Producer and DJ Kaskade released his debut artist album last year, and now returns with a follow-up that is a richly satisfying blend of funky house music and slow and sultry, R&B-tinged grooves. Instead of butting heads, the two distinct musical styles complement each other within the context of the disc, giving it a musical breadth and soul uncommon in dance music.
The disc's signature is how Kaskade (Ryan Raddon) proves himself equally adept at turning out great floor-filling house tracks like "Steppin' Out" and "Sweet Love" while also writing mellow ballads with quality melodies and rich musical ambience - particularly "Strum" featuring Amy Michelle on vocals, and "Soundtrack to the Soul" with Anthony Green.
They are among several vocalists joining Kaskade on the disc, and their range of voices enhances his songwriting and production skills as he smoothly eases through dance, soul, and even a taste of funk on "Yeah Right."
It's discs like this, with the quality of its original songs, the strong melodies and vocals, and stylistic diversity, that will move dance music forward.
- RICHARD PATON
Jesse Sykes' second disc is as much a series of haunting, moody meditations as it is a collection of songs, conjuring the ghost of Johnny Cash with its dirge-like waltzes and crawling tempos. The 10 songs on "Oh, My Girl," which will be released Tuesday, require listeners with patience and the willingness to wait for the subtle pleasures each cut reveals. Somewhere between alt.country, Cash, and the chamber pop of Nico - thanks to Sykes' deep, rough voice - the songs are reminiscent of the Cowboy Junkies, Emmylou Harris, and even Robbie Robertson's solo work. But Sykes is an original, too, albeit a tough one to characterize.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
Diffie, who rose to prominence largely on the success of his mellow country ballads, shares this disc with some high-steppers. He continues to show his writing skills, too, as he co-authored 5 of the 12 songs. The melody hooks are typical of Diffie on tunes that tell a story while the music keeps the lyrics flowing smoothly. He offers much more than hum-drum ballads and nonsensical stuff, reaching out to listeners with some serious and poignant issues too.
- KEN ROSENBAUM
For Stefon Harris, who may be the most innovative vibraphonist since Milt Jackson, this latest offering with his new band "Blackout" is a wonderful synthesis of funky jazz rhythms blended over a mix of acoustic and electronic instruments. Casey Benjamin, on alto sax, plays with fire while a rhythm section of keyboardist Marc Carey, bassist Darryl Hall, and drummer Terreon Gully lays down a foundation that creates moods of Jamaican and street sounds that roar. With Harris, we once again find a performer trying to break free from an increasingly restrictive old-school definition of jazz.
- LARRY ROBERTS