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Published: Wednesday, 10/13/2010

R&B cruise runs into choppy waters

So, you're cruising the Caribbean, the sun's hot, the drinks are cool, the pool is inviting, and the music… Well, you might think the music would be something a little Jimmy Buffett-ish, maybe some steel drums, or perhaps reggae.

But blues? Yep. That's what you get on the R&B cruise. As you nurse your sunburn and another cocktail, songs ring out with tales of how my baby left me, there's a hellhound on my trail, and I sold my soul at the crossroads.

And now the soundtrack to that cruise is here for all to enjoy as singer/guitarist Walker and a slew of bold-faced blues names - Johnny Winter, Tommy Castro, and Kenny Neal, among many others - get down with the 12-bar on a live, 11-track recording.

There's a fair amount to appreciate here. Walker is an expressive and vibrant blues vocalist, his band is locked into the grooves, and there are good parts to the disc. The horn-driven "Eyes Like A Cat" has an R&B vibe, "You're Gonna Make Me Cry" is slow and soulful, and Winter's slide guitar is smokin' on "Ain't That Cold."

However, there's also an excess of routine shuffles and, at times, some rather average guitar-playing. Maybe it all sounds good when you're cruisin' for a bluesin' on the ocean, but here on dry land - not so much.


What we have here is a situation in which one of modern reggae's most unique and inspirational voices, four-time Grammy nominee Buju Banton, is in danger of being silenced.

The unorthodox and irrepressible Banton, who's been sitting in a Florida jail since his arrest last December on suspicion of conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine, was to learn this week if a Florida judge would allow him to be released from custody on bond pending his retrial, which is expected to be done this December.

The Jamaican reggae star, who's been on the music scene more than 20 years, had a mistrial declared Sept. 27. Jurors had remained deadlocked after three days of deliberations following a four-day trial. Banton faces up to life in prison if convicted.

This latest album from Banton is another winner that peers into familiar themes of love, life, and happiness with a social conscience. Banton's ebullient style endears him to listeners whether he's doing traditional roots or rock; he can strike people as being carefree in attitude but also very caring in terms of substance.

One of his songs, "In the Air," is an especially heartfelt and memorable testament to the beauty of music and the power of positive thinking.


CCB's frontman Howie Vaughn describes the group's musical style as "Cali country," linking its deep-groove, hybrid California base and R&B hip-hop edge with smooth Tennessee country.

The guys started in 2006 and made their indie debut in 2008 with "Rollin'," gaining critical praise and new fans as their success and hardened country/pop sound swiftly led them to larger venues.

Four of the tunes here are revamped versions of numbers on CCB's original release. Along with nine other new tracks, that simultaneous look back and forward helps give rise to the album's optimistic title.

Vaughn calls on his background of hard knocks for a passionate sound and lyrics that don't come across as phony. He earned his stripes as an 8-year-old sneaking into honky tonks and later as a teenager riding saddle broncs on the amateur rodeo circuit. If mainstream country is just too ordinary for your taste, try a bit of CCB.


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