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MICHAEL & THE LONESOME PLAYBOYS/Last of the Honky Tonks: Well on his way up the roots music ladder when sidelined by a heart problem, Ubaldini (a great last name for a honky tonk singer, huh?) has jumped back in without missing a step. Traversing the ground somewhat sown by the new traditionalists a generation back, Ubaldini isn't looking backward here, he's taking today head on figuring out how to bring the past into the future without it all being a gelatinous mass of glop. He's doing a great job of it. With a sound that reaches down and grabs you, he doesn't take no for an answer to the invitation to this party and he more than makes it worth your while. Can honky tonk still flower where suburbs have taken root? This set proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that you better bet against the suburbs. Hot stuff.

RICH OSBORN/Giving Voice-Guitar Explorations: Hey, Jim O'Rourke, pay attention. Osborn went to school with Will Ackerman and introduced Ackerman to John Fahey's playing. All these years later, Osborn is playing his 100 year old guitar and addressing the compositional things Fahey did 50 years ago. Adding some Ry Cooder accents, Osborn is no hippie relic staring out a rainy attic window between stares into his navel. A student of Robbie Basho, this is some serious minimalist, solo guitar that goes way beyond the invention of new age into other realms entirely. If any of the names mentioned before, as well as Sunni McGrath, George Cromarty or Peter Lang ring any bells for you, you'll know exactly what this record is all about. Right down the appropriate alley with bells on. Just dead, solid perfect.

JIMMY OWENS/The Monk Project: IPO continues to stealthily become the classic Verve Records of the modern era. Sounding like an idea for players that have run out of gas, there is no rejoinder to that than WRONG!! Owens and his pals, all of which can lay claim to knowing their way around the music of Monk, come in with new arrangements that make Monk's music accessible and more importantly, accessible to new ears. Blowing up a storm with everyone falling in step, the winks Monk packed in the music but didn't often let show are all on display here. Almost a better Monk sampler than a back in the day compilation. Oh yeah, the piano music has been transposed to horn here. What a difference some brass makes. Check it out.

KAREN JOHNS & COMPANY/Peach: Johns and her pals are out to take you on a trip back to the golden age of broads. Jazzy, like something that popped out the Benny Goodman era, they bring a mature but pomo edge to the sound, sneaking in a bit of a wink amid the note perfect era performances. A terrifically fun diversion, both grandpa and hipster grandson can clink highball glasses with this in the background. Ever wonder what would happen if the Pointers and the Boswells met on the street corner for a face off? You might find the results here. Check it out.

OMAR & THE HOWLERS/Essential Collection: Celebrating 50 years as a blues/roots man, Omar and his pals reach back into 20 years of recordings to cull a flock of stuff to full up two discs of high spots and influences. A must for guitar slinger fans that like the lyrics growled from the soul, this certainly representative collection is just what the doctor ordered for the frat boy in everyone. Certain to ping seminal and atavistic chords in the psyche, this is modern day look at when music was music and genres could hold their own without any crossover help from anyone. Hot stuff.

LOREENA McKENNITT/Troubadors on the Rhine: Recorded in a venue that's currently having a busy release schedule of classic live jazz dates, McKennitt and her two compadres basically do a live version of "Wind that Shakes the Barley" with some greatest hits thrown in as well. So, do you need this album? Well, for all those who thought "Barley" was a pretty record but somewhat uninspired, you'll get hit right between the eyes about how McKennitt is in the moment and sounding great with the live energy giving this stripped down version of the songs more rocket fuel than was shown in the studio. At this point in her career, you either like McKennitt or not, but if you like her, this set will make you feel like she's right there singing to you---and it works righteously.

THEA NEWMAN/Lady & the Tramps: Yes, you can be a well decorated jazz singer and still be flying high but under the radar. With a breezy, smooth jazz vibe, Newman and her crew explore back and front pages of several eras worth of tunesmiths that left indelible marks. Coming together in a singular and proper fashion, this is a delightfully in the pocket jazz vocal set that hits all the right notes throughout. A winner.

SARAH McQUAID/The Plum Tree and the Rose: Now living in England for quite some time, this former Chicago girl, a distant relative to Gamble Rogers, finally comes with her third album and it gloriously sounds like something that would have come out of the Pentangle corral if they were all young people making music today. Ostensibly in the folkie/singer/songwriter bag, that's merely a cheap way to pigeon hole her at first blush. Low key but glorious and incendiary, the writing and performance keep you riveted throughout. Setting a gold standard for a ‘pure music' album, you didn't have to be a habitué of 70s college coffeehouses to get what's going on here. This is a lovely, mature work just waiting for anyone that's ready for it. Well done throughout.

Volume 35/Number 133
March 2, 2011
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2012 Midwest Record

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