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Sun Midnight Sun
Sun Midnight Sun
Price: £8.40

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It bounces between pastoral folk and big-city pop/rock, often blurring the lines. Great crooner and songwriter., 15 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Sun Midnight Sun (Audio CD)
Sara Watkins throws a bone to her old Nickel Creek fans by opening up "Sun Midnight Sun" with "The Foothills", one of the album's two instrumental numbers.
It's a zippy bluegrass tune, driven forward by Watkins' furious fiddle playing, and it's the closest she ever comes to the rustic sound of her former band.
Watkins doesn't completely forsake the farm for the city on this solo release, but she does stretch her arms quite a bit, pulling in everything from quirky indie pop to West Coast folk-rock to harmony-drenched Americana.
She nets a few big-name collaborators, too, with people like Jackson Browne, Benmont Tench, and Fiona Apple (who lays down some deep harmonies on a galloping, spaghetti western version of the Everly Brothers' "You're the One I Love") stopping by for a song or two.
This is clearly the Sara Watkins show, though, even when she relies on producer Blake Mills to help her co-write the album's best tunes, and she's never sounded better as a singer.
She croons like a country star on "Be There", a sad-eyed, twangy duet whose guitar riff pays tribute to Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time", and chastises a reluctant lover with a sharp, flirty coo on "When It Pleases You".
The rest of "Sun Midnight Sun" bounces between pastoral folk and big-city pop/rock, often blurring the lines between the two, and the album comes full circle with its closer, "Take Up Your Spade", a campfire singalong that roughly approximates Watkins' more acoustic beginnings.
It's not as polished as the other tracks, but it's a helpful reminder that even when you strip back the eccentric arrangements and lush production, Watkins can still deliver. A. Leahey


Dreams
Dreams
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £9.26

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some great numbers, but not his best! Very enjoyable as a whole., 15 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Dreams (Audio CD)
On "Dreams", Brian Culbertson attempts to dig further into the vein he opened on 2010's XII, where he seamlessly married adult-oriented R&B to contemporary jazz.
In fact, "Dreams" feels like a bookend of sorts. He employs an alternating cast of studio aces who include Alex Al, John "Jubu" Smith, Eric Marienthal, Michael Stever, Ray Parker, Jr., Rex Rideout, and Rob "Fonksta" Bacon, as well as a trio of vocalists: Stokley Williams (Mint Condition), Vivian Green, and Noel Gourdin.
There are some stellar numbers here, including the Williams vehicle, "No Limits", a midtempo babymaker. Culbertson's acoustic piano, Smith's guitar, and some pronounced loops ride atop the bassline to frame the singer's mellifluous tenor. This cut is the sweet spot where neo-soul, adult R&B, and contemporary jazz create a classy pop sound.
Vivian Green's moment, "Still Here", juxtaposes her taut vocal against acoustic piano and Rideout's fat synth bass with an insistent loop. The result is dramatic.
Opening instrumental "Later Tonight" features some nice horn work from Marienthal, Stever -- and Culbertson on trombone -- and very fine guitar from Bacon. Its melody is instantly recognizable with the horns being used sparely but effectively in the mix.
"In the City" may be the strongest of the instrumentals, with a deep bass groove and chugging, almost dubwise, rhythm. Here too, the horns fill the backdrop as Smith's guitar accents the bassline.
All of these cuts are in the first half of the album.
"You're My Music", sung by Gourdin, is a nice soul-pop bubbler and the title track, with its infectious melody and contrasting acoustic and electric guitars, offers a wonderful palette of textures.
The three closing instrumentals, however, are less distinguishable.
They seem to blunt the impact of the set's previous cuts rather than provide the kind of balance -- one suspects -- Culbertson was looking to create.
As "Chapter Two" of XII, this works well, but as an album, "Dreams" doesn't reach its predecessor's heights. T Jurek


Impressions
Impressions
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £6.30

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Self-indulgent and, at times, dispiriting., 27 May 2012
This review is from: Impressions (Audio CD)
Chris Botti has been so good in the past, making great stuff I am still enjoying a lot.
His last excellent record, maybe, was "When I Fall In Love".
And probably that one marks the start of the slow descent of Chris towards the so called "MOR Jazz - Jazz of Mass Destruction - Snooze Jazz".
There is an element which may have been the catalyst in Botti's tranformation: his meeting with Sting, who has been immensely influential.
Sting's first guest appearance was on 1999's album "Slowing Down The World". Botti started touring with Sting promoting the British artist's album "Brand New Day"
The two talented musicians got a strong mutual impact, even in personal life.
Everybody knows that Sting loves Italy and lives in Italy.
Voilà!!
Chris visits Italy, falls in love with the country's culture, classical and pop music and lifestyle.
Chris keeps following advise from ex-Police leader, and a new album "Italia" follows.
Pictures of beautiful Tuscany are taken, and the Italian fashion photographer Fabrizio Ferri - who has taken all Sting's latest portraits - is hired to make - from then on - all records' front and back covers. Check this out.
Botti's immersion in Italian culture is deep and passionate, he listens to Italian music, operas, popular songs, Pavarotti, Bocelli, with usual suspects Celine Dion, David Foster...and lately the ubiquitous Tony Bennett (in the wake of that cheesy duets' caravanseai fashion, do not forget 2011 Bocelli's Concerto: One Night In Central Park, where Italian popopera star sings the same, same "En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor").
He gets accustomed to that syle of making music, TV friendly, kind of cheesy, very fashionable at that time, like all CDs by Pavarotti, Pavarotti & friends..mixing classical and pop into a questionable hybrid.
Paradoxally, almost at the same time, Sting and Botti make, each on his own, two 'live' records, which are, in many ways, specular or at least very similar: "Live In Boston" (on it Sting is appearing guest) and "Live In Berlin", both released with a Video DVD.
NOW, this is "the Chris Botti" that we find on his latest "Impressions".
Exactly the same formulaic mess : classical music, Spanish/Italian/French, classics, Italian and Brazilian pop, tango, Bocelli, David Foster & CO.
Only the venerable Benedetto is not present...don't understand why.
Personally I am not that crazy about this record and the fashion started by Pavarotti, the Three Tenors, David Foster, Bocelli, Tony Bennett...Very commercial, crowd pleaser, "as seen on TV"...
There was a time a great artist,Mark Isham, excellent jazz/new age 'solo' trumpeter, in a way a lttle similar to Chris. Now he is composing music for films..... He made good stuff like Pure Mark Isham [Us Import] and Blue Sun...
Then, slowly, he became a little too obvious and snoozy and less engaging.
If Chris keeps going the current way, he will end up composing for the movies' soundtracks just like Mark Isham is doing now.
What a pity. Now it seems he's falling easily into the dangerously pretentious 'duets' trap, just like Bocelli, Foster and T. Bennett...
The CD, at times, is self indugent, too boring and depressing.
It's time for him to stop collaborations with 'saccharine' mass producers like David Foster and A. Bocelli. And eventually to move on with a new producer, and eventually without Sting as well.
Please, do not call this music JAZZ.

P.S. Fabrizio Ferri has been Sting's photographer for years. Since Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner settled in Tuscany. Read above.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 26, 2012 1:36 AM BST


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