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CHRIS BURTON JACOME/Levanto: This is very ambitious and you really have to be into art to really get it. A solid son of the southwest soil shows his Spanish roots reach all the way to the root as he does a record adaptation of a full on flamenco show and does a find job of making a ‘radio play' out of a stage production. Powered by a soul deep love of flamenco, this is a whole lot more than another tasty, solo guitar album. Not quite ‘you are there' but pretty damned close, this will easily whet your whistle for a flamenco show until the real thing comes to town. A bit of a specialized thing but a real win if this is your thing.

JORGE STRUNZ/Neotropical Nocturnes: So what's the story? Farah is here. Bisharat and those guys are here. Why is this billed as a solo record? When you are an artist with depth like Strunz, you want to push some boundaries. It gets tough to leave your comfort zone, especially when you are an indy artist. Real world bs and all that. If you take a chance that doesn't work, you will have a bad year. If you stay in the comfort zone, one day those 100,000 loyal fans will think you jumped the shark for not doing something new and the critics who just cut and paste last year's positive review will be too jaded to do it again. You'll not only have a bad year, you might have a lot of ensuing bad years as well. Here we find Strunz has been composing Latin American flavored pieces that exist in their own sphere and don't fit into the mien of what Strunz and Farah play. The good news is that he's been keeping his chops up. The bad news---gotcha, there isn't any. His craft operates at such a high level that he's demolished the old comfort zone and crafted a parallel one. A winner throughout.

KENNY RANKIN/Mind Dusters: Some of the deep geek info has been left off these classic Rankin reissues, but this set dates back to his Mercury days in the 60's when he had Johnny Carson on his side as well as the Lewis/Kay team firmly in place. Somewhat in the psych/folk bag with era acknowledgments to Neil, Lightfoot, Dylan and the folkie reach back to Hellerman, here we find Rankin starting off on the creative trail that kept him from fitting the format, no matter what the format was, the rest of his career. Poppy enough to attract Carson's attention and adulation, this should have been 60s rec room folk for entertaining in the pre-wife swap era. A nice opening shot of a pleasant young man that didn't have to have those rock excesses that made him his own worst enemy in the long haul. The reach back is worth it simply because you've never heard Fred Neil like this, and the rendition of "Dolphins" is worth the price of admission alone. You even get the first bite of his enduring classic "Peaceful" on board as well.

KENNY RANKIN/Family: It wasn't easy to see it in real time but this was a real trip through the dark side with Rankin as he covers Bert Jansch's gloomiest song ever and mixes a splendid batch of interpretations in along with his originals tagging Lightfoot's scenic "Mountains and Marian" (spelled wrong here), some Otis, some Brill Building, some requisite for the times Beatles and some more, but making it all come together nicely. The adventurousness that would keep his output interesting is well formed here and quite nicely showcased. Trying to focus on the differences and trying to make them appeal to everyone certainly seemed to be a formula to keep Rankin a cult hero.

KENNY RANKIN/Like a Seed: George Carlin had gone hippie and Rankin was signed to the new Little David label right behind him, also having him open for Carlin on a career making tour. This set finds Rankin delving farther out into space doing the folk/jazz/psych mix, applying it even to a new version of "Peaceful" which was a heartbeat away from being taken to the top of the charts by Helen Reddy. Rankin kept the songwriting in the family this time out and he did a find job of being the anti-Jim Croce. A perfect soundtrack for tripping through the daisies.

KENNY RANKIN/Silver Morning: Kind of a Peter Max cover holding within a mix of originals, Lightfoot, r&b, Brazilian and Beatles, the formula for Rankin being long gone off on his own beaten path with another professionally delivered album that couldn't fit the format if it wanted to. Released in the face of the Arab oil embargo, the rise of arena rock and the coming of disco, what was a poor folkie to do to stake his claim against the cold, cruel world. A high point of creativity through out that it wears like a merit badge, this set almost writes the book on eclectic---unfortunately released at a time when people really wanted to be told what to do. A dandy listen now when you can listen to it easily without outside pressures crushing it. It's just too gentle and album for that.

KENNY RANKIN/Inside: Interesting in that Lewis and Kay backed off as producers and let the hippies run the head shop. Mixing Hendrix with Randy Newman, Louie Prima, Steve Wonder and whatever happened to be floating by that made sense, they certainly couldn't have done nay worse producing on their own than Lewis & Kay did as they failed to bring him to the masses he deserved. There's a wonderfully off beat Tom Waits hipster lite thing going on here (like Waits was killing them at the cash register back then) that just makes this a misbegotten classic. Fun stuff that doesn't fit any format other than the left field play list in your mind.

KENNY RANKIN/Album: A dollar short and a day late. Hooking up with his long time old pal, Don Costa(?), Rankin finds his footing as a Stephen Bishop lite rocker, unfortunately after Bish tilled that ground and claimed the corner. Of course, Rankin actually out shines Bish on his own "On and On" . What a time to find out that he could have been Michael Bolton without the histrionics. Not an essential cover in the bunch, but if you had AC ears and never heard the originals, it would have been a fun ride. After this, Rankin would continue recording for a succession of smaller labels and each time he went farther out on his own way, it came back with a more higher octane of creative results that would perpetually doom him to life on the back 40 but lock in the ears of those who cared.

Volume 33/Number 124
March 5, 2010
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2010 Midwest Record

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