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Bill Frisell

Blues Dream

[Nonesuch] *** 1/2

With its slurry phrasings and sudden blurts punctuating woozy chorales, this seems less like a collection of dreams than an Appalachian front porch musical bender, complete with ensuing hangover. Whatever it is, the music of this septet is like nothing else you've heard before (except, of course, for Frisell's own records, which have always had a kind of wonderful, hallucinatory kickback casualness). With lots of open fourths and fifths and diatonic melodies (many of them danceable), Frisell's tunes and arrangements never stray far from folk roots. If, for instance, the melody of "Where Do We Go?" weren't being played on Frisell's electric guitar with Greg Leisz's pedal steel accompaniment, it almost sounds like something that could have been played by a Civil War soldier relaxing in the sun. And then comes Frisell's slo-mo blues solo over a vamp with variations from trumpet player Ron Miles, alto saxophonist David Piltch and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes. It's a typical example of Frisell's method on these tunes.

Nor is folk and roots music all that they're reminiscent of. The title tune, for instance, sounds like a staggering slide-guitar gloss on Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman."

As everyone knows who caught Frisell in concert at the Albright-Knox Gallery, Frisell remains one of jazz's unique artists, with an eclectic sound world of his own that is simultaneously familiar and exotic as hell. The only trouble with so much woozy wit is that it almost precludes the possibility of any musician emerging from the ensemble haze with a much-needed moment of bright scarlet vividness. A fine disc, nevertheless.

- Jeff Simon


Sarah Harmer

You Were Here

[Zoe Records] ***

It might be the clarinet you notice first. What's it doing on a rock record anyhow? Or maybe the cello will catch your ear. Doesn't matter, you'll be hooked just because you're hearing a female singer who sounds like - herself.

This is Sarah Harmer's U.S. debut, but you might remember her from the Canadian band Weeping Tile. She's a breath of originality, an earthy songwriter with a style of her own. It's rootsy pop rock with interesting instrumentation (trumpet, dobro, organ) and a flattering quirkiness that make the songs unpredictable. Her voice is somewhat unconventional, but versatile. She sings the sweet "Open Window (The Wedding Song)" with an appropriate old-fashioned delicacy, then becomes a touch scratchy on the weary "Everytime." Lyrics are visual in portraying both life and emotions. You can see the wet garments on the clothesline and the green grass soaking up the rain in "The Hideout"; and you'll know that sinking "worst feeling" of uncovering a lie in "Around the Corner."

Harmer's strength as a songwriter is in depicting the complexity of being human. She's vulnerable and lacking confidence at times ("Coffee Stain"), but she's brave, too. She grabs the truth in the catchy "Weakened State," a zesty rock number with a cello. It's the standout on a CD that, despite Harmer's rock ability, leans toward rootsy pop and then slows to a pleasant pace for the last few songs.

- Toni Ruberto


Time Warp: The Very best of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils

Ozark Mountain Daredevils

[AM] ***

The Best of Joe Ely

Joe Ely

[MCA Nashville] ***

Best-of formats are kind of a Whitman's Sampler of ear candy - a flavor burst here, a frothy nougat there, but never the satisfaction of a full-course meal, or even a well-executed appetizer.

"Time Warp: The Very Best of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils" and "The Best of Joe Ely" are no exception to this dietary truism. Of the two, "Time Warp" offers a more interesting cross-section of the artists, who found success in the '70s mining an eclectic country-rock recipe, spitting out occasional pop hits that didn't even sound like the group.

Take the falsetto-infused "Jackie Blue," which climbed to No. 3 on Billboard. The group's producer, according to the liner notes, sugarcoated what was a ballad about a drug dealer, changing it into a pop hit about a lonely girl in the big-bad city. So much for artistic integrity.

"Jackie Blue" is the exception, though. Loyal fans prefer these Missouri exports for such gnarly rooted numbers as "If You Wanna Go to Heaven," "Look Away," "E.E. Lawson," "It'll Shine When it Shines," "Homemade Wine" and "Time Warp." Oh yeah, the core of the Ozarks were Larry Lee, Michael "Supe" Granda, Steve Cash, John Dillon, Randle Chowning and Buddy Brayfield.

"The Best of Joe Ely" is 20 songs from this Texan's extensive discography, from his self-titled debut on MCA in 1977 to "Letter to Laredo," released in '95. Ely and fellow Texans Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock each forged successful careers after their beginnings as the Flatlanders. Of the three, it was the hard-rockin' Ely and his high-octane stage presence that had the closest flirtation with commercial success.

Most of this best-of features notables from his releases on MCA, which dropped him for a time when sales flagged. Ely is at his best sweating profusely and playing to an audience. Although credible in the studio, he always came off as a tamed bronco. It's no surprise three of the best of this best-of are recorded live: "If You Were a Bluebird," a duet with songwriter Butch Hancock, "Fingernails" and "Long Snake Moan." Other standouts from this vast career are "Honky Tonk Masquerade," "Cool Rockin' Loretta," "Musta Notta Gotta Lotta" and "Me and Billy the Kid."

- Randy Rodda

Buffalo Wax

Last Conservative

My Old Self

The members of Last Conservative are a hearty bunch. Over the past few years, they've taken the teasing about their youthful looks and only being allowed in bars to perform with a smile. They kept playing, practicing and writing as life took them past high school into college or beyond. They've emerged on this guitar-driven EP with a mature and refined sound, presenting a polished and passionate trio of songs. It starts with frontman T.J. Zindle who always lets it all hang out with his introspective lyrics and unrestrained performances. His vocals here are upfront and in your face as if to say "you will hear these words." He's also gone beyond singing to put on a hearty vocal performance. The epic "My Old Self" is much more powerful because Zindle gives words the exact emotion needed - vulnerability, sorrow, anger and redemption. Instruments are worked the same with Zindle and Roger Bryan's guitars gently ringing one moment and crashing another. A melodic guitar softly opens "Out of Nowhere," a quiet emotional exercise that painfully builds as lyrics expose the hopelessness of a dying romance. "Wait and see, she's tired of the same old me," Zindle wearily sings. Relationships are again explored in "The Business Side of Things," a rock song with dreamy little interludes.

-Toni Ruberto

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