February '04

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George Cables
Looking for the Light – Muse FX Records

The nasal, airy song of a soprano sax, the steady tick, tick, tick of a cymbal counting out three above the sullen drone of a bass, and a piano filling the spaces with full, rich chords. That’s how George Cables’ latest recording begins. The pensive opener, “Looking for the Light,” is voiced so that each instrument creates its own mood of vulnerability while the quartet as a whole paints a musical picture of life as beautiful and fragile as daffodils standing in fields of tall grass.

On piano, Cables, joined by bassist Peter Washington, drummer Victor Lewis and sax player Gary Bartz, travels from contemplative to festive, sensuous and then audacious with his next three originals “Klimo,” Senorita De Aranjuez” and “Alice Brown.” Later, he mingles Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and Eric Satie’s “Gymnopedie” in among his original tunes. He spices the old tunes with altered pacing and interesting chord colorings.

Cables has created a solid recording that in turns sings, cries, daydreams and celebrates. —Deborah Young

No Doubt
The Singles, 1992-2003 – Interscope Records

While Gwen Stefani, no doubt (Ha, ha...sorry, couldn’t help it) set the absolute standard for pre-pubescent-looking white girls in tank tops singing ska, it would seem a tad soon to release a “best of” album. But then waiting till there’s a good reason just wouldn’t be American, would it?

So get ready (whether you like it or not) to revel in the long-lost joy of hearing songs like their classic hit “Spiderweb,” which is about phones or something, and of course that other classic, “Just a Girl,” which is either a song about a complex political diatribe against the movement of power from the two-party system to a multitude of miniature voting blocks…or a girl. Recapture the wonder and thrill that you felt the first time you heard “Hey Baby” or, of course, the heartbreak of that all-time sentimental favorite of married men everywhere, “Don’t Speak.”

So in conclusion, if you are a huge fan of No Doubt, this CD is a collection of songs you probably already own. —Brandon Whitehead

Paul Westerberg
Come Feel Me Tremble – Vagrant Records

This low-budget hi-fi disc from the former Replacements front man is a respectable addition to his legacy, with a few top-notch songs amongst mostly fair-to-middling material.

Westerberg put effort into “Dirty Diesel,” a muddy, punk-blues rocker replete with electric fills, wheezing harmonica and a one-chord bridge. “Hear my engine whine,” he calls, holding that last vowel — and what you hear is a legend writing to suit his voice.

But when he declares himself “Wild and Lethal,” it sounds like a bluff. Likely this is typical Westerberg wit, which is either spare on this disc or buried in the mix along with most of his vocals.

“Knockin’ Em Back” stands out with a catchy ragtime verse alternating with a high-charged power-chord push. The winner here is “Meet Me Down the Alley.” This poignant acoustic reminiscence is the one time Westerberg lets his voice carry a song, and the spare production avoids the over sentimentality that tarnished “Here Comes a Regular.”

Except for maybe a Grandpa Boy record, there is no one better than Paul Westerberg to lend you under-the-radar cool. —Paul Smith

Azure McCall
The Gift – Muse FX Records

First impressions are often the ones that last. Azure McCall has made a good one, mostly, with her debut The Gift. The Hawaiian jazz singer lends her clear, sonorous alto voice to a diverse repertoire that includes standards such as “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe,” Joni Mitchell’s “Shades of Scarlett Conquering” and originals such as Tennyson Stephens’ “Hello Love.”

McCall seems most comfortable with ballads. The best of these are “Hello Love,” “Shades of Scarlett Conquering” and “Not a Day Goes By.” McCall employs a laid-back vocal style with a halting, conversational phrasing that suits the ballads.

But the laid-back style doesn’t always work. For example, on “Change,” the band swings but McCall doesn’t seem to completely unleash her big voice. There’s time for polish and there’s time for unbridled vocal expression, but McCall seems chained to a vocal style that’s buffed to a shine.

Not every song works, but McCall has shown enough skill here to hint of potential greatness. With any luck, jazz lovers will get a chance to discover more shades of Azure McCall. — Deborah Young

Velvet Freeze
Wearwithal – J. Suede Productions

Back in the early nineties two members of this local three-piece group — bassist Stephanie Shelton and drummer Dave Handley — were in a band called Phantasmagoria (yes, that’s a real word), which happened to be one of the strangest bands ever heard in the Midwest. With the addition of Steph’s brother Josh on vocals, they became the more rock-pop centered Velvet Freeze (which, if it was a drink in a bar, would have a lot of vodka in it), and produced their first album Nectarine back in ‘99.

Five years and a slew of local shows later, they have returned with Wearwithal, a 10-track studio album that showcases their preference for a sort of funk-atmosphere sound that’s heavy on simple plays of rhythm and harmony, particularly on tracks like “All I Need” and “Leaving Me.”

These peeps still play quite a few shows in ol’ KC, so findin’ them shouldn’t be to hard...and after all, vodka is the best drink during winter, don’t you think? —Brandon Whitehead

The Bobcats
La Cocina del Puerco – Self-produced

Expecting some loose rockabilly or jangled country heavy on the hurt from this local duo The Bobcats? Think again. What we’ve got here from Dave Patmore, lead vocals and guitar, and Shems Nickle on percussion (including an electric “doumbek,” a Pakistani-made drum made of nickel and brass) is a big “disconnect” between their band’s name and the music the boys deliver. That’s not to say they ain’t good…they’re good and seasoned, playing originals (mostly written by Patmore) covering love, loss, finding oneself and the usual screwing ordinary folks get from life.

La Concina del Puerco is a surprisingly choice collection of tunes, showcasing some very choice musicianship not lacking in fullness or emotion. Standouts include “Two Faces,” a reggae-like “On My Way To Jamaica” with John Taylor on vocals and “The Duct Tape Song” with the line, “I’m still one-piece of duct tape…from patchin’ up my life.”

Music lovers wanting to shake-off that “night before” can attend The Bobcats’ “Breakfast Party” at Georgie Porgie’s, 8111 Wornall, each Saturday and Sunday morning. It won’t be difficult to relate. —Bruce Rodgers

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