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Published: Saturday, 5/17/2008

Sounds: Your Vegas has a winner with debut disc

Your Vegas - actually from a small town near Leeds in northern England and now resident in New York- is making its mark on the musical map in a hurry. This magnificent debut, due for release Tuesday, is filled with muscular rhythms, walls of guitars, and majestic melodies.

Echoes of other bands? Sure. There certainly are reminders of U2 at times, for example. But Your Vegas has its own sound.

That much is obvious from the rocking opening track "It Makes My Heart Break" which finds its stride on the chorus, the soaring melody rising above a bed of strong rhythm section and massive guitar sound.

There are slower, more reflective moments, like "The Way The War Was Won" and "Salvador," but it's the potent rock of such songs as "In My Head" and the brilliant "Aurora" that set this band apart on what will surely prove to be one of the most impressive debuts of the year.

- RICHARD PATON

Bell formed his first blues band at age 15 while attending high school in 1975 on the west side of Chicago. The son of blues harmonica great Carey Bell, the young Bell spent many formative years among other blues artists.

He also spent several years delving into the sounds of gospel with his grandparents in Mississippi and Alabama. It was just a matter of time before he merged the passion of gospel with the nuanced, rocking styles of Chicago blues.

At age 20, he joined Koko Taylor's band, where he further honed his talents as a guitarist. In 2007, he collected some of the blues industry's most prestigious awards for his guitar skills. Along the way, in a career spanning more than 30 years, Bell continued to develop a fine singing voice that complements his fiery guitar work.

Here, he has put together a fine assortment of 12 familiar Chicago blues classics, including a couple by Willie Dixon. Bell's style is unique, with the undeniable feel of gospel, but it remains solid blues through all its emotional underpinnings.

- KEN ROSENBAUM

You can't go wrong with the venerable Yellowjackets, a group that's been around in one form or another for 27 years and continues to be on the cutting edge of modern jazz. Add the hot-jamming licks of jazz-fusion guitarist Mike Stern, who's toured with the likes of Miles Davis and Jaco Pastorius over a career that began with Blood, Sweat & Tears about 30 years ago, and there's the potential for something magical.

Still, as good as this disc is, there's something keeping it from exploding with the energy and excitement one would expect from such a robust pairing. Perhaps it's the confines of the studio. Or the arrangements themselves, which tend to be a little tedious, methodical, and leaning on the predictable pop side.

The musicianship's technically fine, but the improvisation one expects from what could be a mind-bending experience is missing. Put another way, the disc is vanilla ice cream. Good vanilla, mind you - yet something that might leave you a little unsatisfied if you are expecting more, which you should.

Stern, whose contribution includes two of the 10 compositions, is the first featured guitarist to appear on a Yellowjackets album in 15 years. Scheduled for released Tuesday, the disc is an outgrowth of a collaboration between Stern and the Yellowjackets at last summer's Montreal Jazz Festival.

- TOM HENRY

Mike Zito has already carved out a musical niche for himself, even though he probably doesn't know it.

With his soulful voice, bluesy arrangements, and professional sheen, Zito's the ideal opening act for solid artists like Bonnie Raitt or John Hiatt. His music is perfect as a warm-up for those more experienced and edgier musicians, and would play well on a summer night in a shed somewhere in the middle of America.

Zito has a voice that echoes Al Green and a style that resembles blue-eyed soul singers like Paul Thorn and Jonny Lang. "Today," due for release Tuesday, exudes good taste, with arrangements that are equal parts soul and blues, but with a poppy veneer that keeps things safe.

His reworking of Prince's funk masterpiece "Little Red Corvette" is a sultry, sexy simmer and the opening track "Love Like This" is a nice, summer anthem.

It's all good, but over the course of 13 songs, the St. Louis singer/songwriter loses a little creative steam and the disc becomes a bit tedious. With an array of ultra-professional session musicians backing him, Zito might benefit from working with a more rough and ready road band.

- ROD LOCKWOOD



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