JOHN STEIN/Lifeline: The label has made a lot of fine records and given many a worthy vet a good home but Stein was one of their home grown treasures that grew up with the label and has left a fine discography there over the last two decades. A jazz guitarist that can easily take his place along side Wes, Joe Pass or Grant Green, this distillation of his work spread over 2 discs is a modern mind blower. More than a best of set, the cherry picked tunes here should be more than enough impetus for the uninitiated to dig deeper. No mere craftsman or technician, Stein plays at one with his axe and uses that same sure hand to lead his ensembles. As tasty as it gets.
(Whaling City Sound 136)
HOGTOWN ALL STARS/Hog Wild: This is no mere bunch of white boys with the blues. This is the reconfiguration and reassemblage of two of the top blues rock crews in Canada that have won every conceivable award and have the chops to back it up. Still serious about what they do but playing it for fun here, this is a frat boy par excellence deluxe rollicker. Well done.
(Stony Plain 1453)
MICHAEL ORENSTEIN/Aperture: An LA based jazz piano cat t hat's paid his dues while being influenced by Herbie Hancock seems to have waited until just the right time to deliver his auspicious debut. Kind of smooth jazz with bite, this is top shelf sitting down jazz that moves and grooves with fine style and chops. Classy throughout, this is the tour de force you are always looking for.
GEORGE COTSIRILOS QUARTET/Refuge: An utterly solid jazz guitarist that started out in Chicago, has been in San Francisco forever and played with everyone that matters shows once again how straight ahead jazz is done and done right. Maybe the jazz police will have a problem with this being so smooth and call it names but screw them. It's done right and doesn't have that soulless, hollow commercial side to it but it remains accessible. A perfect set for newbies to come into the tent with while older instrumental fan ears nod approvingly.
CATHY SEGAL-GARCIA & PHILLIP STRANGE/Live in Japan: If it seems like jazz vocalist Garcia is stepping out of her comfort zone here, consider this. This twofer was recorded live in Japan over Christmas 30 years ago shortly after dropping her debut with Dr. Um and Marc Johnson. A spirited piano/voice romp where chances are taken and dark corners explored. Successfully. You gotta go all the way to Japan to hang out in a saloon this cool? A perfect example of putting the fun first and having it work.
WES COLLINS/Jabberwockies: Supposing John Prine recorded most of his early works in Muhlenberg County instead of Chicago. With his Priney voice and North Carolina location, you get an unselfconscious glance at the nu Prine sound---and that's even before you get to the songs. Kind of the folkie side of shoe gaze, if this set doesn't take you to Franklin Street where all the light bulbs are broke, you're missing something, not me. This guy has it going on.
(Nosy Dog 102)
SHANNA IN A DRESS/Robot: The latest out of the box Kerrville winner might not be your father's Nanci Griffith but this Coloradan folkie recently transplanted to Nashville seems to be on a collision course with being a well loved cult figure that comes by her quirkiness organically without affectation. If you don't think she can be a Joni Mitchell for modern times you'll never win at Tik Tok challenges.
JIM PATTON &SHERRY BROKUS/Going the Distance: A folk rock duo that's sort of Austin's answer to Kennedys, but not really, rounds up a modern crew of Austin all stars to present a sincere set that comes in way more polished than a DIY set should be. A bunch of songs about common people doing common things, it all hangs together as a soundtrack for those back porch times when you just need to watch the world go by and you're more than happy to let it.
WAYNE WILLINGHAM/Temptation Row: After 46 years in and out of music and the corporate world, Willingham came back to music but with the stipulation that he come back as a singer/songwriter playing house concerts for people paying attention rather than honky tonks where the crowd didn't really know him from beans. Like a Townes Van Zandt lite, his songs are merely sad as opposed to hopeless. With more than a touch of hard scrabble Americana drifting through the tracks, there's a back porch country aspect to it that really pus it over.
CHERYL CAWOOD/Bullet in the Cabin Walls: Cawood's Kentucky roots run so deep they might predate the Hatfields & the McCoys. No stranger to the hard times you want to keep away from your door, I could just as easily be listening to Rosalie Sorrels or Hazel Dickens as Cawood without ,missing a beat. Dyed in the hills folkie stuff, these are well played tales of people of the soil. Betcha it's a real ear opener for many.
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CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
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