It takes a special kind of audacity for a young band to make a disc that's aggressively interesting in an era when one poorly received release can mean commercial purgatory.
So give Baton Rouge, La.'s, Benjy Davis Project major props for reaching far beyond formulaic songwriting for something special. The young band's third release, named after the small town of Angie, La., is a finely honed valentine to pop craftsmanship.
A six-piece group that features a piano front and center in the arrangements, the band is as adept at big, rocking Coldplay-like anthems as it is finely wrought finger-picked ballads. Tracks like the purposeful opener "Wait"; the funny, stop-start "Do It With the Lights On," and "Soul On Fire" have the sound of a far more experienced band.
The Project's about as Southern-sounding as the Dave Matthews Band, another group from the South that takes a crafty pop approach, so don't expect a heavy blues influence in the Allman Brothers mode. But "The Angie House" offers up melodies that come wrapped in Spanish moss, and the end result is a warm effort that's a reflection of a band that has a passel of good albums still to come.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
The second release from Wideband Network featuring Toledo-area musician Casey Clark along with his cross-country, online collaborator Caesar Filori finds the duo making music that mixes elements of electronica with pop and rock. That direction is evident from the opening title track. It has an electronically focused arrangement and an almost breakbeat rhythm, but the vocal melody has a distinct pop flavor. The disc, to be released Tuesday, is impressive. It's musically sophisticated with strong songwriting and a keen sense of melody. And DJs/producers will find several tracks that beg for remixes.
- RICHARD PATON
In a blistering hot live set at New York City's House of Tribes on Dec. 15, 2002, Marsalis pays homage to jazz greats by covering work such as Thelonious Monk's "Green Chimneys" and Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee." There's nothing pretentious or stiff on this, his third album for the Blue Note label. What you get is easygoing swing with warmth and conviction, with Marsalis stepping away from the large orchestral setting and slipping back into the comfort of a small jazz combo. It's a chance to hear the classically trained bandleader cut loose with some fine improvisational solo work.
- TOM HENRY
After 35 years as a reggae pioneer, Burning Spear has lost none of his passion in socially conscious songs that take aim at oppression wherever it exists. But while the message is driven home with contemporary exhortations, the great music remains true to its roots, with a loping sound that this legendary artist helped perfect. This might be one of his best albums, and his vocals have lost nothing over the years. A few numbers are destined to become reggae anthems, especially his performance of the enchanting and hypnotic "Friends."
- KEN ROSENBAUM
LOUNGEGROOVES, VOL. 1, Various Artists (Koch) On this 2-CD compilation of generally low-key house music, the beats are there but the ambience is rather mellow, and the tracks feature plenty of vocals as well as some Latin and even world-beat influences. R.P.
ABOUT, tok tok tok (BHM) tok tok tok s fifth album has some attractive qualities. Lead singer Tokunbo Akinro s vocals beg comparison to Roberta Flack set to a jazz swing. There are occasional bursts from saxophonist Morten Klein, who also plays guitar and other instruments. But the music is generally a soothing look at everyday life, with Akinro s vocals in the forefront. T.H.
DRAGON, Jake Shimabukuro (Hitchhike) This is a far cry from what passed as ukulele music in the hands of Arthur Godfrey, who helped popularize the instrument in this country. Ukulele wizard Shimabukuro plays jazz, blues, funk, classical, bluegrass, folk, flamenco and rock with subtle background accompaniment, plucking hard-to-believe sounds from an elementary instrument. K.R.