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B.J. JANSEN/Ronin: Movies don't give you a look at the downside of Ronin life, something Jansen identifies with as revenue streams for working, improvising musicians continue to dry up. Meanwhile, the sax man continues to continue in his skronkalicous ways leading his solid jazzbo crew through a smoking, swinging romp that hides the feelings he's wearing on his sleeve. Late night, smoky club stuff that keeps you out on week nights later than you should be, it's in the pocket throughout---and with playing like this on tap, maybe you should be thinking about the pockets of the cats that continue to play like this because they have to. Hot stuff that works throughout.

JASON VIEAUX/Play: If you're still working your way through the Julian Bream box set you got on Amazon with your Christmas gift cards, once the history lesson is over, this album will snap you right back into the present. A classical guitarist celebrating his 20th anniversary at the strings, the uninitiated with flip for the way Vieaux can hold his own with any of the acknowledged masters you wish to hold him up against. Highlighting a wide ranging repertoire here, this disc is just plain mesmerizing no matter where it touches down. Vieaux is a grand player upholding a grand tradition. Well done throughout.

EDDIE COTTON/Here I Come: From Mississippi and raised in the church as well as in the church of soul/blues/R&B, if this doesn't put you in the mind of the cool stuff that was coming out of the south in the 70s, stubbornly defiant in the face of change, your ears need a cleaning. Echoing the vibes of a lot of pings that'll grab you by the gut, the Memphis to Muscle Shoals vibe is alive and well here---and it's not riding the retro tip. One listen to this will convince you about why the classic stuff is so classic and enduring. This is a new, right on link in the chain. Well done.

JJ THAMES/Tell You What I Know: Ah, some sweet old school southern soul with a big voiced lady singing about her man. Riding a bit on the retro/neuvo tip, Thames is a sturdy, unreconstructed singer that knows how to belt with the best of them. The biggest throwback here is to the great indy labels that sent the Brits scouring the countryside a generation ago for those killer singles almost nobody ever heard. Whether taking it to church or to the roadhouse, Thames has got it going on. Coming from the heart as well as the gut, this set will blow open ears looking for some new takes on classic soul. Well done.

JUDY PHILBIN-ADAM LEVINE/Keeping it Simple: Voice and guitar, that's it. Levine has a sound that feels like a cousin of old time hokum playing and Philbin has a voice that just plain delivers the goods. The two meld magically on this set that goes from old timey stuff to originals. Despite the simple presentation, this isn't a late night record, more like an early evening set for when a diversion is required. Delightful, easy going stuff that just falls right in the pocket throughout. Check it out.

ERIC BRACE & KARL STRAUB/Hangtown Dancehall: Wow! Americana has been burned down and rebuilt with a single record. This one. Do you care about the real story behind "Sweet Betsy From Pike" and the California gold rush? It might have happened over 150 years ago but Brace & Straub bring it right into the present without the pressure the Coen Brothers probably had with the studio giving them notes on how to make "Llewyn Davis" "authentic" and "commercial". Packaged in a cool package that houses a theatrical presentation peopled with nothing but top shelf players and singers that pretty much define alt.country and Americana, this killer production is most likely to be the fuse that ignites a new folk explosion. This set flirts with perfection so hard that perfection can feel this set's breath on it's neck. Do you have to be an old folkie or a nu folkie to enjoy this? No--but if you're the kind of music fan that would rather listen to a Guy Clark album that watch "American Idol", this set is worth all the gold in Placerville. Hot stuff throughout.

MIRIAN CONTI/Panorama Argentino: Yes, kiddies, there were other composers in Argentina than Piazzolla and in her second volume of spotlighting the music and it's makers, Conti digs deeper to bring you fun, upbeat tracks by those waiting in the wings, waiting to be discovered. One of those solo pianists that know how to grab and hold your attention, Conti ranks with the best of them and is sure to open your ears to wonderful vistas on this collection. Top shelf from top to bottom.

ALEJANDRO ALMENARES/Casa de Trova: It's like we say, we don't venerate them because they're old, we venerate them because they rock. Almenares is a Cuban national treasure that's been at it for over 50 years. He's been in so many bands he can't remember them all, but he's had his share of hits and mainstay compositions to make him known in Latin music circles as a top shelf cat. Now 76 and pretty much giving us his first taste of his work, this cat is the sound of a Cuba that's slipping away but preserved here in such grand style you'll be sorry you didn't discover him before. Far from being Ricky Ricardo music, this has an unvarnished ethnic edge that any gringo can relate to because it's about the music first and foremost. Absolute killer stuff jazz and world beat ears will utterly flip for. And you get two discs worth of this treat here. Check it out.

Volume 38/Number 80
January 20, 2014
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2014 Midwest Record

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