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 Updated: 7/02/14 | © 1999 - 2014 Cool Bunny Media | Da Cool Bunny sez 'Spank that Plank, Baby!'
 
#2

David Hoffman - Calmness of Spirit
(Lakefront Productions LF-015)

David Hoffman - Calmness of Spirit

Calmness of Spirit is intended for relaxation, meditation and just plain old easy listening, and I applaud that clarity of view - so many 'new age' albums are so full of their own importance and philosophical 'mission statement'! That said, this is an intriguing album by multi-instrumentalist David Hoffman and aided by another multi-instrumentalist, Paul Adams - oh, and there is someone else listed as giggler. I think that has to be a first for me to find giggling worth a credit [apart from Harry Secombe of the late lamented Goons]. While there is an impressive list of instruments on the inlay card they are sparingly used and many tracks only feature a small number for a very intimate sound. Between them both these musicians have created a collection of nine instrumentals, some of which are mixed with samples of wildlife - check out The Singing Frogs of Guadeloupe to hear what I mean. While being 'new age' in style there are also some jazz chops being utilised too - listen to Julie's Dream for an example of some very nicely understated jazz piano. Obviously, with an album called Calmness of Spirit you aren't going to get any music for a good old knee's up, but there is nothing dour or sad about the music on this album - lush and romantic certainly covers some of the tracks, atmospheric and quietly cinematic some of the others. In fact, the album is so quiet at times that you'll find a need to turn the volume up! This is an album not afraid to appeal to more than one type of audience dynamic, and I think it succeeds very well. Calmness of Spirit is an impressive introduction to an artist very new to me but who has been around some time and released several albums. I recommend this album to anyone who needs music to unwind and de-stress.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.davidhoffmanjazz.com

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Paul Adams - Heavens: Further Explorations for the Dreaming Flute
(Lakefront Productions LF-16)

It will come as no surprise to many that with a title like Heavens: Further Explorations for the Dreaming Flute that this is an album of meditative music performed on a number of Native American flutes. Paul Adams is a most expressive flautist and the ten tracks on this CD explore every aspect of dreamtime. You may ask what dreamtime is and I guess it is whatever you want it to be - but put simply, this music takes you to that state of mind where you can relax and be at peace or allow your mind free reign and perhaps find solutions for your problems. I'm sure yoga practitioners will also find this music useful for their processes as well. I don't think the music on this album is drawn directly from native American ceremonial sources but it does contain an elegant, almost solemn sound. The tracks are:- Dreamtime, In a Zen Garden, Into the Deep Blue, Whippoorwill, The Ancients, Cloud Floating, Grace befalls the Evening, Saddness Will Not Bind Me, Heavens, and The Sky of Hope. Heavens: Further Explorations for the Dreaming is a very eloquent album, with nuances of sound which manifest themselves only on repeated listening. Recommended to those looking for spiritual soothing.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.pauladams.org

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Evan Wish - Forget-Me-Not, Blue

In its own way Forget-Me-Not, Blue is a passionate plea from the composer and musician Evan Wish for universal peace and love. Something I think we would all agree to in a perfect world. It is a sentiment that most will aspire to and to that end Mr Wish has produced an album of ten tracks of his music. The meaning of peace is seen here as between individuals and broadens outward to break barriers down between nations and ethnic groups. The music is highly melodic and almost classical in style, performed by Mr Wish's piano and a string trio on several tracks, with a few additional musicians on individual tracks. One of the tracks [What Will Man's Legacy Be?] also includes dialogue samples from various Nobel Peace Prize recipients. It would be so easy to be cynical and sneering about such philosophical outpourings, but look around you and what do you see? A world more dangerous than before the Cold War evaporated - political, religious and militaristic rhetoric filling the airwaves and no-one really listening. Any attempt at finding a middle way is to be applauded and I see no reason why some heartfelt music can't touch a heart or two [or many more, of course!] and make people stop and think before they make a mistake. Music has done stranger things and for that reason I hope Mr Wish's album is listened to by the right people. So, ten tracks of emotionally charged music - all beautifully performed and recorded, with some lovely tunes. Whatever type of peace you may be looking for [interior peace of mind is a good goal to start with] I think you may find Forget-Me-Not, Blue to be that toolkit to help get you there.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.evanwish.com

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Lisa Downing - Christmas For Two
(Vision Quest Entertainment 5159LD2)

I have to say that not being an overly sentimental chap I tend to avoid Christmas and its tawdry and mawkish emotional blackmail [if I can]. But it now being the start of winter and THAT date is not that far off here come the albums of Christmas music. There is a certain amount of relief that Christmas For Two is an instrumental album by pianist Lisa Downing. Ms Downing's music is no stranger to this website and her interpretations and rearrangements of the dozen and more carols do showcase the underlying melodies of the [for me] vocal clichés of the original songs. At times the melodies get a little jazzy, lifting them from the over familiar, and some of the medleys make for interesting connections - I was particularly impressed by the Canon in D Christmas Medley. Thankfully, Ms Downing's new arrangements of these traditional carols do bring new insights into the original melodies and the more cloying aspects of these songs are reduced. Normally I am full of praise for Ms Dowling's albums and if this was an album of her original music I would be more than happy to bend an ear to it, but in this instance all I can say is that if you are looking for a collection of instrumentals of Christmas carols than I think this will tick all the boxes for you. Lisa Dowling is a wonderfully emotive pianist and her reinterpretations of traditional Christmas carols manage to retain the familiarity of the songs but add some new subtle aspects to the tunes so that they sound different.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.lisadowning.com

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Steven C - On Christmas Night

Well, it's that time of the years again and here come the albums of Christmas and festive music. Pianist Steven C has recorded a collection sixteen festive carols and songs, aided by a small number of fellow musicians to fill out the sound on a number of the tracks. Mind you, the nine foot Bosendorfer piano Steven C plays throughout this album has a wonderful sound all of its own, with a rich timbre all of its own. I'm not fan of Christmas music and especially carols, but I have to say that these new arrangements hark back to the classical music origins and eschew the saccharine and overt sentimentality that one usually hears today. The musicians involved alongside Steven C include Yuri - violin, Roxanne Layton - recorder, Aimee Fischer - vocal textures, and Scooter - percussion. The tracks include:- On Christmas Night, Gesu Bambino, I Wonder As I Wander - Coventry Carol, O Come O Come Emmanuel, In The Bleak Midwinter, Joy To The World, In Dulci Jubilo and many more. There's something almost Victorian about this album, it's as if a hundred plus years of sugar has been removed from these pieces and their musical core have been revived and buffed up to show the musical qualities which have been lost for so long. I can't believe that I am recommending an album of Christmas music after all these years, but I am. Steven C has done something I didn't believe possible, he has restored the musicality to these carols and songs.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.stevencmusic.com

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Roy Orbison - The Big O: The Original Singles Collection
(Monument/Sony 492743 2)

Roy Orbison - The Big O

We're talking legend in his own lifetime here. The Big O is always high up on everyone's list of great singers, and this double cd contains 52 reasons why. This package includes every single Orbison recorded for Monument between 1960 and 1965 - both the 'A' and 'B' sides, plus a few remixes. Oh Pretty Woman, It's Over, Dream Baby, Blue Bayou, In Dreams, Lana - they're all here. While the songs I've mentioned were familiar to me, what is surprising is the early rockabilly of Paper Boy and Up Town, a throw back to his time with Sun Records in the 50's. But for most it will be the emotional angst of such doom-laden ballads as It's Over and Crying that strike the heart most. Roy Orbison was a rocker at heart, but he wasn't afraid to cry in public and even the streetjivers cried with him. In the terms of musical history this collection is as important as any for the likes of the Beatles, the Stones, Byrds, Elvis - the Big O reflected the reality of living in the rock 'n' roll age.

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Craig Urquhart - Within Memory
(Heart Earth Music HEM093537)

I think that one of the most intimate of instruments is the piano [acoustic grand, of course], it seems to be one of the few direct conduits to a musicians soul [along with the acoustic guitar]. And so it is with Craig Urquhart's seventh album, Within Memory. A collection of ten piano instrumentals written to trigger nostalgic and emotional memories in the listener. Most tracks are lengthy and understated, enhanced by the crystal clear recording. Listening to this album you could equally consider these pieces as the equivalent of classical music, the form and intent is very similar. Track titles are highly evocative: In The Afternoon, The Garden, Low Tide, Before The Canvas, Rapture, Summer Twilight, Prairie Flowers, Within Memory, Laid Back and October Bright Blue. Each track title is the bare bones of a scenario to be created in your mind while listening to the music. This music can be used for so many purposes - meditation, relaxation, renewal of creative spark, calming of a troubled mind - perhaps even as the soundtrack to a romantic evening. Within Memory is definitely not a party album, and who needs another of those... But it is one of those gentle, unassuming works of subtlety that you might call on frequently to help clear the mind and soothe a frazzled spirit.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.craigurquhart.com

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David Nevue - Revelation
(Midnight Run Productions MRP32000CD

Subtitled "Solo piano for prayer and worship", I think that sums up the type of music on David Nevue's twelfth album, Revelation, pretty well. A selection of nineteen tracks of simply gentle piano music, I'll leave the question of spirituality to somebody more qualified. However, the melodies here are, in the main, quite sprightly, especially the opening track, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Without specifying a religion, I am assuming from the track titles that it is aimed at Christian faith listeners which is, of course, a huge audience in itself. Track titles such as Sing Hallelujah, Praise To The Lord The Almighty, Steadfast Love Of The Lord make that obvious. But I think the music could be used by devotees of other faiths just as easily, for meditative purposes. The music is in the western neo-classical style which would, I think, also make it appealing to anyone who enjoys classical piano music - Chopin and Debussy. In marketing terms this album falls into the new age and spiritual music camps, which may limit sales - I think it deserves to be heard by a wider audience, and I hope it will be picked up by some of the religious radio stations to give it a broader outlet. Not being a religious person that side of the music didn't really speak to me, but this is a very pleasant collection of instrumental piano music which will, hopefully, find a place out there in the marketplace.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.davidnevue.com

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Steeleye Span -
Horkstow Grange

(Park PRKCD44)

This new album by Steeleye Span appears to be something of a back to the roots project for the band: no Maddie Prior (original vocalist Gay Woods has rejoined), minimal drumming and a return to more traditional material. That said, it is a damn fine album with a collection of great songs from that fount of all things folky, 'Traditional'. The group sound seems rhythmically tighter on this album, despite no drummer on most tracks Tim Harries bass and keyboards provide most of the propulsion. It also seems that the Span's recent touring with Status Quo has rubbed off on them as I Wish That I Never Was Wed has more than a touch of the celebrated Quo boogie to it. It has been so long since the Span have had much radio play that I doubt if this cd will attract many new listeners, which is a shame as it stands up there with the more commercial best from the 70's.

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Various Artists - Cinema Cafe: The European Film Music Album
(Silva Screen, 2CD, FILMXCD 302)

Film music has gained a lot of respectability in recent years, thanks to the high quality compositions by the likes of Hollywood composers John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann and many others. However, European filmmakers have an equally high calibre of composer working on their movies too, and this double CD is a superb showcase for their talents. As always the Silva Screen production team and musicians have excelled themselves in recording 37 tracks of music that will stir the soul. The superb City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra perform most of the tracks, with Mark Ayres handling the electronic music used on some films. There's also a guest appearance by soprano Lesley Garrett on the Diva track.

Over 150 minutes of movie themes from Euro art house hits such as Diva, Jean De Florette, A Man and a Woman, Bilitis, Subway, Day For Night, The Tin Drum, Z, Death in Venice and a host of others. And apart from the memories of the films this CD will evoke you can also enjoy the music for its own sake. Many of the tracks here are damn fine examples of modern orchestral composition in their own right and well worth listening to even if you've never heard of the movie. The sound quality of this CD is superb, just the thing to show off a new hi-fi system! This is a must for any soundtrack collector.

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Nyle Frank - Scenes From The Old Quarter
(Centipede Productions CP022CD)

Nyle Frank - Scenes From the Old QuarterIn an old fashioned world I guess this album of instrumental piano music would be classified as 'Easy Listening', nowadays it veers somewhere between 'New Age' and 'Lounge Core'. But however you classify it you can't disguise the consumate musicality of Nyle Frank. Scenes From The Old Quarter is a mixture of original compositions - Oh George, Long Dark Road, pop tunes - Tennessee Waltz, It Wasn't Supposed To Be Like This, and classical pieces - Fur Elise, Traumeri. There's also a song cycle based on the album's title. All of this is played on a piano, no orchestra, percusion, tape backings, synth loops. Just the good old-fashioned joanna, and you know what? It has never sounded better. What makes this understated album even more interesting is that it was recorded in Nashville, home of country glitz!

For more information about this artist and album and availability write: Centipede Productions, PO Box 121832, Nashville, TN 37212, USA.

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Gopal Misra Shankar - Out Of Stillness
(Real World CDRW91)

I have to admit that my knowledge of Indian 'classical' music is minimal once past Ravi Shankar, so this new Real World cd arrived at the right time to expand my knowledge. Now, on playing this cd I assumed I was hearing the sitar, but apparently Dr Gopal Misra Shankar plays something called the Vichitra Veena. There are five very lengthy tracks on the cd, each one evoking different moods - I found it best listening to these ragas in a relaxed position, letting the droning sounds, tabla and tanpura wash over me. It probably helps if you have a glass of chilled white wine while listening to this - soothes both the soul and a thirst at the same time! Dr Gopal is considered to be a master of the Banares, Northern India, style of veena playing, so it is extremely sad to report that he died during a concert performance a month after this album was recorded.

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The Rabbit's Hat - Outsiders
(Stone Premonitions SPCD002)

The title of this album is a pretty accurate summation of the sentiments of the lyrics of most of the songs: alienation, the encroachment of human rights, us versus them, social injustice etc. However, all this doom and gloom is wrapped up in the style and instrumentation of adult rock - at times I was fooled into thinking that I was listening to a more politically aware version of late-70's Fleetwood Mac. Having said that, this isn't a ranting, polemic album, the songs, in the main, are very melodic and commercial sounding and the message tends to hit you after your foot has started tapping to the rhythm. On the whole this is a very easy on the ear album, perhaps a little too easy for the messages it conveys, but The Rabbit's Hat sound extremely professional and experienced, with vocalists Tim Jones and Terri B creating good vibes on most tracks.

For more information about this artist and album and availability write:
Stone Premonitions, 271 Park Rd, South Moor, Stanley, Co. Durham, DH9 7AP

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Various Artists -
MusicSpecialEdition
(Peoplesound.com)

There's a revolution going on in the music world and it's one not controlled by the record companies. Focused on the internet and distribution via the world wide web, a new music file format called MP3 is allowing anyone to distribute their music freely across the world. This is already being misused by pirates bootlegging legit albums, but this review is looking at the positive [and legal] distribution of mp3 files, and the way artists are able to control their music the way they want to.

Peoplesound free cd offerA new web company called Peoplesound is acting as a focus for thousands of unsigned musicians. Their website acts as a holding area where musicians can place two of their tracks there for free distribution to anyone who want to hear them. Peoplesound also act as a distributor, selling cds by these artists, so it's a case of try before you buy.

But not just that, Peoplesound are currently offering a free cd compilation featuring 14 widely different artists from all spheres of the music world. The album starts with a party atmosphere with the ska band Maroon Town and their highly infectious Are You Ready. The next track is a lovely dreamy ballad by Trippa, Where Are You. There follows a range of tracks featuring all differing types of modern pop music, too many to list individually here, but highlights include the Knight's of Fudo and their Nothing Unusual, the very Portishead sounding Is She All You Want by Pallmall, the floaty reggae of Flexyman and On The Road.

There's 14 tracks on the cd and few are less than okay, with many being superb, and you can't help wondering why the a&r men have ignored these people. Now you can try them for yourself, and do it for free. Just go to http://www.peoplesound.com.index.htm and fill in the order form, wait a few days and you too can go around with a smile on your face.

Eye - Politics Can Be
Fun Vol 1

(Blatant Propaganda
Production BPCD003)

Described on the inlay as 'Electronica Industrial', Eye marry techno and strong anti-establishment political commentary together in a blinding fury of big beats, sampled news reports and interviews, sound effects and political speechs. My grasp of politics [and Australian politics isn particular] is pretty vague so I don't want to misrepresent the group by a mistaken understanding of what they are trying to put over. However, with titles such as Mandate, Party Politicians, Goods & Services Tax, and the epic-titled Transnational Corporations Own 90% of Australia but Pay < 8% of the Tax, it's safe to assume these people strongly question the political infrastructure [and will] of their home country, Australia. It would be rank understatement to say that this album is 'easy listening' in any sense of the term, imagine instead an anarchy-themed political rally on your CD player and then you might have some idea of what I'm listening to.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: http://users.actweb.net/~eye/

Rob Beckinsale - Unreliable Witness
(Acoustica Production)

This is the latest album by Rob Beckinsale, a singer/songwriter in the Loudon Wainwright III mould - perhaps even a little bit of Dylan acerbicness in there as well. Unreliable Witness contains his latest musings on living in Blair's Britain, amongst a society where the superficial is increasingly all that matters. Rob may not be an angry singer like Billy Bragg but his songs sting none the less and some of that North-South divide shows. A dozen songs featuring mostly just his voice and acoustic guitar or piano may give this album a 'folky' feel but the observations are purely contemporary - no fingers in the ear here! The tracks that impressed me most are Dance You Buggers Dance, Come Close, Unreliable Witness and The Big Deal. The songs also contain humour, and you could veer more towards Wainwright rather than Dylan as the major influence. But Rob Beckinsale is resolutely a British songwriter, the world he chronicles is little Britain [and I don't mean the tv comedy show], the canvas is small but viewed with a detailed eye.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.robbeckinsale.com

Mr Ho's Orchestrotica - The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel
(TIKI 001)

Mr Ho's Orchestrotica - The Unforgettable Sounds of EsquivelWe forget in these days of audio richness that when stereo sound arrived back in the fifties it was a revolution. The twin speaker soundscape allowed for experimentation and for audio innovation in the recording studios. One of those who grasped the potential for the audio revolution was a bandleader and orchestrator called Esquivel. Not so well known here in the UK perhaps, where 'easy listening gods' Mantovani and James Last prevailed, but in the USA his series of exotic albums were extremely popular and used to demonstrate the wonders of stereo, utilising the full spectrum of the speakers' soundstage. Sadly now dead and his albums long lost to the remainder bins of charity shops, Mr Ho's Orchestrotica have revived the Esquivel sound and produced what has to be one the best homage albums of all time. Soaring brass, choral voices, pedal steel guitar, organ and accordion all vie with the usual orchestral sounds to create a futuristic sound that is now wonderfully anachronistic from the hindsight of time passed. Mr Ho's astonishing twenty-three piece space age pop big band have revived the music and what a wonderfully vibrant sound it is. The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel contains eleven tracks, mostly drawn from the original albums, the orchestrations lovingly copied, recorded with a burnished sound one seldom hears now. The tracks are:- Andalucia, Night and Day, Take the A Train, The Boulevard of Broken Dream, Music Makers, Frenesi, Sentimental Journey, Mini Skirt, Let's Dance, Dancing in the Dark, and Street Scene. It is very sad that this album barely makes it to the thirty minute park, it should have been at least an hour long. But that thirty minutes is a masterclass in making music that is as much fun as much as it is art. I think this will be my supreme album of the year - I can't imagine anything topping this for its sheer verve and vibrancy.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.orchestrotica.com

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Irene Nachreiner With Her Latin Jazz Band - A Hot And Spicy Christmas
(Turquoise Water Music TWM3657)

Irene Nachreiner With Her Latin Jazz Band - A Hot And Spicy ChristmasI think this is the fourth album of Christmas carols and songs I've reviewed during this session, so pardon me if I sound a little jaded. But no, actually A Hot And Spicy Christmas is a very big cut above the others with its Latin flavour and, of course, Irene Nachreiner and her Latin Jazz Band are old friends in the sense that their previous albums scored very highly in my reviews. Irene has searched out many little known carols and festive songs from old songbooks across Europe and given them a transfusion of Latin blood, giving many of these old tunes a much needed injection of swing. Examples of this are Fum, Fum, Fum, a 16th century traditional carol from the Catalan region of Spain, and Rocking, a 17th century Czech carol - and yes, it does rock out. There are also songs from France, Burgundy and Poland, plus Irene and her band have rearranged the original tunes to give them some modern relevance. The rest of the tracks are:- Patapan/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Sweet Baby Jesus, Sing Now Of Christmas/Noel Nouvelet, O Come O come Immanuel, Ring Out Bells, Silent Night, Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant, Infant Holy Infant lowly, What Child Is This?, The Babe of Bethlehem, Cantique De Noel (O Holy Night), and I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day. So, another Christmas album - yes, but one with a difference and one that takes the carols out of church and onto a wider stage. The meaning of the festive season is retained and this showcases the universality of these songs. Recommended for those who hide behind a chair when the choir singers knock on the door.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.irenesings.com

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Tomas Michaud - Beauty & Fire

Tomas Michaud - Beauty & Fire As a musical category in the record stores [where they still survive], the Easy Listening racks were avoided as if they carried the plague by the young rock audience during the 60s and 70s. Left for the elderly and the naff, the Easy Listening genre of music died a slow lingering death, only to be revived by the young hip audiences of the 90s and renamed Lounge. Now, most of the 'new age' albums I receive are nothing but easy listening in content and intent. And guitarist Tomas Michaud's sixth album, Beauty and Fire, presses all the buttons for me as being an extremely easy listening album. This is a wonderfully rich and evocative sounding album of twelve tracks of flamenco guitar set against an instrumental backdrop of latin and world rhythms. The dozen tracks are composed by Mr Michaud, and I have to say that he has an ear both for melody and rhythm. All the tracks are immediately accessible, which is a rare gift in my experience - most of the albums I receive have a few outstanding tracks and that's it, but Beauty and Fire is just 100% gold standard throughout. Some of the praise must go to the supporting musicians who fit the music like a glove. They are:- Don Turney - keyboards, David Margen and Kai Eckhardt - bass, Thomas Perry, Celso Alberti, and Brian Rice - drums and percussion, Lila Sklar - violin, Michael Knapp - Cello, and Aharon Wheels Bolsta - tabla. From its repeated plays in my CD deck I can confidently vote this one of my albums of the year, and if you love melodic guitar check out Tomas Michaud and buy his albums with confidence.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.worldmelodies.com

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Margie Baker & Friends - Live At Rassalas

Subtitled "A Musical History of San Francisco's Fabulous Filmore District of the Forties", this twenty track live album is as much a primer for 1940s jazz and blues as it is a showcase for vocalist Margie Baker. Ms Baker is a veteran jazz singer who spent five decades working in education, singing in her spare time, but now retired she is performing like a good 'un regularly in the San Francisco area and this live album is a document of a Sunday afternoon gig at the Rassalas jazz club. Recorded in real time with no rehearsals and no arrangements - and no studio time for fixing up the mistakes [not that I could hear any] - this is an affectionate revisit to the songs of her youth. It is also the music of a now long lost era of jazz which is all but ignored by most young musicians. The band are hot in that understated way that gigging musicians have, and they are:- Fred Berry - trumpet, Omar Clay - drums, Duncan James - guitar, John Mackay - B3 organ, and Don Ramsey - sax and flute. The songs include:- Let the Good Times Roll, Don't Get Around Much Anymore, I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good, Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying, Straighten Up and Fly Right, Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby, and Route 66. For some this may be an exercise in nostalgia but this is the jazz and blues that I love and to hear a band and singer having so much fun performing them is just a pure unadulterated pleasure. Ms Baker has the voice and the mastery to make these songs hers big time and it certainly shows on this CD. Highly recommended.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.myspace.com/margiebaker

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Jimi Hendrix - Blues
(Experience Hendrix/MCA MCD 11060)

Jimi Hendrix BluesIt seems that there is as much of an industry surrounding Jimi Hendrix as there is for other 20th century icons such as Marilyn Monroe, and this latest reworking of the leftovers of his recorded legacy is now available. Blues couldn't be a more accurate title, as this new collection brings together Hendrix's homages to his blues forbears as well blues reworkings of his own material: Red House, Hear My Train Comin', Voodoo Chile Blues. The recordings date from 1966 through 1970, and feature both the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsies plus one or two solo recordings. The new re-mastering has buffed and shined these tracks to a new brilliance, though being no Hendrix fan myself I can't compare them with the originals, but logic decrees that they've never sounded better. The inlay booklet is full of rare photos of the man himself, and the sleeve notes offer new insights into these recordings. So it seems that there is still legitimate mileage to be made from the Hendrix legacy.

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Devin Rice & Erin Aas - Arrival
(VP-001)

Devin Rice & Erin Aas - ArrivalI guess that Arrival, by guitarists Devin Rice and Erin Aas, will be marketed as New Age music, but to my ears there is a certain acoustic folkiness to be found throughout the fifteen tracks - perhaps even some world music influences thanks to the percussion used on some of the tracks. While fingerstyle acoustic guitar and bass are the main instruments, cello, piano, English horn, and a variety of hand percussion fill out the sound, performed by guest musicians. Devin Rice and Erin Aas are certainly highly competent musicians and have crafted these tracks to showcase their musical skills. Some of the track titles have an impressionistic edge to them: Thyn Ayre, Something About A Harbour, Stars Of Winter, Pulborough Spring, Whiskey In The Watchtower and Perdido En Granada. Setting up mind pictures to go with the music. Produced by one of the guru's of New Age music, Will Akkerman, Arrival is a deliciously nostalgic album, reminiscent of those years long gone by when we travelled slowly by horse and carriage, when people took time to converse and life was lived at a much slower pace than now. This album positively exudes nostalgic feelings in this listener - whether the musicians intended this or not. Arrival deserves to be a success, and its music should find a home sound tracking some of the small indie movies that look to the past or are set in rural locales.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.devinriceanderinaas.com

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Various Artists - United World Underground
(MMATT CD2)

United World UndergroundSo Mick Magic finally got off his duff and produced the first UWU compilation for his Music and Elsewhere distro. Hurrah! I say, and with multiple knobs on... UWU, as a compilation is nothing if not eclectic, with most of the artists spread out across the world: Greece, Germany, Australia, Portugal, America, the UK, and Huddersfield. All very cosmopolitan.

UWU features fifteen tracks of unmitigated wigginess and cosmic jive, starting with the funky sounding Into The Abyss and Lunar Drive. More spacey stuff by Dark Star with Masterplace, a rockin' slab of krautrock that should get you up into orbit. Then from the land of Oz there is Eye, and another funky bit of agitprop electronica, Perspective. Have to jump around to my other favourite tracks now: I only recently discovered Ras.Al.Ghul, so finding a track I didn't have was very cool - and Qual is an extremely cool and stylish bit of ambient electronica. Getting my vote as the weirdest track on the CD is Joch McGregor by Idiom, I can only describe this tale of Scottish murder and mayhem as a cross between the Third Ear Band and The Evil Dead's ghoulies and ghosties! Love Freak by Lord Litter gets my vote as best blues track. Best group name goes to The Stinking Badger Of Java with the elequently title Pissing Diamonds! One listen to the operatic funk of Neo's Master And Slave begat the reaction "You're taking the piss, mate!" Sister Jodi by T.M.R is full of brooding attitude, though that could be the sampled belching...

If nothing else UWU provides the proof that the major labels don't have all the best musicians, that pockets of highly active resistance exist throughout the world. The success rate with this CD is very high, very few tracks rate less than interesting, with several straining towards 'God Like Genius'. For the very reasonable asking price UWU is a must for any self-respecting music. Buy it and bliss out.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: http://music-elsewhere. hypermart.net & http://www.greendragon.demon.co.uk

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V/A - The Roulette Story
(Westside WESX 305)

The Roulette StoryThe New York-based record label Roulette existed for two decades, 1957 - 1977, and on the evidence of this three CD set was something of a schizophrenic beast. A label with many identities: pop, r'n'b, jazz, soul, disco, even (God forbid) easy listening. This box set pulls together the hits, misses and the downright weird from when rock and roll went into its first moribund period to when cheesy disco ruled the airwaves.

Roulette was one of the original large independent labels, fostering its own roster of artists as well as buying in material from small regional labels as well. The sheer scope of what Roulette released includes classic hits such as Party Doll - Buddy Knox, Honeycomb - Jimmie Rodgers, Forty Days/Who Do You Love - Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks (later to become The Band), Mony Mony - Tommy James & The Shondells, Nairobi - Bob Merrill, and a pre-Phillie period Three Degrees - Maybe. Plus really off the wall (and good taste scale) stuff such as Rockabilly Party - Hugo & Luigi (Perry Como, Ella Fitzgerald and Sinatra listed as rock & roll greats?), the faux operatic hysteria of There's No Tomorrow - Jim Nabors, the just naff My Beatle Haircut - The Twi-liters, and then there's the final track on the set, Benihana by porn movie star Marilyn Chambers, who was gullible enough to think she could give as good aural orgasm as Donna Summer, despite the fact she can't sing!

The pop material is spread over two CDs, but the third CD is the gem of the set, containing 26 classic jazz, swing and rhythm 'n' blues performances from Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Joe Williams, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Machito, Billy Eckstine and Sonny Stitt, and many others.

With a total of 84 tracks these three CDs cover a lot of ground. The inlay booklets contain a total of 60 pages of detailed sleeve notes, photos, and reproductions of adverts and newspaper clippings highlighting Roulette's colourful history. In the grand scheme of things Roulette may not have been an important record label (apart from perhaps its jazz division), or a catalyst that pushed the boundaries of pop music forward, but it was representational of a 50's label trying to come to terms with rock and roll, the Beatles and the 'British Invasion' and later music styles. This triple CD set mines a rich heritage of pop's history and is well worth seeking out.

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Mana Erg - Borderliners
(BDA/Glyptique BDA008)

Mana Berg - BorderlinersHere's a new artist to me - Mana Erg is actually multi-instrumentalist Bruno De Angelis and Borderliners is his fourth album under this guise. There's a lot going on here, at times too much for my humble ears to absorb in one sitting, but the general sound of this album is a crackerjack mixture of drum'n'bass rhythms, ambient soundscapes, chainsaw guitars, female [and male] vocals and a lot of what once was called punk attitude. In many ways this album reminds me a little of the debut album by Suicide and Japan, but updated for the new millenium.

The album consists of six tracks: Rain Forever, Alicante, Remember, Where's Tomorrow, My Only Witness and Painted Faces. All of them different and full of vibrancy - at times one is overwhelmed by the thunderous electronic assault on the senses, and at other times there are periods of intense delicacy - sometimes together in the same track, sometimes even within seconds of each other. One thing is for sure once the last notes have faded away, you have been listening to something that is as far removed from the inane vomit of the current pop music scene - Borderliners has atmosphere, energy and conviction.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.manaerg.1me.net

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Hawkwind - Anthology 1967 - 1982
(Castle/Essential ESD CD 664)

Hawkwind - Anthology 1967 - 82Hawkwind haven't exactly been under-anthologised in recent years, but this new compilation focusing on the group's first fifteen years is certainly the classiest looking package so far: two CDs lasting over 150 minutes total running time, 16 page booklet and some suitably cosmic-looking artwork. The bedrock of Hawkwind has always been Dave Brock as leader/guitarist/vocalist and this selection has been his, starting with some pre 'Wind tracks: Dealing With The Devil and Bring It On Home - a pair of jug band blues that barely hint at the space-rock to come. It isn't until Hurry On Sundown that the cosmic riff is borne and from there on its warp drive nine all the way into the cosmos: Space Is Deep, You Shouldn't Do That, Earth Calling, Brainstorm, Spirit Of The Age, Master Of The Universe, Urban Guerrilla plus another couple of dozen tracks.

This is essentially a reissue of an earlier, 1986, compilation with the addition of nine extra post-1982 tracks. Rather than use the original album recordings from the United Artists and Charisma periods, the majority of the tracks come from archive live recordings sourced from gigs and rehearsals. Unfortunately, the audio quality of some of these tracks is poor, and some of the master tapes exhibit tape dropout, which in these days of digital cleansing is unforgivable. I'm all for authenticity but this fan wants to listen to the music, not the imperfections of a crap tape recorder. That apart, this compilation is both a good starter for the nascent Hawkwind fan and an apt reminder for long term fans just why Hawkwind have survived for thirty years now.

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Mike Simmons - Compositions of Stone
(Music From The Mountains MFM009CD)

Mike Simmons - Composition of StoneStanding stones are one of the enduring mysteries of mankind - enigmatic, stark silhouettes from pre-history and still retaining their secrets in the twenty-first century. Yet they inspire awe and reverence from all who visit and touch one. This album, by keyboard player Mike Simmons, is a musical journey visiting eight locations where the stones cast their magic. The music is both descriptive and reflective, quietly effective at soothing the troubled soul after a busy day at work. Here you can musically visit the stones at Carnac, Avebury, Stonehenge [of course], the Ring of Brodgar, Long Meg and her Daughters, and several more. I hate the term 'New Age' but I guess the music on this CD comes under this banner, though I think English Contemporary Instrumental is a more apt one. This is a very evocative album by a musician who should certainly be a lot better known.

Mike Simmons has recorded several albums and released them on his own label - click here for information on both the musician and his label, direct internet access to his web site and email address.

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The Conspiracy - Sword of Damocles
(Pink Lemmon Records Pink 007)

The Conspiracy - Sword of DamoclesIt makes a pleasant change to be able to review an album made right here in [sometime] sunny Devon, indeed right here in the outskirts of my home city, Plymouth. Yes, The Conspiracy are local lads making music in their spare [bed]rooms and plotting world domination of the rock world. The Conspiracy are a duo, Duncan Pope and Dave Bell play a variety of instruments and certainly sound like a lot more than two. Having produced various vinyl and tape releases Sword of Damocles is their first full album and makes for very good listening. The album starts acoustically with the rather fey Wonderful Love, but cranks up with the more electronic Detox Unit 8, a 'spacey' sort of thing that wouldn't be too out of place on a Hawkwind playlist. Despite the odd burst of electronics Sword of Damocles is primarily a rustic affair with an 'unplugged' feel to it. The album is dedicated to Kurt Cobain, and perhaps there are touches of his slacker rock here, but I also detect the influence of the Kinks' Ray Davies in some of the wry lyrics. This is an interesting album well worth seeking out if you want music with some substance to it.

If you want to try before you buy, go to the Peoplesound.Com website where you can find a brace of Conpiracy tracks in the index. Download for free and give the boys a listen. For information about The Conspiracy write to 47 Yealm Park, Yealmpton, Devon, PL8 2NR, UK. or email conspiracyare@hotmail.com.

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Daniel Patrick Quinn - The Winter Hills
(Suilven 001)

Daniel Patrick Quinn - The Winter HillsThere's something almost heroic about the way some people turn a spare bedroom into a recording studio and even without formal any music education have the clear vision and guts to have a go at making music. I'm not sure if Daniel Patrick Quinn has had any music training other than listening to his record collection and then fooling around with whatever instruments he had to hand. But on listening to this double CD all one can say is "that's one hell of a vision!"

Quinn subscribes to the less is more school of music making and the foundation of his music is a layered sequence of simplistic but recurring drones, over which are 'spotlit' assorted string instruments. On the first CD this is topped with a series of vocals, using a rather plaintive voice which may lack musicality but is full of conviction. The tracks are: The Winter Hills, Pathways, Of Things To Come and Pilgrims' Way. This first CD is a weird hybrid of Velvet Underground-type electronic drones, the mysticism of Ivor Cutlers' harmonium and lyrics, and then stirred into some sort of medieval ambient gumbo that reminds me a little of that great lost band, Gryphon, and of course David Munrow's Early Musick Consorte. This is very weird shit.

The second CD is mostly instrumental, again utilising repetitive drones, synths and whatever instruments Quinn had to hand, This album is slightly more conventional electronica, albeit highly atmospheric, tipping a nod to the work of Eno and Jon Hassall along the way, perhaps even early Human League and OMD as well. For a twenty-two year old Quinn certainly is aware of his musical history. Tracks here include: For Her Atoms, Towards the Sun, The Stonecutter, Red Roads and A Coastal Journey.

In all honesty this is in no way music that is easy to listen to, it demands attention and perhaps a degree of open-mindedness as to what exactly constitutes music. It is experimental, daring and pushing the barriers. Weird shit indeed!

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Daniel Patrick Quinn - Severed From The Land
(Suilven Recordings SUILVEN005)

The latest album by Daniel Patrick Quinn [henceforth DPQ] is a difficult one to review as it is so ideosyncratic and individual that you'll either get it or think it is a load of rubbish. DPQ's music is certainly not easy listening in any shape or form, nor is it "cutting edge", but it is experimental and it explores the possibilities of the bedroom recording studio and takes them into new avenues. The six tracks (A Wide Wooded Valley, The Tip Of The Iceberg, Nine Standards Rigg, Spring Green, Ettrick Pen, The Weight Of History) offer a diverse range of styles based around the drones created by DPQ's battery of synths, strings, percussion, trumpet and his voice. It has to be said that DPQ's voice is a rather unique instrument with all the subtlety of a foghorn, but in these musical settings it works very effectively at creating an atmosphere. All of the tracks have a pastoral feel to them, a longing for [and a missing of] the countryside of his youth - well, that's what it feels like to me! Severed From The Land isn't the album to start off a Saturday night but it does have its charms if you have an open mind and are willing to try something different and outside of the mainstream.

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DAC Crowell/Kurt Doles - No Title
(Suilven Recordings, SUILVEN004)

Heinz products may come in 57 varieties but music is available in what seems to be an infinite number of styles, some very distinct in their place in history while others have a timelessness that make them hard to place anywhere but within one's own time zone. This album by Dac Crowell and Kurt Doles comes into this latter category, I think. The cd contains three tracks [recorded between 1994 and 1997] of what I can only describe as ambient electronica - long, dreamlike mantras of electronic sounds that shift, pulse and swirl within their own time and space. The sounds are subtle and sweeping, always shifting between the loudspeakers. The three tracks are: Yankee Ridge, Rain Temple Garden and In The Midsummer, and all three tend towards the reflective, so are ideal for something to unwind to after a hectic day. This sort of ambient electronica isn't that unique nowadays, but considering the dates of their recording this is arguably pathfinder stuff and well worth exploring.

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DAC Crowell - 04-83
(Suilven Recordings Suilven 006)

Suilven Recordings is a very young label but that hasn't stopped it acquiring a reputation for releasing albums of ideosyncratic material by artists so far from the mainstream that they are meeting it from the other side. DAC Crowell is a perfect example of this, with his double CD set retrospective comprising six lengthy tracks of electronica recorded over the period 1983 to 2004. Obviously, there is some variety of technique and skill on show over the two decades of these recordings - after all the technology alone has evolved considerably over the years. But all of these pieces have the signature sound of Crowell, a shimmering, bell-like miasma that hangs on every note and drone. Go back to the late 70s/early 80s heyday of EG Music and the albums of Brian Eno, Laraaji, Robert Fripp and the whole ethos of 'ambient music' and you should have some idea of what I'm listening to. This is music that can be aptly called timeless, it totally exists outside of the usual restraints of 'pop' music, simply floating somewhere 'out there'! With titles such as The Dark Corridor, Ahnomia, Rising Invocations, Rhapsodic and November Light [the first track is untitled], you can take a cosmic trip with any track on the CDs and return to Earth safely. This isn't exactly music to hum to... but it will echo through your mind for a long time afterwards.

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Daniel Patrick Quinn & Beano Johnson - Untitled
(Suilven Recordings Suilven 007)

I guess you would classify this four track CD as a mini album [or in my day, an EP] of instrumental tracks by Daniel Patrick Quinn and Beano Jackson. The overall sound is that of Frippertronic meets the harmonia drones and viola of John Cale and the Velvet Underground, though that does simplify things a bit. Track One, Dunstanburgh Castle has a distinctly Scottish gothic sound to it - one can see the ghostly haggis' floating around a candlestick! The Sun Rises is track two, and this is a simple but effective cycle of drones that hold you in stasis. Death On The Ridge Road follows, a slower and more dreamy cycle of repetitious notes. Finally, Sutherland County - a more open vista, a wild landscape and that haunted feeling again.

It amazes me how Daniel and Beano can make such evocative music with just synths, trumpets, violin, cello, percussion and 'primitive bass'. This music won't appeal to all, while it is deceptively simple on the ear, the repetitive structure and layering of the instruments requires a keen ear and sense of perspective. But this is music for letting your mind drift off into...wherever.

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Daniel Patrick Quinn - Ridin' The Stang
(Suilven Recordings)

If there is anyone in British 'contemporary' music who has a more distinctive sound than Daniel Patrick Quinn I have yet to hear them. This latest album by Daniel is called Ridin' The Stang, which I assume is a north country expression for I know not, but it is evocative of the eight tracks here that use drones and repetitive instrumental runs to create some of the most atmospheric music that straddles art rock, ambient and modern folk music. Imagine if you will the Velvet Underground playing the Ilkley Moor Morris Dancers Band's Greatest Hits remixed by Eno and David Byrne... The sleevenotes on my promo CD-R are minimal but it sounds from tracks like The Burryman that Daniel had vocal help, recorded down at his local's snug bar. Most of the tracks are instrumentals but some do have Daniel providing spoken descriptions of the geographical landscapes that conjured up this music. Ridin' The Stang won't appeal to everyone, it is highly individual and individuality seems to frighten most musical listeners - but for those willing to explore this album then there is gold in them there hills!

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Various Artists - Suilven: The First Ten
(Suilven Recordings)

Launching your own record label is a brave [and possibly foolhardy] project at any time, but to launch a new label that specialises in music that is resolutely non-commercial and experimental was probably thought to be crazy by all but the instigator of the project, Daniel Patrick Quinn. And now with ten albums released we have a retrospective that proves the point that Suilven is a valid project deserving of support. Suilven isn't a vanity project, true it does release Daniel's own albums of highly ideosyncratic drone-folk, all of which are worth investigating, but the label catalogue also includes albums by ambient drone/electronic artists DAC Crowell and LVXUS, both of whom are represented on this compilation. The music these artists create isn't for everyone, it is not Radio 2 friendly, that's for sure, and yet if you give it time to filter through your brain it resonates with atmosphere, attitude and yes, musicality. Ten tracks, ten albums - it isn't bad for a start and I'm looking forward to hearing the next ten! The First Ten is, I think free, and you can get more details

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.suilvenrecordings.com

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Rob Beckinsale - The Year I Forgot Who I Was
[Acoustica Productions]

For many musicians having a home recording studio is a very liberating experience - the freedom to explore and create your own music away from the constraints of commercial pressure and expectations must be a godsend. Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rob Beckinsale is such a musician, and The Year I Forgot... is his first self-released cd album.

And what an impressive album it is - Rob Beckinsale writes his songs from the heart and they are direct and honest. It also helps that he is a damn fine musician and this album is in turn haunting in its directness and swings like a bitch. Tracks such as They Never Wanted To Be... would make any Steely Dan fan sit up and do a double take - it's a classy bit of ice-cool jazz funk that Fagan and Becker would be proud of.

Rob Beckinsale is an impressive musician, and a track such as Love Songs For Grown Ups starts out with a latin feel and then shifts into rock mode with one of the best economic and precise guitar solos I've heard in a long time. River Of Blood is a valid and strong condemnation of the way tragedy and death has become a news commodity in our society - I suspect that watching reports about Kosovo or the latest Northern Ireland attrocity was the spur for this song.

So what we have here is a fascinating album by a mostly unknown songwriter who ploughs his own furrow releasing cassette albums and now this cd. And do you know what the most frustrating thing is? That all the major labels are so in love with their bloody boy and girl bands, or have their heads jammed up some DJ's boom box that when faced with real talent they bottle out of it. Okay, The Year I Forgot... won't change lives or influence other musicians [well, it would be nice to think that it did, but let's be realistic] but it is so much better than what you can buy in HMV, and it deserves a chance to find an audience!

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Rob Beckinsale - Small Boy In A Room Of Broken Toys / In The Spirit Of Enchantment
(Acoustica Productions)

This is the second album by Rob Beckinsale I've received and while the first was a pleasant surprise this new collection is even better. Small Boy... is actually a double album, the first of songs, the second of instrumentals. Small Boy... begins with the title track, a small autobiographical observation done up in Kinks-style rock trimmings and even some of Ray Davies' style lyrics. I Am But A Fool is a nice little folky swinger that could have been something Loudon Wainwright tossed off for one of his albums. Stylistically, the album is all over the place, every track different - take The Wedding of the May Queen, it sounds like a gentle Hoagy Carmichael bluesy ballad, but then the cajun style accordian kicks in, followed by some plangent guitar solos... I don't think there is a duff track anywhere on this vocal album, and that makes it all the more incredible considering Rob Beckinsale also plays all the instruments. And there are some very tasty-sounding solos popping up across these tracks.

The instrumental album is called In The Spirit Of Enchantment, and reminds me a little of the sort of 'work in progress' extra albums Bill Nelson used to include with his official releases. In this case, that musical eclectism comes to the fore again, as the opening track, Cubist, is a jaunty latin number. The overall feel on this album is piano jazz-lite with latin overtones. The moods vary but the musicianship is high all the way through and this album makes a good companion piece with Small Boy...

In some ways it is a shame that albums of this quality are home recorded, home produced and home distributed, and are denied the advantages of major label promotion, but then again Rob Beckinsale doesn't have to conform to a major label's criteria which would smooth out and homogenize that large spark of talent. If you enjoy individuality in your music then go for this in a big way, you won't be disappointed.

For more information about this artist and album and availability contact:
Acoustica, PO Box 2245, Swindon, SN1 2TU, UK.
Email: acoustica@btinternet.com

 

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