid=1338402070&sr=1-6

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Rebecca Oswald - Whereas
(ROM-2)

The sound of a concert grand piano is a wondrous thing, the clarity of tone and depth of its sound can portray glorious imagery. On Whereas composer/pianist Rebecca Oswald has created an album of neo-classical style instrumentals based on a series of poems she received from a friend. Sadly the poems are not reprinted on the CD inlay so we can't compare how well they match. The album contains thirteen tracks, all instrumentals and piano only. These tracks are mostly slow, quite starkly written with little ornamentation yet emotionally powerful. I assume the album is being marketed as 'new age' music, but it sounds to me to be equally neo-classical or contemporary classical. I hear echoes of Chopin and Liszt in the music - that rich vein of romantic classicism. I see no reason why 'classical' music, as a musical form, is no less valid today, and to hear someone performing in that form today is an inspiring moment in time. The thirteen tracks of Whereas are: The Whisper Of The Meaning, The Constantly Pulsing Universe Inside Me, My Blue Ocean Your Eyes, Each Flower Will Sing Your Song, My Solitude Is Entrusted To You, The Gentle Rain Of Your Pure Love, The Place Where Dreams Shine And Fade, While Trying To Get Used To Your Absence, To Solace My Heart, I Must Have Revealed You, You Have Never Left, A Complete Life In Our Hands, Ordinary Bliss. Well, okay, the titles do sound a bit 'new age'-ish but I assume they are the titles of the original poems. That aside, I find a lot of musical worth and exploration of themes throughout this album. It doesn't subscribe to the blandness of much 'new age' music, there is a questing spirit within and that is down to Rebecca Oswald's talent as a composer/musician. Recommended.

Available from Amazon MP3, CD Baby, iTunes and other retailers for download or as a CD. For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.rebeccaoswald.com

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Todd Boston - Touched By The Sun

Touched By The Sun, by guitarist Todd Boston is being marketed as a New Age album but thanks to the inclusion of several Indian instruments it could equally be classed as a World Music album. Either way it is a musically interesting album. With eleven musicians involved across the album the sound is rich and evocative, with the Indian musical element offering a spicy additive. Produced by Will Ackerman of Windham Hill Records fame, the production and engineering is top quality. I know that most New Age has an agenda of sorts - meditave, spiritual, healing - and Touched By The Sun has all of that, yet it is also damn fine music just for relaxing to as well. Its gentle magic will soothe and caress you, and generally make life worth living again. Musically, Todd Boston has created a dozen atmospheric tracks rich in musical variety, generous in solo space for the musicians while his own guitar/dotar/flutes/bass glue everything together. The musicians are: Snatam Kaur - vocals, Eugene Friesen - cello, Charlie Bisharat - violin, Ramesh Kannan - tabla/cajon, Jeff Haynes - percussion, Aaron Sterling - drums, Tony Levin - bass, Michael Manring - fretless bass, Tom Eaton - clapping, Tina Malia - whispers. The twelve tracks are: Alapana, Twilight, Celtic Heart, Sol Rising, The Brightest Night, Under The Orion Sky, Surya, Full Moon, Solstice Dream, Cascading, Waves, Touched By The Sun. If you enjoy acoustic guitar with a laid back ethnic backdrop then Touched By The Sun could well be the album and Todd Boston the musician for you - this is a beautifully understated yet highly evocative album and is strongly recommended.

Available from Amazon MP3, CD Baby, iTunes and other retailers for download or as a CD. For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.toddboston.com

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Isadar - Reconstructed
(Mainya Music MME-0240)

Isadar - ReconstructedIsadar is a composer/pianist with a lengthy pedigree of albums in the New Age genre. This is my first experience of the gentleman's music and I have to admit to being impressed. Reconstructed is something of a career retrospective in so much as the sixteen tracks are examples of his music from across the breadth of his albums. There is a twist though - rather than simply being a 'best of' compilation, all the music here has been re-recorded and re-imagined, and produced by Will Ackerman. As I mentioned above the music is quite impressive, ranging from smooth jazz to neoclassical, and occasional stark soundscapes. But overall the music has a strong romantic feel. It is intriguing to note from the info sheet that Isadar hails from Cajun country, Louisiana, and it seems a shame that the roots of that wonderful music doesn't feature anywhere on the album. As far as I can tell there is just the single piano, no overdubs or overlays, and no other musicians, so for piano fans you can just focus on the sound of this fabulous Steinway. The track titles are: Summer Nights, Throwing The Dice, End Of The Line, Active Imagination, The Purple Heart (a summary), Where The Wild Things Are, Jealous Heart, Uncertainty, The Bermuda Triangle, Near The Edge Of Light, Waiting, Overview, Love Chaconne, Fountain Of Life, Smoke Signals, Voice Of God (Thanksgiving). Reconstructed is definitely an album for devotees of the 88 keys. Recommended.

Available from Amazon MP3, CD Baby, iTunes and other retailers for download or as a CD. For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.isadar.com

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Al Conti - Northern Seas
(Shadowside Music SM5461)

Al Conte - Northern SeasAs soon as the digipack for the above album slid out of the envelope I was impressed. A triple panel with cover art of stormy seas battering high cliffs, a tall shard of rock jutting out of the ocean with shards of light shooting off it. And hidden away under the impressive fonts used for the track listing on the second panel is the image of a Viking long ship battling the storm. Impressive imagery and raising expectations of a concept prog rock folly. But no, this is the new album by multi-instrumentalist Al Conti. So while still a concept album, it is drawn from the Norse legends. The music is more a cross between folk and electronic, with a strong vein of Celtic sounds in there for good measure. And what a thoroughly delightful album it is. Highly melodic, utterly entrancing and full of instrumental colour. The track titles are: Veil of Mist, Northern Seas, Spring Maiden, Song of Rig, Thor's Journey, Dans For Loki (Loki's Jig), Odin The Wanderer, Baldur, Valkyria, Ragnarok, and The Rainbow Bridge. The music has a sprightly grandeur, as one expects of music drawn from the Celtic Diaspora, and thanks to some additional musicians on fiddles, Celtic whistles and vocals the soundscape is rich. As with Mr Conti's previous album Scheherazade [reviewed elsewhere on this website], the audio quality of this CD is excellent and will sound stupendous on any really decent hi-fi speakers. I review a lot of CDs every year and most get played no more than a couple of times, but I have been drawn back to this album again and again when I grow bored of whatever else I am listening to. There is a depth to the music that requires repeated listening, and the payback is an album that just gets better with every listen. Northern Seas just has to be one of the best albums of the year.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.alconti.net

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Michael Brant DeMaria - Gaia
(MDM0957)

Michael Brant DeMaria - GaiaThis is the third album received here of Michael Brant DeMaria's distinctive music - a mix of ambient, new age and world sounds and music, his previous albums have resulted in Grammy nominations, so the man is onto something. Gaia is his latest album and literally a journey around the world, plugging into the ethnic and ancient rhythms and sounds of each region. After his previous albums, Siyotanka and Ocean, his new album returns to showcasing his wonderful collection of traditional flutes and pipes, once again set amongst layers of synths, percussion and other tribal and ethnic instruments. There are fourteen tracks, all drawn to the sounds of ancient civilisations and their modern ancestors on every continent of the world. So we go from Native American, to Amazonian Basin to Australian Aboriginal, to the high valleys of Tibet and China and on to the deserts of Africa. Gaia is an album that unfolds at a leisurely pace, a world tour for the mind, reminding the listener of how much we stand to lose if we don't rein in the destruction of native hinterlands, jungles and the vast oceans. I am not much of a spiritual person but even I understand that there is a gross imbalance in how we are treating our homeworld. Unfortunately few in the industrialised part of our world seem to care or even notice, and sometimes one has to use more than words and rhetoric to get the message across. Gaia is one way of infiltrating that message into the consciousness. Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.ontos.org

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Heidi Anne Breyer - Another Place & Time
(Winterhall Records)

There are times when one simply wants to get away from the everyday world and its stresses and strains, and for many music is the barrier they use to find some inner peace. I think a lot of stressed out souls are going to find Heidi Anne Breyer's Another Place & Time just the music they need to recharge the batteries. This CD contains fourteen tracks of simple melodic piano and just one or two more instruments per track, plus the occasional vocal, Ms Breyer has created an album that, I think, could equally be classical music rather than New Age. It certainly harks back to the melancholic work of Debussy, Lizst and Chopin and there is a richly romantic, almost Victorian gothic, aura to the music. Some of the track titles reflect this gothic feel: All Souls Lullaby, Winter Light, After the Last Rain, In a Region of Clouds and, of course, American Gothic. Ms Breyer plays piano and alto recorder plus vocals - the other musicians involved throughout the album are: Charlie Bisharet - violin, Eugene Friesen - cello, Jill Haley - English horn, David Cullen and Will Akkerman - guitars, Jeff Oster - flugelhorn and trumpet, and Noah Wilding - vocals. Another Place and Time is an appropriate title for the album, the music has a timelessness to it and it just seems to float out of the loudspeakers. What can I say? If you have a troubled soul then this is the album that may bring it some peace. Recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.heidibreyer.com

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Shambhu - Sacred Love: Feel The Journey
(Acoustic Shine 1001)

We are in 'new age' territory here but this is an album that should appeal to those who enjoy acoustic guitar and perhaps even folk music. Shambhu is a very accomplished guitarist and his new album contains a dozen tracks of acoustic music. Sacred Love: Feel The Journey ticks all the boxes for new age music - it is rich in spirituality, and yet the sound incorporates elements of what could be traditional music in amongst the lush instrumentation. Featuring the guitar and piano of Will Akkerman [who also co-produces] and the bass of Tony Levin [a long time member of Peter Gabriel's band], plus support from a number of other musicians who work with jazz and world music names, the musicianship on the album is second to none. And I have to say that Shambhu has a very nimble pair of hands. So this is an album that should appeal to many different types of listeners. It may not be rock but Sacred Love... has a groove to it on many tracks - listen to Natural Moment to hear what I mean. As you would imagine the track title are highly evocative: Edge of Eternal, Maui Breeze [which even has a touch of Sergio Mendez latin feel to it], Nirab Amare, Shiva Grove, to name a few. This album may be about finding inner spiritual peace but it is also a very fine instrumental album in its own right and has crossover appeal beyond that of the new age category. Shambhu is a very fluid and articulate guitarist, with a lightness of touch that makes his music worth seeking out. Sacred Love: Feel The Journey is on regular rotation on my CD player - can't say fairer than that.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.shambhumusic.com

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Lis Addison - The Grace of the Green Leaf

This is a new age album of lightweight trance and techno beats with a series of chants over the top. These chants are intended to help with one's health, life affirmation and general well-being. The musician behind these chants and seven tracks of electronica is Lis Addison, who performs most of the music (the loops are provided by Stylus). To no-nonsense British ears these sort of 'new age' philosophies often sound plain daft but while I cannot confirm the health-giving advantages of this music, the music itself is actually very good - extremely upbeat, the rhythms are light of touch and Ms Addison's voice has many attractive qualities. And I must admit that there is an infectiousness to the chants and beats which may well get the listener joining in. The rhythms also seem to be drawn from ethnic sources like India and Africa, so I can see world music fans probably listening to this as well. The seven tracks are: KundaHey, New nation, My Big Community, Brimming Over, Keen Wisdom, Cooing Doves, and Sensory Skin. I am assuming that these chants are part of some meditation system, and there is a website where you can get more information on these KiVo® BodyChants™ - for that go to www.kivodance.com. Listening to The Grace of the Green Leaf purely as an album of music, I found it a very enjoyable and, yes, uplifting, album of tunes.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.lisaddison.com

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Anna Estrada - Obsesión
(Feral Flight Productions FFP 002)

Anna Estrada - ObsesionIf there is one type of music that is most likely to cheer me up on a typically wet and dank British autumn day it is some uptempo Latin American music. And boy, Anna Estreda's new album, Obsesión, brought smiles from the opening track La Mentira. Of course, there so many styles of Latin music, its diaspora being South America, the Caribbean and parts of North America that I lose track of all the component styles, but if you like any music that has that overall 'latin' feel then you are going to enjoy Obsesión. A lot. Anna Estrada has a wonderfully exotic and sensual voice, just listen to Nature Boy and prepare to melt into her caress! It is certainly a damn sight more sexy than Nat King Cole's version back in the 50s. Setting the alluring Ms Estrada's voice aside for a moment, one must also focus on the arrangements and the wonderful band supporting her. The arranger and co-producer is Ray Scott and you will be impressed as I when you hear this album - the music is performed wonderfully by a tight and swinging band wrapping itself around her mellifluous voice, while the music charts fit Ms Estrada like a glove. This is one of those albums where you find yourself inching towards the loudspeakers until you are sitting right in front of them, trying to catch every detail in the recording process. I guess you could describe Obsesión as a very intimate album - one you will return to and savour again and again. I certainly shall. This is a no brainer - it is definitely one of my albums of 2009.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit Amazon.com, Cdbaby.com and possibly iTunes.com

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Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet - ¡Bien Bien!
(Patois Records PRC009)

Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz QuartetFrom the recent additions to my in-tray it seems that Latin jazz is a very popular musical form - which is fine for me as I find Latin music a great winter warmer this time of the year. ¡Bien Bien! is the latest album by trombonist Wayne Wallace and his quintet, but there are four extra guest musicians on some of these tracks which beef up the sound very nicely. I think it's fair to say that Cuba and its various forms of music act as the basis for this album, so very much a Buena Vista Social Club vibe going on on many tracks, such as ¡Bien Bien! and Freedom Jazz Dance. While Wayne Wallace has written three of the tracks [the title track, Mojito Cafe, Playa Negra], other composers included on the album are Eddie Harris [Freedom Jazz Dance], Duke Ellington [In A Sentimental Mood, Going Up], Sonny Rollins [Solid] and John Coltrane [Africa]. Not originators of Latin American music of course, but their compositions translate to the Latin styles very well. Compared to the other latin albums reviewed recently ¡Bien Bien! is much more of a jazz vehicle, but many of these tracks should get the dedicated Latino up on their feet and dancing, and overall the feel of the album is very uptempo and fun. Wayne Wallace is also very impressive on the trombone, offering some lovely fat and fruity sounds and leading from the front. I really enjoyed this album, it has a big warm heart full of Latin sauce that should retain its flavour for a long time to come.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.patoisrecords.com

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Fra Fra Sound - Dya So
(Pramisi Records PRA CD 0704)

Fra Fra Sound - Dya SoIf there is one thing that Fra Fra Sound remind me of most strikingly is the breakthrough afro-Caribbean band Osibisa, who were the first band to mix African and Latin American and Caribbean rhythms with rock music back in the early seventies. Well, Fra Fra Sound may be a bit laid back on the rock part and favour jazz in the mix, but their new album Dya So [which means Right Here] is as strikingly original and infectiously joyous as the music of Osibisa was all those years ago. On reading the sleevenotes I'm surprised to find out that Fra Fra Sound have been going for nearly three decades, so perhaps Osibisa were an influence. They are based in the Netherlands and their main influence is the music of Surinam, a country I've barely heard of. They live and work some distance away from the sources of their music, but then western Europe has become quite a focal point for the musicians who record what we call 'world music' these days. So, onto Dya So, the album has nine tracks, bursting into vibrant life on Along The Crossroad, mixed with street sounds for added reality. Dya So is a very upbeat album, the music there for dancing [if you have frisky feet!]. Considering there are only seven musicians involved they make a huge sound at times on this CD, especially the two-man brass section. I should by rights be selecting a few more tracks for individual mention, but to be honest the entire album is great and I really don't want to spoil your first experience of the Fra Fra Sound. So, check this band out on iTunes, Amazon or whatever your music source is and buy the album - it will be THE winter warmer in your home for the coming cold season.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.frafrasound.com

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Frank Potenza Trio - Old New Borrowed & Blue
(Capri Records Capri 74093-2)

Frank Potenza Trio - Old New Borrowed & BlueThe trio format in jazz is as old as the hills, but I'm not sure I've come across a guitar, Hammond organ and drums trio before, though here it is augmented by a flautist on many tracks. So we have the Frank Potenza Trio, with Mr Potenza on guitar, Joe Bagg on the organ, Steve Barnes on drums and Holly Hofmann on flutes. And it is quite an exciting sound to be sure - the opening track, Ready And Able, opens with lots of vim and vigour, setting out this quartet of musicians' stall with alacrity and much punch. Along with one self penned number the trio showcase quite a number of covers: Ode To Billie Joe, I'm Walkin', Party Time, Road Song, I Wanna Be Loved, and You've Got A Friend. All performed with lashes of good humour and party energy. There's enough space on these tracks for all the musicians to shine in the solos, indeed, at times I almost assumed that the organ and flute were the lead instrument, but Mr Potenza's fluid and effortless guitar always picks up the lead again. Not surprising considering he was a protégé of legendary jazz guitarist Joe Pass. Oh, and he also has fine singing voice to compliment that picking, check out his version of Fats Domino's I'm Walkin'. Old New Borrowed & Blue is a fine album that will appeal to jazz buffs but should also appeal to those not yet converted to the cause. It is a 'good times' album, stuffed full of good funky vibes [there's a bit of Booker T and the MGs in there!] and a great atmosphere - I can only imagine how much fun the musicians had recording it.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.caprirecords.com

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Acoustic Ocean - Light Returning

Acoustic Ocean - Light ReturningAcoustic Ocean is the duo of Peggy Moran and Bette Phelan, playing an assortment of acoustic instruments, voices and samples of natural sounds such as waves and bird song. This is 'New Age' music and isn't ashamed to be intended for relaxation and massage. Light Returning contains eight lengthy tracks of dreamy instrumentals with wordless vocals, creating moods and focal points for meditation. The track titles are suitably evocative: Refuge From The Storm, We Are The Ones, Ancient Forest, Always In My Heart, Prayer For Peace, Stillness At The Centre, Innocence Recalled, and, of course, Light Returning. The Celtic harp is one of the main instruments, and that of course adds a certain traditional folk music element to the overall sound, making one long for a rustic Irish pub and a pint of the dark stuff while listening to the music. Ultimately, Light Returning is a thoroughly pleasant album that does exactly what it says on the back cover. Some may find the music a bit twee and bland, but I found it soothing and ideal for meditation [i.e. sleeping], which is one of its aims, I believe. For the more technically advanced, you may be interested to know that Light Returning was recorded using the binaural 3D recording system, which offers enhanced listening via headphones. This seems a thoroughly likeable album which works on many levels and has been on the player quite a bit here, which is about as good as it gets.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.acousticoceanmusic.com

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Nicki Gonzalez - Moron Love
(Paxil Rose Records)

The confessional woman rock singer isn't a new concept, but it always seems to work well, with the artists hanging out their dirty linen for all to see, without the usual bluster you get from male songwriters. And so it is with Nicki Gonzalez. She has the husky vocal delivery of Sheryl Crow, but with the blues-rock ballsiness of Bonnie Raitt and Pat Benatar. Moron Love opens with You Love Her, an almost punk-thrash workout of anger issues. And Leave is a real old-style rocker with hooks worthy of Nick Lowe during his new wave period. The rest of the songs have a depth and emotion to them that you won't find in the output of most manufactured pop chicks. In other words the lady has a fine set of pipes and uses them on these nine self-composed songs in many impressive ways. I've not heard of Ms Gonzalez before but she has obviously lived the life and paid the dues to come up with songs this strong and a delivery this hard. It's interesting to note that the album is mixed by Mitch Easter, a man renowned for creating the REM sound - he also plays guitars and Hammond organ on some of the tracks - and was recorded in Raleigh, North Carolina, REM's home turf. There's obviously something in the water there! Moron Love may be Ms Gonzalez's debut album but I think it is the just the first chapter of a work in progress, with many more delights to come in the future. Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.karigaffney.com

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Kat Walker - Jazz Skat Gumbo

Kat Walker - Jazz Skat GumboAs you would imagine from the album title vocalist Kat Walker's new album is a fun album of jazz classics in the New Orleans style. From the opening bars of It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing) you know you are in for a fun time. Kat Walker is a husky voiced enchantress luring you into that smoke-filled club where a hot band is giving a dance vibe. Track two, Cry Me River, is played at a much faster tempo than usual and works well in this different form. The quartet supporting Ms Walker are very good indeed, and kudos go to Bart Ramsey on piano, Dominick Grillo on sax, Spike Perkins on bass and Dennis O'Toole on drums for creating jazz heaven. The fourteen tracks on this CD are a good start in anyone's guide to the classic jazz songbook: My Favourite Things, Fever, The Lady Is A Tramp, Am I Blue, Mack The Knife, I Got Rhythm, Ain't Misbehavin' are all amongst the goodies. The overriding impression of Jazz Skat Gumbo is that is all good vibes, warmth and a love of the material. Ms Walker has swing in abundance, and warmth and good humour in her voice, plus the ability to sound as if she is in the room with you reaching out to get you on your feet as she sings. There is really nothing to dislike about this album, it is a summer sizzler and a winter warmer, able to get you out of any blues you have fallen into.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.katwalker.com

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Joe Beck & Laura Theodore - Golden Earrings
(Whaling City Sound WCS 049)

Joe Beck & Laura Theodore - Golden EarringsI think this the last recording by guitarist Joe Beck before he died last year [2008], so Golden Earings is a fitting memorial to his magical fingers. That aside, this collection of songs originally performed by Peggy Lee also acts as a wonderful showcase for vocalist Laura Theodore. A sixteen song collection, not necessarily Lee's greatest hits, but a rich selection from her capacious back catalogue, Golden Earrings is fundamentally a simple proposition - one guitar, one voice, no overdubs or multi-tracks. This is music as intimate as it can be. The tracks include: Johnny Guitar, Why Don't You Do Right. Fever, I Get Along Without You Very Well, Don't Smoke In Bed, You Was Right Baby, Manana, Take A Little Time To Smile, and many more from the Lee songbook. Ms Theodore's lovely voice seems to be channelling Peggy Lee's voice on some of the tracks, but her own character comes to the fore on the rest. She certainly has a similar way with a lyric and an inherent husky sexiness that comes rolling out of the speakers. Her voice is ably and sympathetically matched by Joe Beck's gently swinging guitar licks on the faster numbers and by a velvet glove on the slower - this is simply a love affair between guitar and voice. Golden Earrings is a great tribute to both the late guitarist and Peggy Lee, but it is also a fine showcase for Laura Theodore, and promises much for the future of this vocalist.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.whalingcitysound.com

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Mike Arroyo - Transition

Mike Arroyo - TransitionI don't think I've knowingly come across any musicians from Puerto Rico before, so Transitions by Mike Arroyo, came as a very pleasant surprise. Mike Arroyo is a jazz guitarist supremely conversant with all styles of latin jazz, and his new album is one of the best audio calling cards I've heard in a long time. It opens with a vibrant salsa workout called Street Jam, extremely lively and about as good a start to an album as you can get. Most of the tracks are instrumental and, have Spanish titles which aren't translated into English - but that doesn't matter as they are all easy on the ear and performed by a superb band. There is also a very charming vocal by Millie Larancuente on El Cuedara de mi. Plus many are uptempo workouts utilising various latin styles. From the notes sent with the CD I understand that Mr Arroyo is a born again Christian and the tracks here are all dedicated to his devotion to the Lord. That aside, I think it reasonably safe to say that God, not Satan, has all the good tunes! To a listener on this side of the Atlantic listening to the very smooth sounds on the CD I am reminded of the 70's - 80's jazz fusion albums by Bob James and Lee Ritenour. No bad thing in my book - music that is impeccable performed and recorded, easy on the ear and a lifter of spirits. So, if you like smooth, latin-fueled jazz than I can wholeheartedly recommend Mike Arroyo's album Transitions - it should be on everyone's playlist.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.mikearroyojazz.com

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Bethany Smith Staelens - The Big Bang Theory
(Kotteb Records)

Bethany Smith Staelens - The Big Bang TheoryOne is used to hearing that recording an album is a lengthy process, involving many hours, days and even months in the studio [even years in the case of some perfectionist rock bands!]. So it is encouraging to read in the sleevenotes for The Big Band Theory that vocalist Bethany Smith Staelens set out to record a bakers' dozen of tracks [that's thirteen for the uninitiated] in five hours. Yes, that's right, thirteen big band songs in one session of five hours. That she and the large jazz band supporting her did it is a miracle of organisation, great arrangements mostly by Steve Sample, and a love of the material. Ms Staelens has a full throated yet extremely melodious voice that can easily cover the variety of moods within these songs. And what songs: All Or Nothing At All, That's Life, It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing, I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good, It Might As Well Be Spring, Love Is Here To Stay, a Jobim Medley and many others. Overall, this is a good vibe jazz album full of great swing charts for these classic show tunes, featuring a hot and energised swing band and topped by a vocalist who soars over and sometimes through the band to exceptional effect. It is amazing what can be achieved in just one day! This album comes highly recommended, especially if you like your jazz melodic and swinging.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.smith-staelens.com

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Mia Vermillion - Alone Together With The Blues

There aren't as many women singing the blues nowadays as one would think, but you can add Mia Vermillion to that list with confidence. Alone Together With The Blues is Ms Vermillion's debut album, and one hopes the first of many to come. There are, of course, many types of blues and as Ms Vermillion has an almost soprano-like voice you aren't going to get husky-voiced gut-bucket blues. The songs and performances are much more sophisticated than that - urban blues with acoustic, rather than electric settings. Mia Vermillion's voice is sassy and strong-willed on many of the songs, and it sounds like she is inhabiting the characters she is singing about. The mainstay of the musicians and collaborator on the album is guitar, dobro and mandolin master Orville Johnson, who creates some suitably rustic and even gothic settings for her voice to soar over. Along with two self penned songs [Little Bit Of Love and Love's Lost And Found], the other seven tracks are covers of blues classics: In The Dark, In The Evening, When I've Been Drinking, I'm Going To Copyright Your Kisses, I Wonder, Walkin', Two Cigarettes In The Dark. Overall, these tracks showcase a restrained and back porch style of urban blues, very different to the usual styles you hear. This is much more worldly-wise than the usual bar room blues you hear, and it deserves to catch the ears of blues devotees.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.miavermillion.com

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Silveroot - Big Difference
(Silverado Records SRX11)

Silveroot fall into that musical category of acoustic roots music that straddles bluegrass, traditional country and the more modern alt.country that tends to reflect modern American rural concerns today. Big Difference is Silveroot's second album, I think, and continues in the same vein, featuring multi-instrumentalist Patrick Flynn's song writing. The album begins with the album title track, a lengthy slow to mid pace plea for tolerance and understanding. I rather liked the jaunty Takin' The Fall, with its faster pace, likewise with Home Cookin'. The band consist of Darryl Webb and Patrick Flynn on a multitude of acoustic instruments and vocals, Emily Palen and Mardell Mardeux on violin and vocals. Thanks to multi-tracking, the two main musicians create a very full sound with their guitars, banjos, accordions and other instruments. While I admire the craftsmanship of the songs and the musicianship on show here I find the resolute mid-pace of most of the songs a bit 'samey', a couple of hoe-down instrumentals would have perked up the pace nicely and added some spice and variety - though Last Night In Marrakech includes some eastern flavour to the mix. I think this a band that probably works and sounds better in a bar environment with a lively audience urging them on. But, as always, this is just my opinion, anyone interested in Silveroot should visit the website listed below and sample the tracks there and buy if you like what you hear.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.silveradomusic.com

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