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January & February Short Takes

Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez "Let's Leave This Town", Train Wreck Records LS4009, 2002 Chip Taylor wrote the classic Troggs tune "Wild Thing." He's also had his songs covered by the likes of Janis Joplin, Frank Sinatra and Willie Nelson. But despite such heady successes, Taylor left the music business in the early 1970s to become a professional gambler for 20 years. He's been back for a while now, rediscovering his musical footing. His latest effort, the 12-track "Let's Leave This Town," finds him paired up with a remarkable young singer and fiddle player, Carrie Rodriguez. Taylor tells the story on the liner notes: "I first met Carrie at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, just over a year ago. I saw her play fiddle at a concert, and asked her if she'd like to join John Platania and me for a few shows in Texas. Not too long after that, Carrie joined us for a six-week European tour. Early in the tour, I asked Carrie if she sang. She replied, 'I can sing a little background vocals, but I wouldn't be able to sing lead.' However, she sounded so good singing harmonies that I convinced her to try a duet with me on a song I wrote years ago with Billy Vera, "Storybook Children." we first performed the duet in Holland and the fans went crazy from the moment she sang the first line." Here's the thing: Rodriguez makes this CD. Her pure, plaintive, west Texas vocals with a touch of twang are as pure as Ivory soap and as true as an Austin sunset. The deceptively simple duets are flavored with bluegrass, country and Texas swing. While the initial sensation is that of a back porch swing, the high production values let you know Taylor's been around the block a few times. A pleasant, often quite charming recording. © Fred Kraus

Steve Tibbetts "A Man About a Horse", ECM 1814, 2002 Steve Tibbetts doesn't make the kind of music that you can throw into your car stereo for a quick trip to the grocery. Trying to take it in by abbreviated doses will just make you irritable. Grokking "A Man About a Horse" requires unfettered immersion in the sound while avoiding focused concentration on the notes and composition. This paradox recapitulates the very yin-and-yang which characterizes Tibbett's music: surreal and looped acoustic meanderings punctuated by tribal drums and threateningly distorted electric outbursts. Somewhere in Tibbett's abstractions there must be hidden a zen aphorism, if only that certain phenomena can only be understood by letting go of our cultural, even earthly, preconceptions. ©Alan Fark

Mark Lemhouse "Big Lonesome Radio", Yellow Dog Records 1038, 2002 Mark Lemhouse's Big Lonesome Radio offers reverential treatments of blues by masters like Fred McDowell, Johnny Shines, and Charley Patton alongside some tasty originals and a few surprises. All of this is filtered through a Tom Waits-like contemporary sensibility most evident in the original "Edwin's Lament." There's even a Waits penned number that sounds perfectly in place alongside the more traditional tunes. Recorded with period microphones live onto analog tape in the warehouse-like Easly McCain Studios of Memphis, it sounds like we're hearing Lemhouse's guitar straight from an old Fender amp set up in front of a wall on some street corner. To enhance the effect, his instrument is always mixed way out in front of everything else. On a variety of guitars(National Steel, lap-steel, acoustic, and electric), Lemhouse shows off a rhythmic thumb and a vigorous attack. Vocally and instrumentally, his approach creates irrepressible, energetic barrelhouse music. Throughout, Lemhouse's playing is raucous, rhythmic, very rough, and always right. © David Kleiner

Shane Simpson "More Electric", SEMM 200201-2, 2002 Canadian Shane Simpson amps up with the aptly titled "More Electric." Called the "Fred Astaire of the fretboard" Simpson shows a polished and sophisticated blend of musical styles; jazz, rock, country swing and some precise finger-picking that harkens back to a young Steve Howe. His jazz background is apparent with some complex chord structuring but, at the heart of this cd Simpson proves that he loves to rock. His electric riffs blaze with intensity and he sings with a soulful conviction that falls somewhere near Lyle Lovette and fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot. I could drink a case of this myself. © Rob Dunne

Jeremy Park "Phase I", 2002 Take one part Jars of Clay, one part Dave Matthews and one part creative talent and you have yourself Jeremy Park. On his four-song EP "Phase I", Mr. Park takes us on a jubilant ride of rhythm guitar and uncompromising lyrics. Throughout this short tour-de-force we go through songs of joy, songs of sorrow and songs of love all done skillfully even if similarly. On his song "My Life" he sings about individuality and the life choices that everyone has to make for himself. From there he goes on to the theme of disillusionment in the big city in "The Great Unknown" and finally ends with "Falling For You", a love ballad I wish I could have written for my own girlfriend. All these songs are done proficiently with Jeremy's catchy rhythms and wonderfully unique voice. My only reservation about this disc is that is was entirely too short, I just hope he comes out with a full-length album soon to better showcase his talents. © Charles Kreuger

Jen Johnson "Sleeping with the Lights On"Self JJ2666, 2002 On her self-produced four song EP, "Sleeping with the Lights On," Jen Johnson offers a wisp of a voice that flirts with pitch delivering well constructed, guitar driven pop tunes. Especially in the title track and in the closer, "Shy," Patrick McCormack's electric guitar keeps the music moving along. The "Pinball Wizard"-like riff that opens "Sleeping with the Lights On" gives the tune its bounce. Lyrically, the songs are static, to borrow one of Johnson's titles. Each starts with an idea - "I haven't been able to sleep since you left... It's sad to see you this way in a city like Barcelona" - that is fragilely developed and bound to be repeated. © David Kleiner

Alice Stuart "Can't Find No Heaven", Burnside Records 0044, 2002 People think that Bonnie Raitt paid her dues because she had a several-year period of obscurity before her spotlight shone brightly... But Alice Stuart's papa wasn't a star of stage and screen, and Stuart's already lived a lifetime with no glint of such a promised spotlight. Stuart has paid her dues, and it may be why her blues rings so true and heartfelt. The former Arhoolie Records recording artist has a recorded archive dating back to 1964, and she dips liberally into a country blues repertoire on this recording. She's a fine guitarist on acoustic and electric, and with a vocal style occasionally reminiscent of Raitt, does justice to tunes by Fred McDowell, Mance Lipscomb and Furry Lewis. © Alan Fark

Ethan Bessey "Old Dogs, Something New", SDBE, 2002 Ethan Bessey writes and sings with a refined confidence honed to a razors edge from years on the club circut. His latest release, "Old Dogs, Something New," is a clean, gently produced collection of songs that showcase Bessey's sharp eye for lyrical detail and an ear for tasty musical chops. From full chorded strumming to sugar sweet finger picking, he creates songs from a life it seems we all have lived at some time or other. HIs voice and lyrics share the wryness of Tom Petty, the wit of Lowell George and the straight from the gut honesty of John Prine. Ethan Bessey is a singer/songwriter who is arriving at the top of his game. © Rob Dunne


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