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 Updated: 7/02/14 | © 1999 - 2014 Cool Bunny Media | Da Cool Bunny sez 'Spank that Plank, Baby!'
 
#6

Frank D'Rone - Double Exposure
(Whaling City Sound WCS 056)

Singer and guitarist Frank D'Rone is of the old school, a vocalist that Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett all considered to be as good as them when it came to 'owning' a song. Here on his latest album Double Exposure he proves that point. Accompanying himself on guitar and with a big band backing him, Mr D'Rone has compiled a selection of favourite songs from the 'Great American Songbook'. For many of the tracks it is just guitar and voice, and Mr D'rone's mellifluous voice literally percolates out of the speakers like a cup of thick coffee. Like the aforementioned vocalists, Frank D'rone has a voice that makes you stop what you are doing and listen to the lyric. I wish I had space to list the seventeen piece band members individually, but you can rest easy that they swing hard where required and offer a velvet backing when equally required on the ballads. The eleven tracks are: When The Sun Comes Out, Make Someone Happy, Pure Imagination, Just Imagine, Pick Yourself Up, The Very Thought Of You, The One I Love, Dancing On The Ceiling, Speak Low, Oh You Crazy Moon, Lover Come Back To Me. The composers include: Harold Arlen, Jules Styne, Lesley Briccuse, Jerome Kern, Rodgers & Hart, Kurt Weill and many others. If you hanker for the days of the Rat Pack vocalists and their ilk then look no further - Double Exposure will take you back to those days of classic songs and a classic voice.

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

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Graham Parker & The Rumour - You Can't Be Too Strong
(Mercury 586 357-2)

Subtitled "An Introduction To Graham Parker & The Rumour" this new compilation acts as a primer for one of the very best of the 'new wave' bands that surfaced in the wake of punk in the mid-1970s'. In fact Graham Parker & The Rumour weren't even new wave, they burst out of the short-lived pub rock scene playing a scathing soul-tinged rhythm and blues that blew most other groups away at the time. The Rumour were the remnants of pub rockers Brinsley Schwartz, an influential but commercially unsuccessful band that featured the early talents of Nick Lowe. When Lowe ssplit to work solo and with various artists on the Stiff label, the rest of the band linked up with nascent songwriter Graham Parker and the rest is history.

This collection is comprehensive and includes landmark tracks White Honey, Soul Shoes, Heat Treatment, I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down, New York Shuffle, Heat in Harlem, Hey Lord Don't Ask Me Questions amongst the sixteen tracks on the CD. Parker's punk-soul snarl sounds just as good as it did the first time around [yes, dear reader, I was buying his singles back then!] and the Rumour ranked alongside Ian Dury's Blockheads as one of the hottest bands in the country. So for me this CD brings back a lot of memories, as it will for anyone who lived through that time. This is a superb intro to the band and I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone becoming fed up of anaemic manufactured pop groups and wants music with flesh and attitude to it.

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Kathryn Kaye - Dreaming Still

As you would imagine with a title like Dreaming Still, pianist Kathryn Kaye's new album is a reflective one, containing fourteen slow and dreamy instrumentals. The settings are stark - solo piano with occasional washes of string trio and English horn on assorted tracks. The tempi are slow and the music has a pastoral, wide open landscape feel to it. Definitely music to relax to, to draw inspiration from and perhaps to utilise while weighing up difficult decisions. Produced by Will Ackerman of Windham Studios fame and recorded there, the sound is crystal clear, the piano ringing with a pure clarity. Some of the track titles are: Time Moving Slowly, Waiting For The Rain [a national pastime here in Britain!], Leaf Dance, A Calm Awakening, August Light, and The Wind Is A Lady. As you would imagine from these titles and my opening description, the music has a timeless aspect to it, it passes effortlessly and facilitates a strong sense of peace within the listener. Though January has a pulse of bluster running through, rather like a British winter January gale. With New Age albums being rather passive and restful by nature it is difficult to differentiate between them, but I think that Dreaming Still has a melodic edge that pushes it above the average. This CD is available from iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.kathrynkaye-music.com

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Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali - A Better Destiny
(Real World CDRW98)

For the unenlightened Qawwali is Sufi devotional music and originated in the part of Asia that includes Pakistan, India and Afghanistan - and it's also becoming very popular in Bollywood movies. The man who broke this striking style of Asian music onto the world was the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a man whose incredible voice struck the soul of everyone it touched. The Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali group comprises two nephews of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan plus the secondary singers and musicians, and what a glorious sound they make on their latest album A Better Destiny.

While this style of choral singing and call and response sounds 'strange' to the western ear it is as spiritual and uplifting as western religious music. When this group get going they rock like shit and there isn't an electric guitar or synth in sight! The album consists of six lengthy tracks, ranging between nine and twelve minutes in length - time loses all meaning. It is impossible to pick out highlights from this album as every track is brilliant. Yes, this album is exotic, and yes, the musicians come from an area of the world that is in conflict with the West, but don't let that stop you exploring music from an area rich in culture. Not everyone from the Middle East is a terrorist...

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Various Artists - Urban Grooves
(Meteor CDMT 033)

The title of this compilation is a bit of a misnomer as the music comes from Africa, the least urban [and urbane] continent you can imagine. Having said that, the music here is sixty-six minutes of prime Afro-Funk by Osibisa, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Manu Dibango, Kassav and Swede Swede.

Now, I wouldn't exactly call Osibisa's Sunshine Day funky but it's a great opening track and a reminder that they were exploring and fusing different strands of world music together long before the rest of the world realised what was happening. Next up is Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and Odoo, an epic thirty minute slab of fleet-footed funk that reeks of hot nights playing wild in Nigerian compounds. Listen to this and you just know that the music of James Brown and Isaac Hayes has been absorbed and re-shaped by Fela into his own style. Manu Dibango hails from the Cameroon, and his style is much more jazzy on the tracks A Freak Sans Eric and Canta. Congolese band Swede Swede drop the horns and guitars and use percussion and voices on the chant-like Mama Kadi. That leaves Kassav and Love & Ka Dance, a beat heavy track with disco-style synth-drums.

This is one of the best African music compilations I've heard in a while, it certainly will go down well in the clubs. It's shame that the CD is packaged in such a drab and unimaginative cover, with few sleeve notes to introduce the artists on the album. Still, it's worth buying for the music.

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Ken Peplowski - Noir Blue
(Capri Records 74098-2)

In these days of new age jazz and other forms of jazz where jazz is almost non-existent within the music it is gratifying to hear a jazz quartet that play in a classic-post bop style. Ken Peplowski is a clarinettist and tenor sax player who has collected together some gems from the 'Great American Jazz Book' that are little aired. He's also put together a trio of musicians who fit like a glove around his playing. They are: Shelley Berg on piano, Jay Leonhart on bass and Joe La Barbera on drums. The ten tracks include one original composition, Little Dogs, one by Shelley Berg, Home With You, and one by Joe La Barbera, If Not For You. The rest are by jazz greats like Irving Berlin [The Best Thing For You], Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn [Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies], Hoagy Carmichael [Riverboat Song], Ray Noble [a very mellow Love Locked Out] and Billy Strayhorn [Noir Blue and Multi-Colored Blue]. There is an evocative 'after hours' feel to this album, of smokey clubs and going home as the sun rises. The music is from the heart, rather than the clinical mathematical feel that much new jazz contains nowadays. I think Noir Blue harks back to the days when the Blue Note record label and its artists ruled the roost, and I think that is a good thing. If you despair of post-modern jazz then I think you will be agreeably surprised by the hot musicians on Noir Blue.

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

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F.O.B. Featuring the voice of Tanita Gaines -
Forgetting Ain't Easy

(Enforcer Records #6650)

I seldom receive singles for review and this exception to the rule is more than welcome. F.O.B. stands for Family of Barry, the Barry being Barry Drake who wrote, produced and most probably played all of the instruments on this slice of old-style soul music that wouldn't have been out of place on Atlantic or Stax back in the 60's or 70's. Indeed, vocalist Tanita Gaines has something of Aretha Franklin about her voice and adds a lot of class to the track. This single is completed by the obligatory instrumental remix of the 'A' side. The song is a classy mix of blues and soul, with a tight melodic backing that thankfully refrains from using drum machines or beat boxes - it's pure class all the way, and better than the single charts deserve. I'd love to hear an album by this group of musicians and singer.

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Brian Landrus - Forward
(Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1218)

This is the debut album by multi-instrumentalist Brian Landrus - playing baritone sax, bass clarinet and alto flute on this, his debut album. Forward is a collection nine tracks, eight of them composed by Mr Landrus and a cover of Thelonius Monk's Ask Me Now. The styles of jazz showcased here range from Bop to Free jazz - none of which are really to my taste, but that aside one can't help but be impressed by the musicians and their commitment to the music. The band is an octet, producing quite a beefy sound with a lot of punch. Mr Landrus himself is a player of strong force and commitment and dominates this album [listen to track three, Classification, to hear what I mean], as you would expect, but not to the detriment of the other musicians. For me this music is more striking than melodic and, as I said previously, doesn't really press my buttons - but having said that I would urge fans of Bop and more modern types of jazz to visit Brian Landrus' website, listed below, and sample any tracks available for free download there.

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

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Chuck Brown - Breathe
(Grandma Katherine's Music)

There are times when simplicity works the best, and this album is a case in point. Chuck Brown is a pianist and Breathe is a collection of relaxing instrumentals. The album begins with the achingly beautiful Give Us A Smile, Alicia, followed by Remind Us To Breathe, another lovely tune backed by cello.Tthere is a restrained backing by a small number of musicians on many of the tracks, but it is sometimes so restrained in the mix at times that it sounds ghostly.

I'm at a loss as to how to classify the music on this album - I'm sure many would classify it as 'New Age' or even [God Forbid!] 'Easy Listening'! But both categories have become the catch-alls for the most horrible and insidious blandness in recent years, and this music is certainly not bland. Perhaps 'Contemporary Instrumental' will do... Either way, this album is designed to relaxe you and reduce those urban stress levels. One of the other nice touches is that the album is dedicated to the late Dudley Moore, which is a moving gesture from one musician to another - check out You Never Know, for this musical tribute.

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Micky Cruz - Dulces Recuerdos

I've always been a sucker for Latin American music - it's an fast antidote to the Seasonal Adjustment Disorder we Brits suffer from forthe six months of the year we call Winter... So when the unceasing rain and snow get too much I pop on something spicy from Latin America, and currently that something is a hot little cd by a young and upcoming latino, Micky Cruz. Cruz was born in Nicaragua, lost his family to the war there and basically grew up on the streets while moving around Central America. Music was his only escape route from poverty and he made his first album at 15. Later, a chance meeting with Bo Diddly and Dulces Recuerdos was the result.

But as is the way with what we now call 'world music', Cruz has absorbed a variety of influences and come up with an very commercial version of his own that incorporates reggae, swing, ska and of course all the different types of latino music. It's a real high class stew and extremely listenable while retaining its authentic roots. In other words this isn't Ricky Martin.

While the prime aim is to get bums out of chairs and dancing, Cruz isn't too blasé to look back to the past and buff up the odd Latin classic such as Guantanamera. With songs such as Tequita and I'll Never Love Again this album is very radio friendly and will appeal to many.

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Pihr - Reborn

Pihr is a duo consisting of multi-instrumentalists/vocalists Natasha Blanco-Dominguez and Paul Broome. The short opening track Adventure is a nice synth electro instrumental, all chunky sounds and restrained pounding rhythms, but it's over far too quickly. Unfortunately, it sets the listener up to expect an album that is going to be techno or trancy. In reality the rest of the tracks feature Natasha Blanco-Dominguez's rather flutey and willowy high pitched voice over a synth and string samples background. The songs almost all have a slow, almost funereal, gothique feel to them, setting up an atmosphere of gloom. There's a strong suggestion of the art house movie all the way through this album. Even after several listens I'm still not sure that I like Reborn - I DO like the instrumental side of things, there is a lot of potential there in the use of string samples and synths, but I found the rest not really to my taste. If you are into goth or student angst or the art cinema scene then this might make a lot more sense to you. Give it a try - you can find downloadable samples at the Pihr website and at www.mp3.com/pihr.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.pihr.co.uk

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Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin - Templum
(Virgin Venture CDVE955)

This is the latest album of music by one of Ireland's foremost composers of traditional/classical music. It might sound like the sort of music used in Riverdance, but this is deeper stuff, music exploring the cultural history of Ireland itself. Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin may draw on traditional sources for his inspiration but this music is a mix of orchestral and choral, utilising a symphony orchestra and large choir. While there are eleven tracks on the CD the music move easily from one track to the next, offering a continuity similar to a symphonic suite. The opening track In Search of Ancient Ireland was used for a tv soundtrack, but it also provides the subtext for the album itself. The music here is far removed from the cliched Irish music that is offered up to the tourists - the music here comes from the lyrical heart of an ancient land and culture. Templum is an album for musical explorers, it's as simple as that.

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Various Artists - Spirit of Africa
(Real World CDRW97)

Spirit of Africa is a compilation album specially produced in collaboration with the Mercury Phoenix Trust to help raise funds and awareness of the Aids epidemic in Africa. Real World have brought together an impressive rosters of African contemporary talent: Papa Wemba, Maryam Mursal, Tama With Assitan Mama Keita, Youssou N'Dour, Remmy Ongala, Omar Pene & Super Dianomo De Dakar, Mzwakhe Mbuli, Ayub Ogada, Hamid Baroudi, Bernard Kabanda, TASO Choir, Imbizo, The Drummers of Burundi and Dr Hukwe Zawose & Michael Brooke.

Quite simply, the 14 superb tracks here offer a wide variety of styles from all over the vast continent of Africa, and acts as a journal from the front line. The songs warn the listener about Aids or tell stories of the outcome of the disease. Several of the artists here have lost family to the disease, the TASO choir is made up of Aids/HIV sufferers and Bernard Kabanda died from it. It's a chilling fact that over 25 million Africans have contracted Aids or HIV in recent years and the problem is growing worse, with a third of the continent's teenagers dying from the disease. This album may be simply entertainment for us in the west but the money raised from its sales will be used to help ease some of that suffering. I think that's worth dipping into the pocket for...

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Hook The Captain - Temple (Promo EP)

Hook is Washington DC musician Justin Katz and Temple is a nine track showcase of his electronic keyboard skills. The overiding style is dance, but thankfully not of the monotonous techno/drum'n'bass type - the beats vary and are leavened with washes of ambience, samples, and vocals. While nine tracks show up on the cd player, the press release lists only seven, so I'm not going to pick out highlights in case I give them the wrong title. What I can say is if you go clubbing or do the Ibiza run every summer then the contents of this cd, and I assume the other albums by Hook, should please you. Electro dance music isn't one of my faves, I prefer the more melodic 'spacey' stuff, but Hook is an impressive musician who certainly knows his way around the gear in his studio and there was senough tunes and interesting sounds to keep me listening.

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

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Kanda Bongo Man - The Very Best Of...
(Nascente NSCD089)

Kanda Bongo Man - The Very Best Of...

Africa provides one of the richest mixing pots where musical styles from all over the continent [and beyond] come together and create new offshoots. Soukous is one such style - mix together Cuban rhythms and Congolese traditional music and dances and you had a hot new dance music that exploded across the Congo and West Africa. One of the biggest stars of Soukous is Kanda Bongo Man and this new compilation pretty much puts together the definitive introduction to one of Africa's heroes.

The music on this CD is hot, literally and figuratively - it might not have the turgid beats of the techno or house club music but it is vibrantly alive and only the braindead are able to resist it. None of the tracks on the CD will be widely known here in the UK, except to aficionados of a few clubs where African dance music is played. But that doesn't mean that tracks such as Iyole, Zing Zong, Liza and Cantique won't win your heart, mind and dancing shoes. An album to bring the smile to your feet!

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Mental Insect - Live at the Big Horse Lounge
(Pteranodon 2050-D)

Mental Insect - Live at the Big Horse Lounge

Mental Insect hail from Chicago, so it's no surprise that their hard rock trio format with a blues feel have gone down well there. This four track live "mini-album" is an excellent showcase of the band's live sound, there's tons of brooding [and pounding] drum work from Nathan Wienken underpinning the bass and vocals of Frank Joseph Zirbel and the guitar of Jim Glass. Indeed, the drums tend to overwhelm the bass and guitar a little too much, which is a shame as there is some interesting and powerful playing going on there as well. Perhaps the sound engineer has a thing for drummers... Anyway, the cd contains four tracks: Street Attack, Exit 99, Starting From Zero and The Idiot [a possible tribute to Iggy Pop, perhaps?] - all of them reminding me a little of Motorhead, the Ramones [and indeed The Iggster himself], and Crazy Horse, which is no bad lineage to be coming from if you want to be a real rock band.

For more information about this artist and album and availability contact:

Mail: Pteranodon Ltd. Editions, 3952 N. Southport, #226, Chicago, IL60613, USA
E-mail: mentalinsect@yahoo.com

Asgeir & Mo - Danza De Andalucia
(ASG2011)

Asgeir & Mo - Danza De AndaluciaOne thing you can probably assume is that you wouldn't expect to hear Flamenco guitar music in Norway - but you would be wrong. For Asgeir Aarøen is a Norwegian guitarist who is extremely fluent in the Flamenco style. Partnered by the equally lightning fingered violinist Bjarte Mo, these gentlemen have married Flamenco with Django Reinhardt-style gypsy jazz and perhaps a little Brazilian samba for garnish. And Danza De Andalucia is a wonderful sound to listen to - full of vibrant life, good humour and nimble musicianship. Aided by several guest musicians throughout the album, these include the flamenco dancer Noelia Sabarea, whose dancing feet and castanets create the pounding rhythms pinning the music to the beat. Also performing on this album are Magnus Rod Haugland - double bass, Gabriel Chicaiza - percussion/handclaps, Saska Cvijanovic - flutes, Aina Schold - vocals, Eddie Andresen - pots and shakers. Danza De Andalucia contains thirteen tracks, the majority are full on fast tempo affairs set to make your feet tap and quite possibly grip a flower between your teeth before spiralling wildly around your lounge. The track titles are as follows [I've taken the liberty of using the English titles]: Summer Flirt, Arabian Samba, Your Hands In Mine, Night In Netanya, Walkabout, On The Beach, Andalucian Dance, Tango, Memories of Enerhaug, Cry From The Andes, Towards Midnight, Stroll Along The River, Summer Song. This is such a joyful album and much needed in these recessionary times in the UK to lift depressed spirits. Highly recommended and good enough to be one of my albums of the year so far.

For more information about this artist, album and availability contact: asgeiraaroeen@hotmail.com

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F.E.D. - Awakening
(Leinad Music LM01)

F.E.D. - AwakeningF.E.D is Frantz Eddy Daniel, a composer/multi-instrumentalist born on Haiti. His music is not, as you would suppose, either specifically Haitian or Caribbean in nature. Indeed, it has more of the European romantic Classical period, with sweeping orchestral melodies, epic soundscapes - and yes, more than a few memorable tunes. While Mr Daniel has been a musician for quite some time and performed in Haiti and the USA, Awakening is, I believe, his debut solo album. I think F.E.D. uses a variety of orchestral and instrumental synth pads to create this very lush music, topped by solo instruments such as piano and guitar, along with occasional voices. All of this is multi-layered into a very rich sound, tightly meshed together to make a large-scale production. This album is very impressive to listen to, and thanks to a series of melodies that will lodge in your head, very memorable. Awakening contains a dozen tracks and their titles are: Awakening, Memories, Ascension, The Other Side, Pays Lointain, The Quest, Escape, Missing You, Fantasie, Solace, Destination, Moments In Time. I've said previously that this music has an epic feel to it, and as you can see from the track titles much of this music also has quite a descriptive and filmic quality to it, suitable for soundtrack use due to the way it conjures up a variety of moods and portraiture throughout the album. There is certainly a timeless quality to the music on Awakening - it is not linked to any musical genre or style, though I guess the marketplace will class it is New Age. That would be a shame as it deserves to be heard outside that narrow niche market. Quite simply, Awakening is musical gold and if you enjoy instrumental music you will really like this. Highly recommended and, I think, my second album of the year [so far]!

Available from Amazon, CD Baby, iTunes and other retailers for download or as a CD. For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.fed-music.com

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Michael Stribling - Safely in the Arms of Love
(Leela Music LM11a)

Concept albums haven't been the most popular type of album in recent years [perhaps even for decades], and multi-instrumentalist and composer Michael Stribling's new album is most definitely a concept album. Safely in the Arms of Love has a narrative story about a forbidden romance between a travelling Scottish highlander and a beautiful [aren't they all?] young woman from a different culture, which may be Islam. The fifteen tracks musically animate this tale of love surviving all, and I have to admit that it is a pretty good musical adventure. Mr Stribling is a one man band, perhaps even the term orchestra is more apt on this album. Musically, the music veers between prog-rock, new age and Celtic - it is dramatic, tender, romantic and beautifully performed. The fifteen track titles are: Spirit of the Highlands, Stormy Seas, Far Away From Home, The Royal City, Alchemist's Workshop, Byzantine Carnival Parade, Veiled Dancers, Asian Flower, Alone in the Night, Kyrie, Dark Times (The Inquisition), Miserere Mei, Escape & Pursuit, Desolation & Absolution, Safely in the Arms of Love. To add to the romantic flavour of the album, the inlay cover illustration is a section of "The Kiss" by Gustav Klimt. There is definitely a narrative feel to the music, and reading the short story printed within the inlay should enhance the musical experience. As you will appreciate this isn't Conan the Barbarian set to music, it may - to some ears - sound more like the soundtrack to a Mills and Boon romance, but I think they may be missing the point, which is that narrative music still exists, and it can sound very good indeed!

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.leela-music.com

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Catherine Marie Charlton - Red Leaf, Grey Sky
(River Dawn Productions 680162-8092)

Catherine Marie Charlton - Red Leaf, Grey SkySubtitled 'Piano Improvisations', this short album of less than thirty minutes contains six tracks of new age solo piano music recorded in one autumnal day. The sophistication of the music and its performance belies the brevity of the recording time - this does not sound like a hurried project. Catherine Marie Charlton had written some of the music during her pregnancy, and the emotions and themes of the music are bound up with that life changing event. The recording took place on Ms Charlton's first road trip after the birth of her son, and the performances are tightly wound around having him there while she was recording this mini album. Plus the changing colours of the autumnal leaves on the trees she saw during the road trip also inspired the music. You can't really get more emotional than that, can you. The six compositions are extremely melodic, emotionally intense and far removed from the usual new age blandness. I have a feeling that other young mothers will find an emotional pull to this music. The track titles are: Lullaby For Swingtime, Introspection, Wonder, Red Leaf Grey Sky, Transformation, The Sun Is Shining The Birds Are Singing. Red Leaf, Grey Sky represents a musical journal of one woman's transition into motherhood, and it also marks the transition of summer into autumn - both events captured vividly on this album.

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

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Yoko Miwa Trio - Live At Scullers Jazz Club

Yoko Miwa Trio - Live At Scullers Jazz CluWhen it comes to live albums by jazz performers, those recorded within the cosy confines of a smokey jazz club tend to sound the best. The acoustics at the Scullers Jazz Club sound pretty damn fine, and the interplay and musicality of the Yoko Miwa Trio shine through extremely well. The mix of music is surprisingly varied - along with several original tracks by pianist Yoko Miwa, there are selections from Art Farmer, Milton Nascimento and Steve Allen, sitting alongside songs by rock icons Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Lou Reed, which you probably wouldn't expect to find on a jazz album. The trio consists of Ms Miwa on piano, Greg Loughman - acoustic bass and Scott Goulding - drums. The eight tracks are: This Could Be The Start Of Something Big, Wheel Of Life, Mr B.G., Seasons Of Wither, Who Loves The Sun, Silent Promise, Mox Nix, A Festa. This is quite a lengthy CD, utilising the forms' full capacity of 78 minutes or so. Which means that there is no such thing as a short track here on the album - four of the tracks well exceed the ten minute barrier, while most of the rest are just nudging it. That means that each track is well and truly explored and every musical avenue is turned over. I have to say that I was quite taken with Ms Miwa's piano performances, they reminded me a bit of Oscar Peterson and perhaps our own late lamented Dudley Moore. She is equally matched by her musical partners, who each have their own space within each track, without hogging the limelight. This is a trio in all the best ways, and the performances have subtlety and are richly nuanced. If you like a good jazz piano trio then look no further, buy this.

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

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Paradiso & Rasamayi - 3rd Eye Rising
(PMR 0006)

Paradiso & Rasamayi - 3rd Eye RisingSubtitled "A Journey Through Ascending Realms", you can take it as read that 3rd Eye Rising falls deeply into the New Age/Healing/Yoga category of music. Having said that I found the album to be more World Music, and being highly evocative of music from the Himalayas. What we have is a mixture of didjeridoo, keyboards, Tibetan and crystal singing bowls, chimes, gongs and chanting, plus shamanic and Tampura percussion, all performed by Paradiso and Rasamayi. Spread over eleven tracks are a series of soundscapes that helps evoke a state of mind for therapy or if you are more interested in the music, a series of mind pictures situated in the high valleys and the mountain tops of the Himalayas. You can almost smell the Yak butter from here... With track titles such as Bliss, Gratitude, Invocation and Transformation it is obvious that the music and sounds on this CD are designed to help aid meditation, yoga and assorted healing therapies, and being British I may be a little cynical about that sort of stuff, but 3rd Eye Rising works best for me as a musical portrait of those mystical and magical mountains rising north of India. The blend of ethnic instruments with soft washes of synthesiser are quite impressionistic, painting richly detailed mind pictures. I think this album has several target audiences, and I don't think any will be disappointed by the opulent sounds within. Along with the usual online outlets you can buy this CD from Borders, Barnes & Noble and, more likely in the UK, alternative healing shops.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.5thelementmusic.com

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VW Brothers - Muziek
(Patois Records PRCD010)

VW Brothers - MuziekThe VW brothers are Paul and Marc Van Wageningen, drummer and bassist, respectively, on this their debut album as bandleaders. Muziek is a stew of jazz, funk, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music, mixed into something that is uniquely their own sound. Mind you, there are times when the music made me think of Weather Report and The Crusaders, which isn't a bad pedigree to draw on. The majority of the tracks are written by Marc Van Wageningen, with lively cover versions of Miles Davis' Milestones and What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life by Michel Legrand. Muziek definitely falls into what used to be called Jazz Fusion, it oozes that slinky and sliding fretless basswork and skittering drums that give it a signature funky sound throughout. The VW Brothers have sourced a quality group of musicians to make their music - it ranges from a quartet to a beefy big band sound featuring some serious brass blowing. As well as in your face jazz funk you also get intimate moments such as Moon Over Gate 24, a rather restrained piece with many fine solos. Zapatos de Madera is a lovely mixture of latin and cool which just swings with class. Benito chills it down even further with some sweet Spanish guitar and occasional haunting vocals. Meanwhile El Abogado explores the African and South American roots of their music. So all told Muziek is a very good showcase for these musical brothers and their friends, and if you prefer your jazz with a modern face and a rootsy feel then I think you will enjoy this album a lot.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.patoisrecords.com & www.vwbrothers.com

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Erika - Obsession
(Erika Records)

Erika - ObsessionObsession is a collection of fourteen love songs sung by Japanese vocalist Erika. I don't think I've come across any Japanese jazz singers before, and Erika certainly makes a great case for Japan nurturing marvellous talent. Erika has what I would describe as a light, breathy voice, very melodious with a slight hint of Astrud Gilberto, but with a bit of steel lurking under the surface. Apart from a couple of originals by herself [Love For Life, sung in Japanese and I Close My Eyes, sung in English and Japanese], Erika has drawn from many of the best songwriters: Van Morrison [Moondance], Billy Strayhorn [My Little Brown Book], Cole Porter [Night and Day], along with several Brazilian songs by the cream of that country's writers. As you would expect the musicianship on this album is exquisite, fitting around Erika's voice like a velvet glove. Indeed, the entire album is finely crafted to act as a showcase in this debut album. Most of the songs are ballads but Erika's swinging version of Moondance would probably make the famously grumpy Van Morrison smile. One element of Erika's voice that shines on this album is the sense of longing, a prime requisite for aficionados of romantic songs. The majority of this album is certainly aimed at those 'wee small hours', where the listener is most vulnerable. Obsession is an impressive debut and I believe that this album will appeal equally to the pop audience as well as that for jazz. I think if you are a fan of Sade then you will most definitely fall for this Obsession. Highly recommended.

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

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Peppe Merolla - Stick With Me
(PJP 6-6644965 16-5)

Drummer Peppe Merolla's debut album Stick With Me is described as hard bop, and I shall add that it also contains a strong latin vibe throughout. Throughout the nine tracks Mr Merolla's drumming is a constant, clattering and thunderous and sometimes just shimmering away in the background. Hard bop isn't really my kind of jazz, so I can't really say that I enjoyed this as much as a true Bop fan would. I find most of this style of jazz a bit too discordant for my ears. However, Mr Merolla's sextet certainly make a stirring and powerful sound, right from the opening track, Naples. The band are Steve Turre [trombone and shells], Jim Rotondi [trumpet and flugelhorn], John Farnsworth [tenor sax], Mike LeDonne [piano], Lee Smith [bass] and Mr Merolla on drums and percussion. His drumming really comes forth in the solos during Ferris Wheel. The next track, Junior, is more gentle, with some lovely trombone work by Lee Turre. For a debut album as bandleader, Stick With Me is full of confidence and musicality, and Peppe Merolla is a very impressive drummer. For me the more overtly latin tracks such as the mellow Marbella were better, with again some sweet duetting between the trumpet and trombone, and a version of Willie Nelson's Crazy also impresses. I think that Stick With Me is an impressive debut album and I hope it will find an enthusiastic audience. I positively urge you to visit Mr Merolla's website listed below and explore any sample tracks there.

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

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Ray Charles - The Definitive Ray Charles
(Atlantic/Rhino 8122 73556-2)

Ray Charles - The DefinitveRay Charles is one of those landmark musical figures that you know by reputation but have a hard time placing when you start to think about it. This new double CD compilation goes a long way to establishing once and for all that Ray Charles has been a musical giant for the last fifty years, his talent straddling rhythm 'n' blues, soul, country, pop and rock. The Definitive Ray Charles contains forty-six tracks, including Mess Around, I've Got A Woman, What'd I Say, Georgia On My Mind, Hit The Road Jack, I Can't Stop Loving You, In The Heat Of The Night, Rainy Night In Georgia, Unchain My Heart and many, many more. Whether they are his own songs or those by some of the best writers around, including Lennon & McCartney, Tony Joe White, Buck Owens, Hank Williams, Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael, this is all high quality stuff. Thankfully for a compilation like this the recordings have been digitally cleaned and buffed to a high sheen, and the inlay booklet contains a well written essay on the musician plus there's a reasonable selection of photos. All in all Rhino have put together a superb anthology of Ray Charles's best material - it's the finest place to start for a latecomer like myself.

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Paul Avgerinos - LOVE
(Round Sky Music RSM 1012)

Paul Avgerinos - LOVEHaving received two of Paul Avgerinos's previous albums for review for this website I know that one can expect to hear a highly personalised spiritual feel to the music. And that is, of course, the case with LOVE, though surprisingly, the 'gregorian chant' choral voices on those previous albums are somewhat muted here in favour a range of acoustic and electronic instruments that shimmer luxuriously across the soundscape. For such a lush and rich sounding recording only two musicians are listed, Paul Avgerinos and Kevin Braheny Fortune. They share compositional and orchestral credits across the nine tracks, though obviously Paul Avgerinos is the overall muse behind all the music. As I said before, the lack of choral voices, or rather their deep placing in the audio mix makes this much more of an instrumental album and its dreamy, slow procession makes it sound more akin to that of an ambient album, creating soundscapes for reflection, meditation and to block out the annoying intrusions in life. The subject of the album is love in all its many guises and being such a strongly emotive subject this music is going to effect each listener differently. Being British we have a slightly cynical view of love whether brotherly or emotionally, so I can't say that this music effected me emotionally in terms of love, but it is a gorgeously seductive album to listen to, the slow tempo and melodies certainly conducive for unwinding after a hectic day. I suggest you visit Paul's website listed below and try a sample track or two and then buy the album if the music speaks to you.

For more information about this artist, EP and availability visit: www.roundskymusic.com

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Michael Samson - A Still Motion
(Still Motion Productions SMP002CDS)

The piano is the most impressionistic of instruments, able to play any style of music and frequently even new styles being created by renegade composers and musicians. In this case it is music in solo piano style that, depending on your viewpoint, could be jazz, new age or modern classical. The theme of Michael Samson's new album A Still Motion is, ironically, movement - movement of self, movement of emotion and even physical movement as in travel. Life is, after all, never still for any of us - Time is the conveyor belt that pushes us ever onwards. The CD cover, booklet and back inlay all profusely feature photographs of Hoboken railway station in all its moods. And the first [title] track is a propulsive piece, an imitation of a train gathering speed outward bound from the station. A railway station is something of a metaphor for human life, an archive of human emotions par excellence, so the dozen tracks on the album fit aptly into that framework. Michael Samson is a very fluid [and fluent] pianist, able to put his ideas and emotions into these musical miniatures. Being something of a railway nutter [British equivalent of a geek!] The photographs illustrating this album had me in their grasp from the first, but the music slowly won me over as well, and I think if you music of an individualistic character then A Still Motion may be for you. It is a very impressive album.

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

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Jamie Craig - Illumination

Jamie Craig is a multi-instrumentalist and composer reviewed before on this website. His new album, Illumination, is the follow-up to The Last Dream, and is musically similar - a dozen tracks of music that could be prog-rock or synth-rock. A little punchier sounding than New Age, these instrumental tracks also have a bit of funk-lite about them. Imagine The Crusaders with synths and that may give you some idea of how it sounds. Not sure if there is a discernible theme or concept to the album but track titles include: Lost & Found, Midtown Saturday Night, Mirage, San Juan, Voyager IX, H2Ozone, Guardian Angel, Illumination I/II. I quite enjoyed this album, the tunes are melodic, slightly jazz-funky [as previously mentioned] and mostly in an upbeat, positive frame of mind. But I did find the lead synth 'voice' a little wearing on the ear. It has a very 80's sort of Casio Midi sound to it, not really sounding like any analogue instrument. Thankfully it isn't used on every track but it is prominent on the album and I found it a rather jarring sound. But, hey, that's just me, I've always found that synth voice a bit cheap and tacky and reminiscent of the early days of synth music. Illumination on the other hand is a very listenable album, with some memorable tunes and it should appeal to most people.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: myspace.com/craigsounds

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Mount Vernon - All Of Us Free (MoveMusic 1)

Mount Vernon - All Of Us FreeI've played this new mini-album by Mount Vernon several times now and it gets better and better all the time. I understand the band hail from Wisconsin, not a state I've ever attributed musical greatness to in the past. However, All Of Us Free is a majestically approachable album, funky and bluesy at the same time - for some reason I keep flashing to The Band and The Allman Brothers Band when listening to this cd. Perhaps its the brass section, and the massive range of different instruments the eight musicians have at their command. With so much modern rock and pop music being literally factory manufactured hot air [at least that's the case here in the UK!] the cd is heavy on real musicality, tapping a direct line America's rich veins of blues, country and rock 'n' roll.

There are six tracks on the cd: Sandlot, Morning, Feel The Light, Here I Go, Back Down and Breathe, and none of them leave that deep 'Americana' feel. Indeed, there are no weak tracks throughout the album, the sound is big 'n' beefy all the way, with more flashes to Dr John, Van Morrison, Ray Charles, even a little Bob Marley. But the truth is that Mount Vernon are just eight people: Brad Cook, Phil Cook, Trevor Hagen, Keil Jansen, Sara Jensen, Scot Sugden, Justin Vernon and Joe Westerlund, and by God do they rock! I want to hear more...

Mount Vernon - We Can Look Up

We Can Look Up predates the recently released All Of Us Free [which I reviewed on this website] by a few years, and is a fascinating glimpse into a group that were still a little rough around the edges, but even then they were a regular powerhouse as the track Thompson shows with its pounding finale. At the same time the group can do gentleness, listen to the late night jazziness of Alexander, with its sax solos, or So Red and its Ska-lite feel. The album feels more brass heavy than the newer All Of Us Free, with many songs being carried forward by solo trumpet or flugelhorn passages. In fact there is an encouraging restraint of the usual rock instruments in favour of brass and acoustic instruments which gives the album an overall timelessness. And then there is a track like Superstatic that seems to run through the whole gamut of musical genres in six minutes in a breathtaking display of musicality.

There are ten tracks on the cd: Sprinkler, High Five, Today Is Just A Day, Thompson, Alexander, So red, We Can Look Up, Happy Song, Superstatic, and Black Pearls. All have what is now called the Alt. Country or Americana sound and owe a debt to earlier alt country bands such as Wilco, Smog and Lambchop, and someone has definitely been listening to a lot of old time jazz as well. Mount Vernon contain the talents of nine people: Brad Cook, Phil Cook, Trevor Hagen, Keil Jansen, Sara Jensen, Scot Sugden, Justin Vernon, Becca Katz and Joe Westerlund.

If you are of an experimental yen and are searching for musicians that have gone their own way to produce music of rare individuality you can't do better than try Mount Vernon.

You can find out more about this album and Mount Vernon by going to www.movemusic.net.

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Jethro Tull - This Was & Stand Up
(Chrysalis 535 4592 & 535 4582)

Jethro Tull - Stand UpThe Jethro Tull album catalogue is currently undergoing the standard remastering and clean up that precedes and reissue campaign, and this brace of albums are the latest fruits. This Was was the Tull's debut album in 1968 and contained a series of blue-rock workouts and a little eclectism hinting at future experiments. The original line-up was Ian Anderson, Mick Abrahams, Clive Bunker and Glenn Cornick - it lasted little more than the ten months it took to get to the point of this album, then Abrahams left, and so did the blues. Overall, the sound is solid and more like a flute led John Mayall's Bluesbreakers than the substantial cult rock band Tull would later become. As with most reissues there are some extra tracks added to attract the fan: One For John Gee, Love Story and Christmas Song, and the album contains early Tull classics Dharma For One and A Song For Jeffrey.

Stand Up was recorded in 1969 and with Anderson taking over full creative control and Martin Barre replacing Mick Abrahams as lead guitarist this album is pretty much where the first classic era of Jethro Tull starts. The blues influences were toned down and folk, jazz and ethnic influences absorbed and assimilated. Stand Up was the result, a rockier and mellower sound than before, but also the template for the next few albums. Classic tracks include A New Day Yesterday and Bouree, while Living In The Past, Driving Song, Sweet Dream and 17 are added as bonus tracks.

Nowadays Tull seem to exist in their own little time dimension, where the band and its fans exist apart from all other music fads. And more importantly still produce high quality rock music that cuts it whatever way you want it to. The millions of hard core fans will embrace these early artifacts warmly, but I wonder if they will attract new listeners...

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Gary Moore - The Best of the Blues
(Virgin CDVX 2943)

Gary Moore is a rock guitarist who has been around for quite a long time, been in a variety of bands [most notably Thin Lizzy - at least twice] and had varying periods of solo success. One of these periods was during the mid 90's onwards when he decided to explore his blues roots and recorded several albums of blistering blues-rock and collaborated with some of the blues grand masters such as BB King and Albert King. This collection brings together the best tracks from these albums and include: Oh Pretty Woman, Still Got The Blues, Separate Ways, Story of the Blues, Texas Strut and many more. In fact, there are seventeen cuts on this CD, including the non-blues rock classic Parisienne Walkways [a collaboration with ex-Lizzy mainman Phil Lynott].

Listening to the variety of the tracks on this collection you can begin to get an idea of how wide an interest Moore has had in the blues. While there are the blistering fast paced Chicago blues of Too Tired, there are also heart on sleeve ballads such as Separate Ways and Need Your Love So Bad where his guitar playing cuts through your heart like a knife. This is a great compilation made even better by the addition of a limited edition live album featuring many of the tracks listed plus many others - all live and some duets with the blues masters I mentioned above. I'm not sure how long the live album will be included, so grab this bluesfest ASAP and crank the volume up for some of the best blues and rock of the last decade.

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Steve Arvey - Soul Of A Man
(Only Blues Music)

Steve Arvey - Soul of a ManThere's something reassuring about the blues - its popularity dips and rises periodically but it always survives all the musical fads and comes back rejuvinated with a raft of new musicians at the grassroots level. So welcome to a new bluesman - Steve Arvey hails from Chicago [how more authentic can that be!] and his new album Soul of a Man is an excellent showcase for his band and his own mastery of the electric and acoustic guitars. This album is so vibrant and rocking that I guess it would be fair to rank Arvey up there with other white bluesmen such as Gary Moore, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Clapton. Indeed there are times when I flashbacked and thought I was listening to the classic British blues and r'n'b band Lee Brilleaux and Doctor Feelgood! Mind you, when Arvey roars out the blues you'd believe for a moment that Howling Wolf had crawled his way out of the grave.

The album contains a mixture of original songs and a selection of classic blues from Muddy Waters, Lonnie Johnson, T-Bone Walker and the not so bluesy but heavily rootsy Steve Earle. In terms of style the album covers them all: rural country blues, urban blues and of course, the hot city variety that made Chicago the blues capital of the world. I'm hard pressed to pick out highlight tracks from the fourteen [plus a hidden lengthy jam session track] on this cd, the variety and quality is just so high. If you're a blues aficionado you'll love this album!

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

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Leonid Sinkarenko - Le Bolero

Jazz music was always a bastion of freedom for many living in [and fighting against] the Soviet sphere of influence during the cold war. One of the best jazz composers and bassists to come out of that region is Lithuanian Leonid Sinkarenko and Le Bolero is his latest album. The opening track, Nuki Nooki, starts with a classic walking bass riff and then explodes into this big band number. Comparisons are always odious but I would say that Sinkarenko has been listening to Weather Report and the interplay of Jaco Pastorious' bass and Joe Zawinul's keyboards. But that style has been put through the blender and the rhythms and folk tunes and the traditional instruments of Lithuania have been incorporated with dazzling effect.

Track two, The Beauty of Cognition, switches to a cocktail jazz-type vibe, with a lovely vocal by an unidentified woman vocalist followed by some cool piano and bass solos. Hooligan Song follows, a fast paced epic-length piece that bounces from late night sophistication to free jazz dissonance [albeit briefly] and ends on a latino vibe. Le Bolero has an eastern theme running throughout the bass and voice workout, with that unnamed woman vocalist, ending in a sax blast solo. Liamblues open with some Oscar Peterson-style piano before Sinkarenko's bass weaves in, followed by a sprightly muted brass section - its all very very cool and Miles Davis-ish. Final track is Morning in the 'Oz' Village - a brass and voice led uptempo swinger that ends the album with a lot of style.

From the evidence of this powerful and impressive album jazz is alive and well in Lithuania, and Leonid Sinkarenko is a musician who should be much better known on the international stage. Buy this album with confidence.

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Anatoly Pritsker - Variety

Anatoly Pritsker - VarietyAs far as I know this is the only album recorded and distributed by Baltimore-based composer and keyboardist Anatoly Pritsker. Utilising a range of Yamaha, Kurzweil and Roland keyboards Mr Pritsker has created a good showcase for his musical talents. The style is somewhere between cocktail jazz and electronica jazz fusion - think of Bob James's theme to the tv sitcom Taxi and that will give you a starting point. In many ways this a good, commercial-sounding album that is radio-friendly and ideal for that long car journey or for just relaxing to after work. There are eleven tracks, all varied, some work better than others - the keyboard harmonica sound on the opening track Harmonica Eve doesn't really convince but it's an irrepressible melody nonetheless ... Smooth Melody is exactly that, gossamer smooth ... and Evening in May would be ideal as the theme for a romantic comedy movie. I don't have space to describe all the tracks but there's enough here to show that Mr Pritsker is an extremely capable musician and composer able to whip up some mellifluous melodies to please the ears.

For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.mp3.com/toly

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Pete Castle - The Jenny & The Frame & The Mule
(Steel Carpet MATS023CD)

Pete Castle - The Jenny & The Frame & The MulFolk music has always had an edge over most other types of popular music in that it is used to record history through song. This new album by guitarist/vocalist Pete Castle is a 'concept' album telling the story of Richard Arkwright and his Cromford Mill, and specifically the rise of the cotton industry. This was the dawn of the British industrial revolution, and the longstanding rural workforce were slowly moving to the towns to find work in the huge mills and factories which quickly appeared to benefit from the inventions of that time.

So, The Jenny... is a collection of songs and readings - the songs based on traditional songs and tunes of the period, the readings taken from contemporary accounts. In style, The Jenny... reminds me of the groundbreaking semi-documentary albums that Ashley Hutchings and the Albion Band made back in the 70's, but the musical line-up here is 100% acoustic, with no rock trappings. The seventeen songs and narrations describe a stark lifestyle for most of the workers in the mills, many of them uneducated children. As a historical document of a time long gone this album is a fascinating example of the genre, and musically a fine folk album as well.

For more information about this artist and album and availability contact:

Mail: Steel Carpet Music, 190 Burton Road, Derby, DE1 1TQ.
E-mail:steelcarpet@lineone.net

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