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Torben Waldorff - Wah-Wah
(ArtistShare AS0117)

I seem to have had a mini surge of jazz guitar albums recently and Torben Waldorff's new album Wah-Wah is the latest. It is rather encouraging to see the guitar taking centre stage again in jazz after so many years when some type of horn has been the star. I find the guitar [acoustic or electric] to be a much more subtle and emotional instrument than, say, the sax. And that is the case here on Wah-Wah, its nine tracks covering a myriad of moods and emotions across the breadth of the CD. Playing in a quartet format, Mr Waldorff makes the most of the instrumentation around him, creating several magical moments. The band alongside Mr Waldorff are: Gary Versace - piano/fender rhodes/organ, Matt Clohesy - bass, and Jon Wikan - drums. As you would expect the overall vibe is slow and easy, not overtly smooth but gently funky in a post-bop way. There is plenty of space for each musician to spread out and solo, though when all four musicians are playing together the album does fly that bit higher. All nine track were composed by Torben Waldorff and the titles are: Circle And Up, You Here, Ginga, Fat#2, Poolside, Evac, Cutoff (The Eleventh Bar), Burtsong, Country And Fish (To Play Us Out...). The album may be called Wah-Wah but I don't think the guitarist used a wah wah pedal during the album, though there is some delicate vibrato work across the tracks. I really enjoyed this album, the guitar sound throughout is mellifluous throughout, no harsh bursts of rock overkill and restraint on using the foot pedals that allow the natural sound of the guitar to shine through. Highly recommended.

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Steven McLachlan - Gunstorm
(Cornutopia Music)

This is a mini album of songs and instrumentals composed, performed and produced by Mark Sheeky and incorporating the strongly distinctive vocals of Steven McLachlan, under whose name the album will be released through iTunes. There's a strong electro-pop vibe here, and I was frequently reminded of Yazoo, Erasure [in particular, thanks to Steven's voice] and Depeche Mode while listening to it. The whole ethos of early 80's electro-pop is entrenched throughout this album, and makes it a nostalgic blast from the [future] past. Mark also creates and codes computer games and their soundtracks and there's also a hint of that quick, tuneful atmosphere to these six tracks. Gunstorm, here in two versions: single and extended form, is a sharp and snappy piece of pop that certainly deserves to attract airplay on radio. Atmospheric instrumental Deflexion hints at Mark's earlier soundtrack music, Ultramarine is a near ambient piece with a sympathetic vocal. You Make Me Happy and One Day complete the tracklisting, both being more than filler. Gunstorm is the precursor to a full-length album by these musicians, due later in the year. I can't wait to hear what they produce.

The release date (on iTunes, Napster and others) will be November the 19th 2007. For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: and


Dave Tofani Quartet - Nights At The Inn
(Solowinds SW1173)

Dave Tofani is saxophonist to the stars, playing on albums by Sinatra, Streisand, Steely Dan, George Benson and John Lennon amongst a huge stellar list. Nights At The Inn is his fourth solo album and the first with his new band, recorded after a year of playing regular dates at the Deer Head Inn. And when listening to this intimate album it is quite easy to imagine yourself in a booth at the inn. There are ten tracks, a mixture of Tofani's own compositions plus a selection from the classic jazz songbook. Work by Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein are all featured, and given a muscular but melodic showcase. Dave Tofani exudes a confident performance on every track, and I Hear A Rhapsody, Angelica, and In A Sentimental Mood are all luminous in their execution. Jesse Green on piano, Evan Gregor on bass and Ronnie Zito provide a closely matched backing to that ringing tenor sax. I'm sure that the more committed jazz buff will have differing views but I enjoyed this album for its melodious heart and vigour.

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Bruce & Lisa - Gifts Of Love
(Level Ground Records 8-24422-63272-0)

Bruce & Lisa - Gifts of Love

Those of you who bemoan the loss of quality easy listening music will welcome Gifts of Love with open arms. Flautist Lisa LaCross and Violinist Bruce Wethey have produced a slick collection of original instrumentals that are highly melodic and easy on the ear. The eleven tracks feature the duo and their sympathetic backing band in music that just veers away from being too cloying, and exhibits excellent musicianship. As you'll realise from the album title this is an album of romantic music and I guess it will come as no surprise that Bruce and Lisa are married, which adds an extra frison to the music, and indeed their young daughter pipes up on one of the tracks. Being original music and with some basis in their spiritual beliefs [God is thanked a lot in the inlay notes] I expect this album will also appeal to the New Age crowd, though the music is perhaps a little too jazzy to sit easily in that category. Tracks of note include: You Make Me Smile, The Way I Feel About You, Union Street and I Believe.

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Jocelyn Medina - We Are Water

As far as I can tell vocalist Jocelyn Medina is a unique voice in Jazz. She writes all her own lyrics and these mix social commentary and philosophical comment in the form of her songs, something similar to what the recently departed Scott Gill-Heron did with his more overtly political raps set to music. But here the vocals are set to music rippling with Latin rhythms and Jazz trappings. Her vocal style is rather idiosyncratic, with her voice taking on the characterisation of the instruments, singing down in amongst the instrumental voices rather than floating above them. Performing with a sextet of musicians who seem to have an extra sense allowing them to follow and lift Ms Median's voice. They are: Rodrigo Ursaia - tenor sax/flutes, Kristjan Randalu - piano, Miles Opazaki and Raphael McGregor - guitars, Aidan Carroll - bass, Bodek Janke - drums/percussion. The eleven tracks are: Cosmic, We Are Water, April 4th, My First Love Song, Natural, Time And Place, Same Mistakes, Feel Free, Make Change, Close To Home, Reason. It's fair to say that Ms Medina is cutting a new form of contemporary Jazz, one that is more personal than many listeners may be used to. But they should open their ears and try this new talent.

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Fez Dispenser - Fez Dispenser
(Skin & Barrel Music SNB004)

Fez Dispenser

According to the press release that accompanied this CD Fez Dispenser is an "abstract, jazz influenced, post-hip-hop project". The brains behind the project is composer/ musician Matt Thorne, who also records under the name Psychic Enemies. The fifteen tracks on the album certainly reflect a variety of influences - the mandatory drum machines are layered with an assortment of jazz-influenced samples and loops, and this definitely makes for an enriched variety of tracks: Smoothin' and Castillian Fennel Dub are good showcases for this. The bongo-rich Yet Again, with its Frippertronic-style guitar riffing, is another goodie rising well above the expected hip-hop cliches.

This album is a rich exploratory lode of imaginative sound manipulation. Matt Thorne has turned the perceived expectations of hip hop on its head and taken several unexpected leaps of imagination, using a rich library of sound elements: gamelans, latin percussion, Hammond organs, saxophones, and probably even the kitchen sink! I'm by no means a big fan of hip hop but if this is what it is evolving into then perhaps I should explore some more. Recommended!

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Come Down - Sender

Come Down - Sender

Come Down are one of many groundbreaking rock bands on the ever-vibrant New York music scene. They may be relatively unknown here in the UK but this could change if Radio 1FM's John Peel ever hears them. The music of Come Down is highly atmospheric, with ambient and industrial noises swirling over and under [perhaps even through?] their songs. They admit to influences like My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths, Verve, Radiohead and Ride, but I also think that the production and sound philosophies of Brian Eno also features large on their blueprint, especially in the way the sound-scapes create distinct moods in each song. The music also has a strong 'goth' feel to it, it's very moody - some would say miserable even - and I think I'm perhaps far too old to be an enthusiastic supporter of this 'New Miserablism'.

Sender is a five track EP collecting together some very strong songs: Synesthesia, New Script, Fast Cars, Everyone With Guitars and I Drive With Closed Eyes. The overall feel of these songs is of a very cool band tightly in control of their sound. The band comprise Scott Altmann - guitars, Nicole Keiper - Drums, Tom Mallon - bass/keys/programming, and Mark Pernice - vocals/guitars.

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Lee 'Scratch' Perry - Wonderman Years
(Trojan TJDDD052)

Lee 'Scratch' Perry - Wonderman Years

During the recent BBC Jamaica season of tv shows they ran a short documentary series about the history of reggae music, and for someone like myself who has only dipped a toe into this type of music it was both an eye and ear opener. One of the major talents covered in this series was record producer/composer/ musician and genius, Lee Perry. And with perfect timing Trojan have brought out this superb 2 CD, 49 track collection of some of his work. These CDs bring together the best of Perry's early 1970's work released on his Justice League label

It has to be said that Perry worked best as a producer, so while this collection is 100% 'Scratch' it also features the talents of a wide variety of reggae artists. Check this list out: Bob Marley and the Wailers, Big Youth, The Upsetters, Junior Byles, Denis Alcapone, Peter Tosh, Agustus Pablo, The Stingers, plus many more I've never heard of - and of course tracks by Perry himself.

Most of my reggae listening has been focused on Bob Marley's Island Records period, so to hear all this talent is a bit of an education. Perry was a man who knew the value of a good tune - there are several backing tracks here which have been re-used with different lyrics and vocalists, and in many instances end up with a very different vibe to the orginal. There are even some early examples of dub on here too. It's a no brainer that purist reggae fans will snap up the Wonderman Years immediately, but its appeal is wider than that, and it acts as a pretty good primer for early 70's reggae and the mad genius that is Lee Perry.


Adam Rafferty Trio
- Three Souls
(Cap CAP 974)

It's always heartening to approach a new album by an unknown artist with a strong sense of expectation and exploration. In my case that is usually more to do with variations of rock music, so to get a jazz album is a rarity and an unexpected pleasure. I've not heard of Adam Rafferty before, so I'm facing a clean slate in terms of expectations.

When it comes to jazz I'm a conservative fellow, my kind of jazz has to swing and be melodic - which means a lot of the modern stuff that calls itself jazz leaves me cold. Just so much parping and honking! So it was with much relief that when I started to play Three Souls I discovered that it swung with a lot of bounce! It is obvious that Adam Rafferty on guitar, Danton Boller on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums are a tight unit and are totally in synch with each other musically. As far as I can see Adam Rafferty has composed all eleven tracks and it is pretty damn good - the album swings gently or mightily [depending on the track, naturally], and most of the music here has the lyrical power to lift the mood of the most jaded listener. This is also a good album for those late night sessions, or to rejuvinate the spirits after a hard day on the slave farm... If you enjoy good instrumental music then you can relaxe, this is just the album for you, whether at home, in the car or on your Walkman.

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Jeffrey Michael - After The Storm
(Fireheart Music JM 10)

I don't think Jeffrey Michael is a musician that is very well known here in the UK, though from the bio that came with this CD he has been actively creating and performing his music literally from his schooldays! I guess you could call the music on this album 'new age' but it doesn't really strike me as being the sort of pallid, enervating stuff that just floats lifelessly from the speakers which is what most new age music amounts to.

After The Storm was written while Mr Michael lived on the sea shore in California and Florida [lucky man!], so the music relates to the shifting patterns of the ocean and all its moods. Thankfully, the instrumental music here is played solely on a Yamaha acoustic piano, and without any further accompaniment - no anaemic synths, thank Goodness! The overwhelming theme of the album is that of a storm and its effects on the sea and the shoreline - with titles such as Tidal Wave, The Storm, After The Storm, The Edge of the Ocean, The Journey, etc., you quickly get the idea of what this is all about. Now I have to admit that the musical storm depicted here is probably one of the most docile storms I've ever come across, there's little of the rage or sheer drama that envelopes a storm. But the music is extremely varied and never less than interesting on the ear. As an album of original instrumental music it stands up very well, and should appeal to a wide spectrum of music lovers.

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Maddy Prior & The Girls - Bib & Tuck
(Park PRKCD61)

Maddy Prior & The Girls - Bib & Tuck

It strikes to me that since Maddy Prior left Steeleye Span back in the late nineties she has issued a series of highly imaginative and distinctive solo albums that have broadened the canvas of folk music. And it is no different with Bib & Tuck - essentially a collaboration with daughter Rose Kemp and multi-instrumentalist Abbie Lanthe, the cd contains twenty tracks of close knit harmonies and even acapella versions of songs by Elton John [I Need You To Turn To] and Paul Simon [Homeless] plus songs by Ewan MacColl [Sweet Thames Flow Softly], Mike Waterson [Stitch In Time] and Leadbelly [Cotton Fields] - and then there are superb songs they have written themselves.

But the real highlight of the album is the ten track song cycle dealing with the 17th century slave triangle of Britain - Africa - America. The Cotton Triangle brings together a collection of traditional songs and original compositions that explore the physical slave trade alongside the poverty-trap slave labour that manned the Lancashire cotton mills. As with the song cycles on her previous albums this cycle is inspired by gospel, blues, African rhythms and ethnic instrumentation alongside the usual traditional English tunes. It's a fine and evocative set of songs and a strong reminder that Britain has its own shame to bear in its past. A superb album.


DFA - Work In Progress Live
(MoonJune Records MJR0003)

DFA - Work In Progress Live

DFA (Duty Free Area) hail from Italy, so I guess it's not surprising that I've not come across them before now. This new live album, recorded at the NEARFest 2000, certainly changes all that. DFA play mostly instrumental music, and unashamedly prog-rock at that - though with a strong jazz fusion vein. If you liked The Enid or Camel at the height of their success then you won't have a problem recognising the brilliance of this band.

The album opens with the explosive Escher which showcases their credentials more than adaquately. The music of DFA is keyboards and guitar led and the band make one hell of a great noise! Caleidoscopio changes the tone, a low-wattage ballad with melodic synths that bursts into a lengthy instrumental workout. Trip On Metro follows, this is much jazzier, the sort of stuff Weather Report used to thrash out, all angular melodies and weird time signatures complete with dissonant wig-out at the end. The next track, La Via, is the longest on the album, and is something of a slow burner, starting with gentle synths and vocals before the first of the incandescent instrumental workouts begins. The final tracks Pantera and Ragno pretty much continue in the same vein of high octane virtuosity to complete a live album of extremely high musicality and balls-on rocking.

DFA are Alberto Bonomi - keyboard & /vocals, Silvio Minella - Guitars, Alberto De Grandis - Drums, lead Vocals, and Luca Baldassari. And on the evidence of this album they make one hell of a sound - they are certainly one of the tightest and virtuoso bands I've heard in a long time. Most live albums don't really work as individual creative statements, this one does, in spades. More please!


Mary Martin Stockdale - Timeless
(Scorpiano Records MMS-15)

Mary Martin Stockdale - TimelessFrom the contents of my postbag it looks as if the piano is making something of a low key but noticeable revival as a lead instrument. Along with the Jeffrey Michael album reviewed elsewhere, this new album by Mary Martin Stockdale is also labelled on the cover as "Solo Piano", and again we have a very listenable collection of themed instrumentals that use the melodic possibilities of the concert grand to the full. And again, thankfully, this is without the backing of new age-ish synths or harps or whatever. Just the piano used to its full potential. The thirteen tracks on the album have been inspired by the themes of Time, Life and the essence of Nature, according to the sleeve notes, and that's a broad church of subjects to set to music. Not being a deep thinker I can't comment on whether Ms Stockdale has succeeded, but I do like what I hear - these tracks all have distinct [and catchy] melodies and certainly evoke emotional responses. With titles such as Willows By The Stream, The Calling, Spider's Web, Falling Snow, Raindance and so forth it is easy to conjure up sympathetic imagery in ones' mind to accompany these tunes. I'm not sure there is anything I can really say to swing you one or the other on this album - Timeless lives up to its title as a collection of music that can fit into any time of your day [or night] and will revive your spirits accordingly. It works - buy it or check out the samples you can probably hear on Ms Stockdale's website.

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Elton Dean & Mark Hewins - Bar Torque
(MoonJune Records MJR0001)

Up until now improvisational music, what some also call free jazz or Progressive Fusion, has often been beyond my capabilities to understand or enjoy. It has probably been down to the musicians creating huge swathes of discordance and dissonance in equal measure - chaotic sound that didn't qualify as music and just left a headache as an aftereffect. Bar Torque, a new album by saxello/alto sax player Elton Dean and guitarist Mark Hewins has remedied this in some small measure. Thanks to the wonders of Mark Hewins' synth guitar and the technique of multi-layering they have created an album full of lyrical soundscapes that veer away from the sweet and sacharine and remain cutting edge and exploratory.

Elton Dean & Mark Hewins - Bar TorqueThe album, recorded live at London's Jazz Cafe [though there are no audience sounds] contains three lengthy tracks: Bar Torque, Sylvan and Merilyn's Cave. Each track begins with Mark Hewins synth guitar and its library of varied MIDI controlled sampled sounds - this creates the backdrop for his acoustic guitar and Elton Dean's achingly beautiful saxophone and saxello to glide over the top in cascading sheets of sympathetic [and challenging] accompaniment. Despite there being only two musicians the soundscapes are big, and at times seem to cross the world in search of inspiration - from Chicago to Shangrila. This isn't the sort of music I naturally listen to, but the Dean/Hewins duo make a strong case on this album that improv music isn't just belly fluff noodling, that exploration can be fun and listenable.

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Knoxville Jazz Orchestra - Christmas Time Is Here

Knoxville Jazz Orchestra - Christmas Time Is Here I am sitting here listening to this big band record in the late summer days of early September - a time when that monster of social conspiracy that we call Christmas is barely perceivable on the horizon. Yep, it's that time of year when the seasonal records start arriving and I have to try and find some kind of festive good humour [nay, even enthusiasm] - long before the turkey is even selected. You may have guessed that this writer stands alongside Scrooge and Count Dracula when it comes to Christmas! However, unlike many of the festive albums I have reviewed before, Christmas Time Is Here by the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra strips out a lot of the insincere Christmas mush and has injected a healthy dose of jazz stuffing, making most of the tracks here swing and rock with rhythm. There are a dozen secular seasonal songs and carols all given imaginative arrangements by orchestra conductor Vance Thompson. The track titles are: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Let It Snow, Deck The Halls, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, Go Tell It On The Mountain, I'll Be Home For Christmas, Do You Hear What I Hear? Russian Dance, Jingle Bells, A Not So Silent Night, Christmas Time Is Here, Children Go Where I Send Thee. Thanks to a rollicking Hammond B3 organ, punchy brass and a rocking rhythm section these over-familiar songs are given much needed new life. The Knoxville Jazz Orchestra is a twenty-five piece ensemble, plus guest choirs and vocalists, far too many too list here sadly. But this is one of the best swing jazz bands I have heard in a long time - I think Count Basie would be happy to hear someone is keeping the flame lit. Christmas Time Is Here is a great jazz album and probably the only Christmas album I shall ever listen to for pleasure at THAT time of the year in the future. Highly recommended to all Scrooges everywhere.

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Graham Dechter - Takin' It There
(Capri 74117-2)

Graham Dechter - Takin' It ThereThis is an album that grabs you by the throat from the opening notes of track 1 and doesn't release you until the fading of the final track. Performed by guitarist Graham Dechter and a trio of hot musicians, Takin' It There swings mightily but also has a streak of post-bop running through it. But overall it is the adventure of four musicians swinging as hot as any 50's big band on a selection of covers from the great jazz songbook. Along with Mr Dechter on guitar the other musicians are: Tamir Hendelman - piano, John Clayton - bass, and Jeff Hamilton - drums. Along with two tracks written by Mr Dechter, other composers featured on this album include: Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Lee Morgan, Harold Arlen and George Coleman. The titles are: Road Song, Be Deedle Dee Do, Chega De Saudade, Together & Apart, Takin' It There, Father, Grease For Graham, Hocus Pocus, Come Rain Or Come Shine, Amanda/Every Time We Say Goodbye. Being no expert on guitars I think Mr Dechter is using a semi-acoustic guitar which has a mellow tone but also a strong bite when needed. He certainly has a distinctive sound that is deceptively easy on the ear and makes those tricky bits sound simple. When the quartet are in flight it sounds like a much larger band and the sound goes from intimate to large very often throughout the album. Takin' It There is a great album, full of musicality and good vibes. Highly recommended.

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Jazz Punks - Smashups

You have to admit that calling your band Jazz Punks is an eye opener, or at least worth an arched and very quizzical eyebrow. I can confirm that the music on Smashups is punk rockified jazz. And yes, they do 'mashup' rock tunes with jazz ones, which may sound a little 'out there' but actually works a treat and I can see both rock and jazz nuts scratching their heads at some of the pairings. For example the Clash's Should I Stay Or Should I Go is conjoined with Dave Brubeck's Take Five, or perhaps you fancy Dizzy Gillespie's A Night In Tunisia and Led Zep's Misty Mountain Hop. I could go on but you will have a lot of fun identifying the mashups as you play this album. Jazz Punks are a five piece band and they are: Sal Polcino - electric guitar, Hugh Elliott - drums, Robby Elfman - sax, Danny Kastner - piano, and Michael Polcino - bass. Make no mistake, this isn't the usual digital carve up of the original tracks into something new created on a computer - these are arrangements taking the tunes from each piece and it becoming something new and original. The band's line-up is almost standard jazz quintet, but the addition of electric guitar played at Pete Townshend volumes and attitude makes for a whole new ball game. I would imagine that this band are really something in the live environment, but this debut album should bring in a lot of new fans. I won't spoil the fun by listing all the mashups here, but here are the ten track titles: Foleo, Clash-Up, Creep Train, Mind Over Matter, Heavyfoot, Bo-So, I Can See Miles, Little Chickens, 12 Steps To Hell, Led Gillespie. The concept of the band and this album is quite original and if you are looking for something a little different in jazz then I suggest you try Smashups and the Jazz Punks. Recommended.

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Tony Monaco - Celebration: Life • Love • Music
(Chicken Coup Records CCP7016)

ony Monaco - Celebration: Life ? Love ? MusicI have to admit that I haven't heard of Tony Monaco before, but according to the sleeve of this new double CD set he is quite a prolific jazz organist with many albums under his belt and has collaborated with many other jazz musicians. Celebration is his new studio album plus a second disc of his best tracks from previous albums. Not sure if the second disc is culled from the previous albums or are re-recordings. The Hammond B3 organ has been embraced by many keyboard players, and it has become an exciting solo instrument in the jazz sphere. It has all the power of a punchy brass section yet it can be as seductive as an acoustic guitar and all this variety is controlled by just one musician. Mr Monaco certainly can play the B3: It rumbles, it roars, it seduces... The music veers from rocking to more funky explorations of the keys, and then there are examples of smooth jazz for that late night smooch. Mr Monaco also composed almost all the music on this set, and he knows how to get the best from the instrument and himself. Each of the CDs has a different set of musicians, various choirs and vocalists and guest soloists - far too many for me to list here. Many of the tracks are in the traditional trio and quartet formats, expanding out to a more epic sound on a small number of tracks. With a total of twenty-four tracks there should be something here for your every mood. However you look at it, Celebration is an exciting and brilliantly conceived showcase with enough variety to satisfy any fan of the organ. Highly recommended.

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Planet Z Featuring Susan Aquila • Music by Rob Tomaro

Planet Z Featuring Susan Aquila ? Music by Rob TomaroThe electric violin was once as popular a lead instrument in rock bands as the guitar, but that was in the 70s when artists such as Frank Zappa, Jefferson Airplane/Starship and Flock brought the instrument to the fore. It has been a long time since then and the electric violin has receded into the background of the sound. But Susan Aquila is a virtuoso on the electric violin and has been performing with a virtual A-Z of pop and rock artists [Led Zeppelin, Billy Joel, Elton John, Metallica, Paul McCartney] over many years but has now finally recorded her own debut solo album. With her own band, Planet Z, and music written by guitarist Rob Tomaro, Ms Aquilo has produced a seven track showcase on how a violin can rock the joint. To be fair, the music is more a hybrid of jazz/fusion with a healthy dose of prog rock mixed in, and I can tell you that this is not a quiet, genteel album. It rocks like a banshee on heat! The music here certainly references that 'no holds barred' approach of the 70s when different genres of music butted heads, merged and new sounds were created. The band are: Susan Aquila - electric and acoustic violins, Rob Tomaro - guitars, Irio O'Farrill - bass, Ray Marchica and Paul Pizzuti - drums, Joseph Church - keyboards, Ted Baker - keyboards. Tracks titles are: Bombay Express, Cajun Queen, The Fire Of The Planes, For Mehera, Appellation Sproing, Dance Of Ecstasy, Horizon's Edge. It is fair to say that playing this album will give your loudspeakers such a workout that the dust will explode - play it loud and the speakers will be invoking the Geneva Convention. Ms Aquila and her band rock without mercy and this is one hell of an impressive debut album. Highly recommended.

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Benji Kaplan - Meditações no Violão

The music of Brazil and Latin America seems to be the flavour of the month if you go by the new CDs that have arrived here recently. Benji Kaplan is a young guitarist from New York City who pretty much feeds intravenously off of traditional Brazilian music such as the Choro. His new album Meditações no Violão is a collection of fourteen tracks, full of solo guitar and his own compositions based on the previously mentioned Choro style. The bottom line is that if you are a fan of acoustic guitar then you really need to buy this CD - it is both a showcase of Mr Kaplan's writing and performance skills, but also an album of new acoustic music in the Brazilian style. The mood is gentle and romantic, there are few fireworks, this is an album for late night romantic dinners with candles... But that is only part of it, and perhaps a superficial one at that - more importantly this is an album of new music in the traditional style, written and performed by a musician who has spent years living in Brazil, absorbing all the good stuff that makes Brazilian music so popular. The Track titles are: In Memory Of Luke, Choro em Fado, Choro in E Major, Truffaut, Nostalgia, Baiao For Gershwin, Escuridão no Céu, Valsa Lullabye, Choro Pra Garoto, Quando o Sol Raiar, Baiao de Leemore, Tormento, Introspective, Choro Tip Toe. If you enjoy acoustic music and/or acoustic guitar then I can't recommend this album too highly. I don't think you will be disappointed.

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Steve Lipman - There's A Song In My Heart

Steve Lipman - There's A Song In My HeartFrank Sinatra, in life, cast a long shadow, and in death that shadow is casting an even longer reach, touching the 'singing dentist' Steve Lipman. He has had a lifelong passion for Sinatra and the American Songbook, and There's A Song In My Heart is his debut album. Working with a septet, Mr Lipman brings his own unique vocal style to eleven songs, most of them long associated with Frank Sinatra. Mr Lipman's voice is a little higher pitched than what you would expect of a crooner, and perhaps the voice isn't as rounded as you would expect, but Mr Lipman sings with full-blooded enthusiasm, a definite swing and tons of good humour. The band are very good, they play tightly and with a level of swing that makes them sound like a much larger band. The musicians are: Josh Evans - trumpet, Doug Lang - sax/clarinet/flute, Kim Hoffman - violin, Wayne Morphew - keyboards, Dan Prindle - bass/cello/piano, Nick Raisz - drums, Peter Sokolow - piano. The tracks are: Come Fly With Me, You Make Me Feel So Young, I've Got You Under My Skin, Fly Me To The Moon, I've Got A Crush On You, Look Down That Lonesome Road, The Lady Is A Tramp, Please Be Kind, All My Tomorrows, My Way, The Road To Mandalay. Anyone hankering for the days when Sinatra, Cole and Martin ruled Las Vegas should find this album a joy and a walk down memory lane.

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Woody Witt - Pots And Kettles
(Blue Bamboo Music BBM017)

A lot of jazz is rather bombastic stuff, full on testosterone stuff, and the equivalent of boys pushing each other around boisterously. Pots And Kettles is the opposite, it takes a more soulful and laid-back approach, with more care taken in the musicianship, and the music, of course. Woody Witt is a saxophonist and this is his latest album, recorded in that great state of Texas, where they do things on a big scale. Performing with a quartet, Mr Witt manages to make the music funky as well as soulful, and there is enough space for all of the musicians to make their mark. The musicians are: Woody Witt - tenor and soprano sax, Gary Norian - piano, Mark Simmons - drums, Anthony Sapp - bass, and Chris Cortez - guitar. The ten tracks are a mix of titles written by either Woody Witt or Gary Norian, along with a couple of covers of tunes by Eddie Harris. I rather liked Mr Witt's way with his sax, instead of just honking and blowing a storm up he is restrained and plays in a much more subtle way, choosing his notes carefully for maximum impact. Behind him the band are always solid support, ensuring that the overall sound is rock solid. The ten tracks are: Pots and Kettles, Listen Here, Slink, Heart First, The Loop, Crying Blues, Just Because, The Deprivator, Loose Change, Never Very Far. It seems to me that Pots And Kettles is a bit classier than the general jazz album, it is bursting with heart and musicality.

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John Morgan & Friends - Stories
(Grandma Katherine's Music GKM71225)

John Morgan & Friends - StoriesThere are some albums where few words are required to put over the general opinion. OK, so here goes: Buy this album - buy it now! Not good enough for you? Well, here's the long answer then: Buy this album and you'll enter a state of sublime musical grace that no amount of Britney Spears or Jo-Lo will subvert. Stories is one of the best albums I've heard in a long time, and we are talking real music here, not stuff created by fiddling with a few samples on a computer, or thumping the pads on a drum box.

I'm talking about instrumental music of the acoustic kind - John Morgan is a guitarist of the highest calibre, a magical fingerpicker ranking up there with John Fahey, Chet Atkins, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. Subtly and sympathetically backed by his 'friends', the fourteen tracks on this superb cd sparkle and shine, shimmer and shimmy, with many of them leaving you humming the tune after just one listen. The understated backing of percussion, flute, fretless bass and voice leave the guitar as the star, and the man can play - country, folk, blues, traditional, it all seems to have been mixed together to form a new style of gumbo, and it's damned tasty.

The bottom line is that this music lifts the spirits instantly, from track one to the finale. In many ways this is the happiest album that I've ever heard, and I can't pick out highlights - every track brings out the sunshine. God knows we need more music like this. This is the ideal album to relax to after a stressed out day, or if you need the spirits recharged. You probably think I'm going over the top here, and perhaps I am a little, but there's no denying this album is fabulous and deserves to be in every discerning music fans' collection.


John Morgan - The Journey
(Grandma Katherine's Music)

John Morgan - The JourneyThere is something inspiring about an acoustic guitar being well played - depending on the finger style of playing it can sound intimate or widescreen orchestral, and on this album by Ohio-based John Morgan it covers all bases admirably. I've had the pleasure of reviewing a later album [Stories - see above] by this excellent musician and this debut solo album certainly matches Stories for variety. Morgan comes from the same stylistic sources as Bert Jansch, John Renbourne and Davey Graham, though perhaps his sound is a little smoother. In truth it is difficult to categorise what style of music this is, as with the later album, folk, country, blues and other traditional elements are all fused together into something that is very pleasing for the ears.

Picking favourite tracks is a bugger in situations like this: the title track is extremely impressive, as is Three Children. But the music on this album just flows together and you tend to simply forget niceties such as track numbers on the cd player screen or even the time passing once those fingers start weaving there magic. I think all the tracks are original compositions, with no dipping into 'Traditional', so one can only applaud John Morgan's writing skills.

John Morgan - Capture The Night

Now, I have to admit that I have never enjoyed Christmas carols and festive songs - call me Scrooge if you will, but the usual sanctimonious and ponderous versions that are the standard performances of these songs leave me nauseous and unmoved. However, someone has looked at these songs again and found an original way of presenting them in a simple and unadorned fashion, sloughing off the overdone sanctity and rediscovering the musical gems within.

Yes, the latest album by guitar wizard John Morgan is a collection of seasonal yuletide carols and other songs all performed as instrumentals. But thanks to Johns' nimble fingers and musical good taste, all the old hackneyed tunes have been revitalised to the point where they have been remodelled for the next millenia. So, with eleven tracks on the CD you can now enjoy anew We Three Kings, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Jingle Bells/Good King Wencelas, Joy To The World, Deck The Halls, Silent Night, O Come O Come Emmanuelle, Tinsel, What Child Is This? and We Wish You A Merry Christmas.

If you've not discovered John Morgan's previous albums then you are missing out on a rather unique mix of folk style finger picking mixed with a little blues and country colouring. Think John Renbourn and Bert Jansch but with a little more swing and lilt to the playing. On the technical side of things, this is a beautifully recorded album, the guitar is crystal clear and sounds as if it is in the room with you - and having just bought a new hi-fi this album was a good test of the speakers clarity. Highly Recommended!

John Morgan - Motionography

In these days where music is increasingly created using computers and old records are plundered for loops and riffs it is encouraging to see the human touch reasserting itself on an album like this one. John Morgan's latest album Motionography is unashamably acoustic. 100% acoustic guitar - and nothing else. Everything you hear on this superb album comes directly from the brain to the fingertips and hence to the fretboard and strings. No enhancements. It does make for a refreshing change, I can tell you. The album contains thirteen tracks, of which a dozen are self penned, the cover being the carol O Come, O Come Emmanuel. It is a difficult album to categorise, there are a lot of folk music stylings here, along with some blues and jazz licks all mixed into something that is 100% John Morgan and doesn't sound like any other guitarist. And that's a good thing really - who wants another Jimi or Eric? Another factor about this album that I like is that it almost uniformly upbeat, the tracks are almost all uptempo and happy, and of course reflect the album's theme of motion - both physically, emotionally and musically. It's a bugger of a task trying to find tracks to highlight so I won't. There is nothing here that is less than outstanding and deserving of an immediate replay. If you like acoustic music then I can't see any reason why you don't add this to your collection - Motionography is never going to be very far from your CD deck. Highly recommended!

If you live in the UK [as I do] then trying to get a copy of any of the above albums will require some effort on your part and you'll have to visit to order them - or email John at john@morganguitar for pricing information. Whatever, make the effort as these albums are well worth the wait by the letter box... Oh, and if you are learning to play guitar check out John's tutorial website:


Mark Sheeky - Animalia

I can't think of many composer/musicians who are equally adept at creating good music and the software they create the music on [outside of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, perhaps]. As far as I know Mark Sheeky is somewhat unique in this, and his latest album, Animalia, proves the point more than adaquately. Using the latest version of his Noise Station II production software, Mark has crafted a fine album of poppy tunes, ambient sections and even the odd burst of industrial-style noise to create an album of many textures and moods.

The album begins with Andromeda, a bright, perky tune that reminds me of the proto synth-pop band Space from the late 70s. The next track, Mantle, is a short piece of ambience set to the sounds of running water [guaranteed to get my father running for the bathroom!]. This is followed by Oceanic, a mid-tempo piece that is reminiscent of rolling waves, distant horizons and possibilities. Cephalopoda jacks up the beats and rhythms into something danceable. Next is Dreams of Flight, which as the title suggests slows the pace down to something akin to a tuneful music box melody - this is arguably the most pretty tune on the album. The pace picks up again with Eagle Interceptor, whether this is an Eagle spacecraft from Space 1999 I don't know but it has a lively sci-fi tv theme feel to it and is damn good. Mice is the 'Popcorn' of 2004, this tune will weave through your brain for weeks afterwards, it's so damn catchy! The next track, Rhino, is a pounding [and thankfully short] techno noise which I have to admit I don't like much. But it does mark a break in styles, which leads to the next track, Monkey, which is perky, jaunty and full of monkey-style mischief. Track ten takes us back to the big production sound, Paragon takes a theme and runs with it... with enthusiasm! Penultimate track Nectar plays with a simple series of notes and treats them to echo and delay to create something fragile and dreamlike that finally tails off into the distance. Final track Cellular Automaton is the culmination of the album and finishes the cd with a grand flourish, plus it rocks.

Mark Sheeky has privately released several albums now [all orderable from his web site - see link at the end of this section], and I wouldn't like to say where Animalia stands within that catalogue - in terms of production quality it is the best yet and the album is full of great tunes played with wit and verve and a large degree of panache. The album also acts as an excellent showcase for his Noise Station II software, and any serious musician [or even half-serious one will do] should check it out immediately.

To buy Animalia (price £7.99): Click Here


Mark Sheeky - Synaesthesia

Mark Sheeky - SynaesthesiaOne of the pleasures of this job is discovering talented people beavering away doing their own thing and creating music far superior to that being pumped out commercially. Mark Sheeky is one such 'renaissance man': computer programmer, graphics artist and composer/musician, Mark has combined many of his talents to create Synaesthesia, one of the best commercial-sounding synth albums I've heard in quite a while. It's fair to say that this album wears its influences well: Jean Michel Jarre, Enya, Eno, Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream - yet the end result is uniformly original and for any self-respecting electronica fan a bit of an ear-opener. The overall 'concept' for the album is life and death on a cosmic scale, so this album is pretty spacey sounding, lots of interesting and weird electronic chatter fill the celestial void.

Synaesthesia may be a tad short at thirty-five minutes, but it is packed full of catchy melodies, interspersed by short atmospheric pieces. Favourite tracks include The Runner, Interference, the very funky Refuge, the fuzz-ladens Termination, the Enya homage Waltz of the Ghosts, and Resurrection. The final tracks Islands of Memory and Epitaph are particularly atmospheric and remind me of Vangelis. This is a fine album and it certainly deserves a wider audience.


Mark Sheeky - The Spiral Staircase

Mark Sheeky - The Spiral Staircase This latest album by Mark Sheeky comprises a single thirty-seven minute track, so in this instance all of his musical eggs are in the one basket. The album opens with a crash of sonic thunder before wave after wave of synths start to create the structure of the track. That structure is almost symphonic - this is music on a grand scale: bass synths provide the rhythmic foundation, while a number of melody and arpeggio lines intertwine over them. It's all very, very dramatic, and definitely not for the chill-out zone. As with Synaesthesia the overall influences are Jarre and Vangelis, whose styles are so individual that melding the two together takes a special skill - especially when turning it into something uniquely your own. But there's also a strong feel for classical baroque music in there: Vivaldi, JS Bach - some of the keyboard runs remind me of the harpsichord continuo sequences found in their music. There's also something offbeat about this music, some of the glissandos are so drenched in distortion and ambient 'ice' that the music becomes angular and jagged and on the edge of being dangerous. The bottom line with The Spiral Staircase is that it is simply a tour-de-force showcase of electronica fireworks, but the music is also well worth investigating for its own merits. These two albums by Mark Sheeky reveal a talent worth noting and exploring.

Update [Feb 2008]:- Mark Sheeky has recently re-recorded The Spiral Staircase, adding several more minutes of music and using improved software and instrumentation to give the music an even more dramatic impact and presence. The original single piece of music is now a ten track suite with section titles such as Ascent, Sky Dragons, The Goblin Graveyard, Sea Monsters etc. The above review still stands - this refinement simply enhances what was already there. The album is now available as a professionally produced CD or as a download from Mark's own website, plus iTunes and Synth Music Direct's MusicZeit download site.


Mark Sheeky - Arcangel

Arcangel began as the soundtrack to one of Mark's computer games that he programmed. I have no idea how the music fits in with the game but as a collection of standalone tracks this is a superb collection of electronica. Seven tracks of varied and extremely ear-friendly tunes follow: Mnemonic pulses with energy and funkiness, Epitaph is more eery, simple synth lines set up an atmosphere of unease, SPDF is another slow burner with a lovely cyclical melody line, Lepton has one of the killer melodies on the whole CD and a dance mix of this would [should!] be a massive hit in the clubs if the DJs had a chance to hear it, Pioneer is another slow burn winner with a 'tubular bells' type lead and a nice line in minimised atmosphere, Requiem For A Scorpoid is another lighter piece with a pan-pipe-cum steel drum sounding lead, Inside Messiah concludes the album with a slow choral flourish that leaves you wanting more.


Mark Sheeky - The Flatspace

The latest album by independent musician and games programmer Mark Sheeky is the soundtrack to a new game he's written called Flatspace. And while I have no idea what sort of game Flatspace actually is, I can tell you that some of the music he's written and performed to accompany the game is extremely fine indeed, and stand up in its own right as pop-inflected electronica.

In some ways tracks such as the title tune and Conversion remind me a little of the music of French band Air, while Cobra has a little of Jan Hammer's Miami Vice funky vibe to it. The following tracks, Wilderness Fog and Snow are more ambient and probably represent tranquil sections of the game. But taken overall this album of music transcends what you would label as merely soundtrack and stands out on its own merits as extremely upbeat, atmospheric music that is well worth listening. What is equally amazing is that while Mark designed and programed the game and composed and performed the music he also wrote the recording studio/synthesizer software called Noise Station 2 on which it was created.

If you'd like to find out more about Noise Station 2, or how to order this album or game then I strongly urge you to check out Mark's website - see the link on the left.

To buy The Flatspace Soundtrack (price £7.90): Click Here


Mark Sheeky - The Incredible Journey

Unlike Arcangel, The Incredible Journey is a full length album of poppy electronica that is pretty much guaranteed to raise the spirits of the listener. And that starts with the very first track, Challenger, a smooth, pumping track that evolves into a piano-led grower - think of Robert Miles and you're halfway there, but Challenger is much better... Please Wait follows, a short nimble piece that demands to be extended and given a dance mix. Next is Superhighway, an explosive riff-laden track that won't fail to get those legs pumping. Downloading slows the pace a little [but not a lot!] with some slippery percussion backing and not a little funkiness - at over six minutes in length it's the albums' longest track and one of the most atmospheric. Silver Glance follows, this is a heavier piece, with pounding drum pads and a cyclical melody line that burrows insidiously into the skull. Kopakaramba opens with some restrained funky percussion and oozes a carnival/party atmosphere with its steel drums, bubbly synth lines and free form whistling. Loneliness Pt 2 drops the party feel for quite an austere pulsing drum loop and a simple melody line over the top.

Half way through the album and next up is Catacombs, this opens with a cavernous slow beat, and some drifting ambient synth lines over the top that morph into one of those tunes that hammer around the inside of your skull for a while. Circle pretty much describes the music, a cyclical sequencer riff fades in and out as various percussive stabs and synth lines set up more background. Loneliness Pt 1 is very sparse, a single marimba-like melody line that is over far too quickly. Autumn and we are firmly back in Robert Miles territory: restrained dance beats and orchestral lines topped by a flighty piano lead. Great stuff and once again far too short. Penultimate track is Gaea, a mid-tempo atmospheric tune which sounds a little like early Depeche Mode [sans vocals]. Finally there is Termination, another classic.

The most amazing thing about most of Mark Sheeky's albums is that the music is actually created using his own music generation/recording studio software called Noise Station, a software program that he has written himself. The end results are, if you get hold of his albums, extremely spectacular and offers the musician a very different method of creating music to the conventional midi-based system. Anyone requiring more information on Noise Station or the above CDs should check out Mark's website.

Of the four CDs I now have by Mark Sheeky The Incredible Journey certainly ranks as one of the best, but as the others are equally good it makes it difficult if not impossible to make comparisons. One thing is for sure and that is that Mark is producing music that should be heard much more widely, it equals if not surpasses that released on the commercial labels.

Mark Sheeky - The Four Seasons Of Dance

Sadly only a CD mini album or in the parlance of the old vinyl days, an EP. But what an EP! As before Mark has taken his programming and composing skills to create a set of four tracks of 'pop' electronic instrumentals. Of course, calling any album The Four Seasons of Dance is likely to make the listener cock an eye in askance and wonder where Vivaldi is, but Mark has avoided taking any of the classic Vivaldi pieces as his inspiration and this is all original music. Thankfully, there is also a lack of faux-baroque styling here too, this is pure electronic music with a smattering of dance beats to propel the music forward. I can't say that the music evokes the four seasons of nature for me, but the tunes are undeniably 'perky', energetic and with some cracking melody lines that should stick in the grey matter for some time to come. This is a case where Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn will lighten up your life. I'd like to see Mark tackle longer compositions, something a bit more multi-layered. He's ready.

For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: where you can discover this and a lot more, including galleries of his artwork and a library of software programs and games.


Jethro Tull - Living With The Past
(Eagle EAGCD231)

Jethro Tull - Living With The PastThere's something to be said about making music a lifelong career nowadays - while most of the Pop Idols generation won't last five minutes the bands and artists of the sixties and seventies rock generation carry on making superb music and bely the old adage that you're past it once you've broached thirty.

And so we come to Jethro Tull, a refined group of veteran wrinklies who still record and fill concert halls easily but who are ignored by the youth orientated media as being 'well past it' when they manifestly are not. Indeed, this new album [companion to a dvd of different live performances], a collection of live concert and rehearsal tracks, brilliantly shows that Ian Anderson's ideosyncratic musical vision is still unsurpassed when it comes to playing that unique hybrid of British folk, blues and rock.

The tracks on this new compilation span the period 1989 to 2002 and dip pretty thoroughly into the back catalogue. A smattering of 'golden oldies' such as Aqualung, Locomotive Breath, Sweet Dreams, Living in The Past and Jack In The Green are all present and correct, alongside a lively selection of material from more recent albums [new to these ears], and the abiding impression is that the Tull are rocking as well as ever and show no signs of ossifying yet. These tracks also represent a variety of line-ups, including a gem of a blues number from the 'Class of '68' reunion that featured Clive Bunker and Glenn Cornick.

Living With The Past works well on so many levels - a souvenir for those who caught these gigs, a catch-up for those who didn't, a must have for collectors of tracks recorded at tv broadcasts and rehearsal rooms, and most importantly, an ideal starting point for the novice who wants to see what all the fuss is about. Excellent musicianship throughout, lashings of good humour and great music - can one really ask for more?


Brian Wilson - Presents Pet Sounds Live
(Sanctuary SANCD118)

Brian Wilson - Presents Pet Sounds LiveOne of the enduring memories of the big pop gig at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the Queens' golden jubilee was to see the genius of the Beach Boys alive and well and rocking his way through some of his greatest hits. For Brian Wilson it must have been the culmination of a dark and twisted journey into the pits of a personal hell, only to claw his way back to sanity and a creative reawakening. I don't think any Beach Boys fan expected to ever see Wilson perform again, let alone perform the entire Pet Sounds Album. But here he is...

And so we now have a live recording of the greatest Beach Boys album ever, a gig performed in London in January 2002 in front of a fully appreciative audience. While time and the travails of life have taken their toll on his health and voice, Brian Wilson can still carry a song, and when backed by the sympathetic Wondermints and the other superb musicians and vocalists it doesn't really make a difference. He still retains that child-like quality to his voice and the lyrics that make the songs even more poignant now than when thsey were first released in the 60s. And that voice, surrounded by the perfect harmonies of the band, soars again, recreating those heady days when listening to a Beach boy harmony was the nearest thing to heaven.

While it might not be exactly the same as the original album at least it finally brings the classic songs to life: Wouldn't It Be Nice, That's Not Me, Sloop John B, God Only Knows, Caroline No, Pet Sounds and the sublime I Just Wasn't Made For These Times.

This is an album to cherish and savour - a template to hold the modern day mediocrity that is pop music up to and shake your head in wonder. It's so bloody good that I am still getting goosebumps on my neck after listening to it for at least twenty times!


Chocolate Butterfly - Chocolate Butterfly

The funky and footloose Chocolate ButterflyI don't receive much soul music for review on this site, so the new album by Los Angeles-based band Chocolate Butterfly is doubly welcome. The music on this thirteen track CD certainly has its roots in old-school soul and r'n'b, with a pretty generous portion of psychedelia as well. Listening to the slinky funk here brings back memories of early Prince, Stevie Wonder, Bootsy Collins, Ohio Express, Funkadelic - perhaps even a hint of Jimi Hendrix in strato axe solos.

Chocolate Butterfly is the brainchild of vocalist Winston Black and guitarist Masa Kohama and they've taken a long hard look at the state of soul music and hit on a retro sound that is also contemporary. If you like your soul and funk music from the 60s/70s when music was real music and not as it is now, a drum machine and effects, then you will love this - its slick, sensual and very, very funky. Tracks such as A Love Contagious, Perfect Paradox, Don't Wait Too Long and Waan Cuxxin hit a groove and slide on forever.

The press sheet that came with the CD claims that this album has already sold 4,000 copies in eight months without any major distribution deals. I'm not surprised, Chocolate Butterfly sound great and this is one of the best albums I've so far this year.

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


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