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AFROLICIOUS/California Dreaming: Forget the Mamas & the Papas, the only thing this crew has in common with them is the title. This double barreled load of killer Bay area funk brought down to the tropics is specially engineered to blow you away. A non-stop party record with grooves and funk for all, this set turns anyplace into a wild dancehall. Loaded with multi culti heat for the feet, this is a first class party on a platter that's a crazy kick. Check it out.

BRYAN SHAW & THE HOT SHOTS/Bluebird of Happiness: Swing revivalists? Nope. These are cats that love rolling out the barrel, going down to the barrelhouse and cutting a rug. Focusing on the dance side of swing jazz, Shaw and his gang are right in the moment and right on the money. The set list is a page right out of an old time band book and the players, including Dan Barrett, Ehud Asherie and Jeff Hamilton among others, don't need to be told what to do. Whether dad or lad, grampa or sweepee, this is a gas that will be enjoyed by all. You don't even need an Elvis Costello hat to show you know how to dig it.

SPYRO GYRA/The Rhinebeck Sessions: 40 years later, the group finds itself going back to base, recording for Crosseyed Bear in Buffalo, NY. Some things have changed. Howard Bloom isn't around to publicize the music. Infinity Records isn't there to push it over the top. The guys running Clubhouse, where this was recorded, were barely spinning knobs on analog recorders back then. But when you go back to base after selling 10 million albums and you're doing it with your own money again, you regain that youthful energy that pushes you to do something new and not complacent just because you're risking your own nickel. Beckenstein might not have Wall to bounce ideas off on this session but the rest of the long time crew in what was becoming a floating crap game for a while is on board. This record is a shot fired in the war to make fusion taste good again. Not a trace of bizjazz in the bytes makes this the kind of thing that will stand out in today's over crowded, deconstructed marketplace. This trip back to the day has got a lot of tonic in it in more ways than one. Yes, Virginia, contemporary instrumental jazz is contemporary once more. Killer stuff that ignites a whole new set of promises. And they did it all without reprising "Morning Dance".

CHRIS JAMES & PATRICK RYAN/Barrelhouse Stomp: This pair of white boys hit it right out of the park from the start with their modern, honkyized take on traditional Chicago blues as played in various joints anywhere south of Madison. Not ones to be mistaken for residents of Manquey Island (look up the timely Brookfield Zoo reference--also on the faaaaar west side of Chicago), this duo tells the truth in their music and that's why they don't have to look over their shoulders. Smoking stuff that modern blues fans will eat up with a spoon.

URI SHARLIN & THE DOGCAT ENSEMBLE/Back to the Woods: An Israeli comes to New York to ply his trade as a jazz pianist but winds up on accordion because there just aren't that many jazz accordionists out there in the big apple. Yadda, yadda, yadda, now he's playing jazz accordion at Lincoln Center. This set is such a tsimmis it doesn't even pay to sort out what's what when you can just sit back and enjoy the multi culti mash up with a squeeze box at the center of it all. With various facets wistful, romantic, energetic and more, this is the kind of record you would have found a decade ago at Starbucks where they were really pushing discovery of offbeat music. Completely well conceived stuff that his the mark with ease and is sure to leave you at a café table outside the hot club of France the way you see/hear it in your mind. A winner.

STEVE HOWELL & THE MIGHTY MEN/Yes, I Believe I Will: You have to love this old, white boy because he's got a great act and he's one of those cats that ranks up there with the best guys you never heard of. Then you also have to love him because of his taste celebrating Kicking Mule, the alter ego of Terry Garthwaite and Dewayne Blackwell as well as the usual suspects like Mississippi John Hurt, Dock Boggs and the Lomaxs (Lomi?). With a different take on the Texas troubadour than Townes Van Zandt has painted for us, Howell has the authentic, heartfelt delivery and style that isn't made for going to the to of the charts but is made for keeping you on board no matter what's going on with fad and fashion. One of those simply great down home/back porch records that'll have you grinning while he does the picking. Solid throughout.

SALAAM/Train to Basra and Other Stories: Growing up in Chicago and of middle eastern descent, Dena El Saffar heard all these stories about the old country and the old days but she never related Iraq to Mesopotamia until she actually went there and found some chord resonating within her. From there, a bunch of modernized Arabian nights kind of music began flowing from her, some of it sounding like soundscapes for Leonard Cohen, some of it more exotic. Certainly not gift shop music or dusty folkloric stuff, this is almost like a modern, ethnic pop record where you can enjoy it no matter how you approach it. It's loaded with the kind of bursting energy you get when a classical trained musician gets a taste of how much fun pop is. A solid set that starts out as a side trip and ends up being much more than a diversion. Hot stuff you won't be hearing in any ethnic restaurants trying to be ‘authentic' any time too soon.

TEV STEVIG/Jeni Jol: If you aren't a real world beat guitar fan, telling you Stevig plays Balkan music on fretless guitar might mean next to nothing to you. If you play his works, you'll probably react that he plays real pretty stuff. This is a fair reaction for the uninitiated. For those musos with a more refined taste, you'll be pretty amazed at what Stevig can pull off here. Actually sounding like he came out of the Jansch/Renbourn 60s camp, Stevig is one of those solo guitar cats that doesn't need any other coloration to make his sound seem full. Quite a tasty set throughout, guitar fans are just going to love this. Well done.

Volume 37/Number 325
September 22, 2013
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2013 Midwest Record

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