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Kate Campbell

Wandering Strange

[Eminent Records] ****

There was no doubt a recording like "Wandering Strange" would surface in the evolving artistry of Kate Campbell, the daughter of a Sledge, Miss., Baptist preacher. Campbell, who didn't arrive at her career until about 30, has drawn critical praise for each of her last four works, "Moonpie Dreams," "Visions of Plenty," "Songs From the Levee" and "Rosaryville." Her sense of history, regional loyalty and literary skills ring true from a voice direct, simple and beautiful.

The 12 songs on "Wandering Strange" explore the gospel through the purity of time-tested 18th and 19th century hymns, a handful of her own works and even Gordon Lightfoot's "The House You Live In." Backed by an able crew that includes frequent cohort Spooner Oldham on keyboards and Walt Aldridge on acoustic guitar, mandolin and bouzouki, Campbell has concocted a feast for the spirit. And despite the context, you don't have to buy in to Religion Inc. to appreciate a great story, lesson and performance.

The artist's deft writing skills are featured in three songs, "10,000 Lures," "The Last Song" and "Bear It Away," the latter an elegy to the four girls killed in the infamous bombing of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. "The Last Song," a milestone on the road to Calvary, separates Christ from mere mortals, who, knowing their fate, would reminisce about "the long, strange trip it had been."

All of Campbell's work is highly recommended, and "Wandering Strange" is no exception. She's one of a kind.

- Randy Rodda


Booker Ervin

Structurally Sound

[Blue Note] *** 1/2

Inside the feisty minority culture of jazz, one of the feistiest and most thriving cults of them all is devoted to tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin, who died of kidney failure in 1970 at the age of 39. (It was a decidedly bad era for tenor players of full-throated passion and abandon; John Coltrane was only 40 when he died three years earlier.) Nothing about Ervin presented either his own time or posterity with the stuff of jazz legend. He looked like a subway conductor, and his tunes were unprepossessing, usually vehicles for his own improvisations. They weren't the kind that later generations of jazz players remember.

But he is an utterly unique player in the history of jazz - a saxophonist of monumental power and galvanic authority whose diamond-hard tenor sound is like no one else before or since. This disc - originally issued on World Pacific and reissued in a cluster of largely forgettable discs - is as good a place as any to start with a jazz player of blistering, sometimes bewildering power.

Don't let the conventional melody statements with trumpet player Charles Tolliver fool you. Once Ervin has room to solo, he can tear your head off. On, for instance, Frank Foster's benevolently swinging little ditty "Shiny Stockings," Ervin comes on, after the melody statement, like a characteristic combination of Texas revival tent evangelist and melody shredding abstractionist.

He gave the music of Charles Mingus and Randy Weston (soon to be heard in the Albright-Knox Jazz series) some of their finest moments but provided all-too-few opportunities to hear his own discs at maximum level. The good ones - and this is definitely one of those - are rare and more than a little precious.

- Jeff Simon


Bart Bryant


[Bart Music] *** 1/2

Bart Bryant is a transplanted Baltimore native who has absorbed the grit and gristle of T-Bone Walker's native Texas. Lots of wonderful things fill this disc. Blues, R&B, jazz and guitar rock wrap around sweet love songs and fond memories of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Bryant seems firmly ensconced in the Austin style of hard-driving, well-crafted music, and his sturdy blues rock and flexible tenor voice are reminiscent of Delbert McClinton.

The first songs on this self-produced CD leap out and grab your ears like a rodeo cowboy holding onto a twitchy mustang. In a perfect world, "Take Me" and "Magic Mind" would ride high on the pop/rock charts. Four ringing solo chords introduce "Take Me," which settles into a rocking chair groove that swings like mad while blues chords settle into familiar territory on "Magic Mind." This second song combines psychedelic lyrics delivered with an emotion-drenched voice that eventually doubles the guitar line in the manner of jazz guitarist George Benson. "Indefinable Feeling" continues the jazz feeling.

Stylistically, the four-man group, which includes Floyd Domino on keyboards, Tim Dauncey on bass and drummer Ernie Durawa, use the blues as a point of departure. For instance, "Still Feels Good" is a southern-fried, romper stomper that leads one to believe their live show must really rock. "Sad and Blues" is neither sad nor particularly bluesy but it spreads dollops of Domino's bluesy piano licks all over the place urged on by Bryant's insistent, whining guitar.

If there's any doubt as to Bryant's roots, just listen to "Stevie Ray," his autobiographical tribute to the late Texas twanger, or "Chooses the Blues," a slow, 9-minute excursion into the emotional intensity that is the blues. His two ballads, "Shelly" and "All Alone," are serviceable but do not measure up to the more virile rockers. Bryant's quote from his Texas compadre, "Stevie Ray," pretty much sums up his approach to music, "Play It Like You Feel It." "Bart" is available via email at:

- Jim Santella


Tim Easton

The Truth About Us

[NewWest Records] ***

Tim Easton puts another solid notch in the belt of the burgeoning alt-country scene with the release of "The Truth About Us." The guitarist/singer marries the ethereal with the gritty on his second disc since leaving his former band, the Haynes Boys. If Roger McGuinn joined Pink Floyd it might have resulted in something like "The Truth About Us," which is to say it is somewhere between infectious and interplanetary.

Easton has an assuming and sometimes vulnerable voice that fits the material well. He's also an adept writer who made a smart decision in presenting the material in a full-band format. There's strong support from drummer Ken Coomer, bassist John Stirratt and multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett (all members of alt-country heroes Wilco), who wisely play to the strength of the songs rather than their own.

Most of the cuts are of a folk-country variety with studio embellishment. For the most part, the combination works well. But a dreamscape is ultimately more enjoyable when it's based in a song that would hold up being strummed on an acoustic guitar. "Downtown Lights" is a casualty of the marriage because it doesn't get beyond the studio gimmickry of the late '80s that, say, EMF or Jesus Jones would employ. The best cut, "Happy Now," is bouncy and enjoyable folk-rock in the vein of the Byrds and Tom Petty. Easton is easily at his most catchy when he leaves the writing to others - namely J.P. Olsen on "Happy Florida" and "Don't Walk Alone."

This is a solid effort and further proof that today's most promising singer-songwriters are emerging from the alt-country genre.

- Ray Hogan, The Stamford Advocate

Buffalo Wax

The Contortionists

Get Sweet for You

[22/Atom Smash Records]

Rob Falgiano is a man of words - just look inside this CD jacket where it took the smallest of type to fit the lyrics. If you read them before hearing the music, the painfully reflective words would signal "Danger: Dark, Ominous Music Ahead."

But that's not what Falgiano is about. The gifted writer's passion for great melodic pop music has been evident in his own songwriting from his days with Plaster Sandals, as a solo artist, and now with the Contortionists. He is what he is - take him or leave him. The music on this 14-song debut doesn't stray from what we've previously heard. It's fun, rhythmic pop - lighthearted and danceable with witty, biting lyrics ala the Housemartins. Arrangements are nice and airy and the production quite polished. I especially loved hearing the subtleties of drummer Rob Lynch.

There are great hooks ("World a Little Cold") and wonderful retro flourishes ("Lounge in B Flat"). A sprightly rhythm carries Falgiano's prayers for a mate in "Girlfriend" and his reflections of the game of love in "Love's the Sound." The comforting "Sunshine of My Love" projects the relaxed feel of a summer breeze and "Wish I Could Climb" is a lighthearted romp through the sheets.

When the Contortionists release this CD Saturday evening in Mohawk Place, it will be as a newly revamped trio featuring Falgiano, Lynch and bassist Mike Morrissey. There were, however, a rich array of guest musicians on this CD who should be noted, especially former Contortionists Guillermo Izquierdo and Tim Mroz.

- Toni Ruberto

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