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CD reivews: Singer's work with just piano shows her strengths

| Sunday, March 16, 2008

'You Are There' Roberta Gambarini and Hank Jones (Emarcy) Three stars

"You Are There" proves what was suggested when singer Roberta Gambarini appeared with a big band at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in the North Side. She shows hearing her is even better when the sound isn't cluttered with a collection of horns. Her work with the Dizzy Gillespie All Stars Big Band was excellent, but it is even better when the only other musician is piano wiz Hank Jones. She sings a collection of 14 songs, most of them standards such as "Stardust," "Lush Life" and "Come Sunday." Many are lesser-known, but equally good, such as Benny Carter's bebop-flavored "People Time" and Irving Berlin's "Suppertime." Her singing is excellent throughout, but, making things even better, she gets great accompaniment from Jones. The only weakness to the album is the lack of fast songs, but Gambarini's work is so strong it is easy to pass up that as a complaint.

-- Bob Karlovits


'Blues Twilight' Richard Boulger (B-1 Music) Two and a half stars

Subtlety is not part of Richard Boulger's trumpet playing. He has a powerful approach and obviously a set of chops to produce it. "Blues Twilight" is an album mindful of some of the Freddie Hubbard classics of the '60s. The opening tune, "The Eternal One," even has an opening that sounds like Hubbard's lead in to "Pensativa." Appropriately enough, the album jacket has a quote of praise from trumpeter Hubbard. The album is built around 12 originals from Boulger that range from the driving "Have You Met Mr. Jones" to calmer "Tears" and "A Flower for Mary." The post-hard-bop nature of the songs is nothing new, but fits in well with the forceful style of all the players. Recording of the album started Oct. 18, 2005, before the death of pianist John Hicks, who is on eight of the 12 tracks. Anthony Wonsey does a good job replacing him, even if he has a little less-powerful sound than that of the wonderful Hicks.

-- Bob Karlovits


'A Mad & Faithful Telling' Devotchka (Anti) Two and a half stars

There's a blissful, unpretentious quality to Devotchka's "A Mad & Faithful Telling" that transcends the kitchen-sink, "everything fits" genre jumping. Known for incorporating elements of Eastern European music, the Denver-based quartet seems to be intent on spanning the musical globe on the new release. "Along the Way" is heralded by a lovely, mariachi-flavored trumpet, and "The Clockwise Witness" starts with a tinkling toy piano before the melody is buffeted by an undercurrent of violins.

Devotchka, however, seems to work best within the exotic parameters of Slavic and neo-Gypsy musics. Eyes closed, "Blessing in Disguise" seems to be coming from a cafe on the banks of the Danube River, and the instrumental "Comrade Z" evokes the feeling of a Marx Brothers film set in the Ukraine.

-- Regis Behe


'Soul Speak' Michael McDonald (Universal) Two and a half stars

On two albums of classic Motown covers, McDonald proved that his voice, like Rod Stewart's, translates well to all sorts of material. But with this collection, McDonald may have gone back to the well of old soul standards once too often. You can tell because about half way through, the album loses its thematic thread and comes unstitched. Things begin promisingly, with a spry cover of Aretha Franklin's hit "I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)." But even though songs like "Love T.K.O." and "For Once in My Life" are beautifully produced, this white-maned wailer simply can't touch the originals. He redeems himself with a wan, lovely version of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic." But he's already wandering from the soul path. By the time McDonald gets to "You Don't Know Me," Eddy Arnold's country chestnut, he's way out in the brier patch.

-- The Philadelphia Inquirer


'Warpaint' The Black Crowes (Silver Arrow/Megaforce) Three stars

The Brothers Robinson -- dirtball guitarist Richard, swaggering singer Chris -- mine the hard coal of pop's southerly past to form diamonds of countryfied blues, gospel and hillbilly soul. That deeply nuanced burr and aged-whiskey whine seeps through their every chord and pore. From the rickety ruckus of "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution" to the open-prairie moan of "Whoa Mule," there's Mississippi mud in the blue water mixing Warpaint's true colors. Having slide guitarist Luther Dickinson on the Allmans-like ride helps Richard take to the starry "Movin' on Down the Line" with greasy ease. And covering Charlie Jackson's "God's Got It" with a soulful kick is a blessing. But it's Chris Robinson's beat-dog howl, snippy whinnying and hippie-ish cheer guiding tunes sadly ruminative ("Oh Josephine") and sunshiny ("Evergreen") through their dustiest paces that makes "Warpaint" battered. It's just like the difference between an old leather jacket and a new "distressed" one. You can't fake beat.

-- The Philadelphia Inquirer


Stronger' Carlene Carter (Yep Roc) Two and a half stars

"I'm so cool," Carlene Carter brags, with her usual wink, on the frisky number of the same title from her first album in 13 years. Back in the early '90s, before she bottomed out with drugs and alcohol, the daughter of June Carter Cash and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash really did seem like the coolest chick in country. Now back on her feet -- and a grandmother, to boot -- the former Mrs. Nick Lowe sounds as if she is again. "Stronger" exudes a lot of the vivacious intelligence and charm of Carter's most popular work. The singer and songwriter delivers crisp, twangy rockers; sweet, acoustic-textured numbers that echo her Carter Family heritage; and some exceptional ballads, including the title song ("What Doesn't Kill Me Makes Me Stronger") and "It Takes One to Know Me," which was originally recorded by her stepdad.

-- The Philadelphia Inquirer

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