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MICHAEL IAN BLACK/Very Famous: Black is one of those comics whose sense of snark runs so deep that you have to listen to him a few times before you have an Aha! Moment and suddenly get him. Funny thing is, he addresses this right out of the box. And it's funny. And if you haven't gotten him yet, you will now. A hip, anti-hipster for pomo times, taking his act on the road has honed his chops and whether monologing or joking, Black is bringing hard and fast, and of course, funny. This is the antidote and tonic for when you feel like you might be developing a terminal case of cranky pants. Go Michael!

MARC MARON/This Has to Be Funny: Back before the great cable comedy merger, Maron was a segment host on Comedy Channel. You knew there was something wrong with him that you couldn't put your finger on, but you had your own problems and you were really killing time until Rachel Sweet came along. Now in middle age and in touch with his loose ends, Maron is a high water mark neurotic, observational comic that knows how to get us laughing with him, not at him, no matter how twisted inside out he is, whether it's true vein opening or just personae. A killer set of aggressive comedy that gets your blood flowing.

DOWNTOWN RAMBLERS/On the Other Side of the City: You know how you're listening to something with one ear but it's so forceful and unique that it demands your attention? That's what happened with this folk/bluegrass set. The lead vocalist was getting a hold on my heartstrings, the writing was demanding not to be in the background and the playing was so together that words like tour de force were ringing in my head. Ok, time to pay full attention and she was going on here. Well! Bluegrass from Sweden that sounds the way nu grass from our own hills should sound. A breath taking winner throughout, this is one of the top audio getaways of the year. Put the head phones on your ears, a smile on your face and use this to gleefully tune out the rest of the world. Safer than Prozac, cheaper than therapy and great for unleashing pent up endorphins just waiting to make you feel better. Killer stuff.

JESSY J/Hot Sauce: Not to be confused with the vocalist of the same name, especially since this JJ was there first, the saxy lady really turns it up on this new release going for the fusion/smooth jazz parlay and bringing in the full compliment of hitters of the past who wrote the book and are still annotating the revisions. Loaded with the kind of zip that moves smooth jazz out of merely pretty music and into the realm of something you wan to be sure to take home, this set is right in the pocket and provides the groove that's at home in the car, at work, working out, or, simply at home. By all means, add this caliente to your musical stew ASAP. She's proven herself mightily in the past but this outing ups her own game.

GENE & GAYLA MILLS/If Stones Could Talk: When the record business first fell apart, there was a mental adjustment that had to take place. Certainly not everything established labels put out was great, but the chances of something great coming out of somebody's basement were even less. So, as things were falling apart, when you got something from somebody's basement that was great, you had to take your pulse and determine if your ears were getting tired and jaded. I guess this record signals the adjustment has been completed, This singer/songwriter/folk/Americana set is great. And it's from this duo's basement. Already a well decorated member of the back porch brigade, Mills has a fully formed sound in his head that he knows how to communicate in such fine style that you'll be scratching your head about why this is micro indie. Some of the best organic music you could hope to come across from all components and angles. Killer stuff.

NELL ROBINSON/On the Brooklyn road: If you think this southern, musical storyteller brings a lived in sound to her take on Americana it's because she was a closet singer until hitting her mid 40s. Bringing an indigenous, home grown sound to the form (even if she was born in the 60s) it's easy to hear the heartland lineages from Hazel Dickens to Lucinda Williams in her sound and style. Surrounding herself with top new and nu grass pickers, this the stellar kind of back porch record that leaves a real and positive impact on the listener. Loaded with coloring outside the lines charm, this is just want you want to be listening to when you need to take a break from the city and head out to the country, if only in your mind. Well done.

RICKY SKAGGS/Country Hits Bluegrass style: It's hard to compete with your younger self but this is Picky Ricky. Often getting requests for his old songs in concert, he thought this would be the time to update the golden oldies based on fan interest. The funny thing is that Scaggs came from bluegrass originally and whether he was covering Guy Clark or Flatt & Scruggs, his �country' hits were sounding bluegrass anyway. So, the nice thing about this set is that Picky Ricky didn't get his nickname by being satisfied with setting up a DAT in the back of a concert and tossing the results out. This is a full bodied, full blooded return to the greatest hits that cemented his reputation, and for the most part it sounds like there's a party going on. This is one of those top shelf journey's through the past.

HAL SCHAEFFER/Brilliant: Schaeffer has always run in lofty circles but has never had that bit of daylight that would allow the jazz piano man to be mentioned in the same breath as Dave McKenna or Hank Jones. Props to Michael Feinstein for taking the time to lobby for Schaeffer getting Jazz Master recognition two years back. This solo piano set celebrates that event. While he deserves recognition for more than being the last man standing at 85 years old, this is a grand set of whorehouse/saloon solo piano on the classic tunes of that era and vibe. Playing with the dexterity and snap of a young lion on the prowl, if you miss McKenna or Jones or simply want to hear jazz piano played right and righteously, this is a must to check out. The cat still has it all on the ball.

Volume 34/Number 263
July 23, 2011
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2011 Midwest Record

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