cds: Now Hear This 

Jerry Joseph & The Jackmormons, Essential Mix "Mixed By Pete Tong" , Jerry Portnoy "Down in the Mood Room", Isabelle's Gift "Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms"

It's a good thing the band didn't follow through on that plan. Its fifth CD, but first by the current-three-piece lineup -- shows that Joseph has a talent for far more than rowdy roots-rock.

That's not to say the group can't rock mightily when it's appropriate. The highly appealing "Ching-a-Ling" is a brisk, earthy rocker. "Prince of Denmark" bursts out at a full gallop that holds its momentum until the song's final note. But Joseph also shines strongly when dialing back the voltage. On "The Kind of Place," the band rambles comfortably within a sturdy melody that's equal parts pop and twang. "Easter" is a measured midtempo track that carries a powerful brooding tone. In the ballad "Your Glass Eye" Joseph shows just the right amount of desperation, sadness and hope while accompanied by a simple yet evocative piano melody.

Just as notable is Joseph's talent for writing affecting lyrics. On "The Kind of Place," he envisions settling into a new town to escape a broken relationship only to realize that no amount of distance can separate him from his regrets for how he treated his former lover.

Clearly, the "Conscious Contact" CD reaches far beyond the usual roots-rock blueprint of playing simple good-time music.In doing so, Joseph & The Jackmormons have created a musically rich, emotionally deep record that is nothing short of a modern roots-rock masterpiece. — Alan SculleyEssential Mix "Mixed By Pete Tong" (London/Sire Records)

As a fan of synth-pop, industrial, gothic and new wave, I wholly embrace the concept of electronic music. The one area of the genre that to this day has never caught my interest is the realm of techno, house, trip-hop, and the like. Pete Tong's Essential Mix reminds me why that is. "Songs" that are basically looped samples created from the works of original artists, faux-R&B singers relegated to singing a generic catch-phrase or vocalization, few if any memorable hooks, tracks that run together while going nowhere in particular, and a "rhythm section" that's comprised simply of a 1-2-1-2 drum beat that's run at various speeds just doesn't do it for me. Two tracks do manage to incorporate a catchy hook, and those are Planet Funk's "Catch The Sun" and M&S Presents The Girl Next Door's "Salsoul Nugget (If You Wanna) (DJ Lottie Remix)". It's unfortunate that I had to basically learn another language to articulate that.

Pete Tong has accomplished a lot in his life: from writing for Blues & Soul Magazine and becoming an A&R manager for London Records to hosting his own radio show on BBC Radio 1 and founding his own record label. While I respect the man for everything he's accomplished, I wish he had stuck with spinning records by soul artists as he started out doing under the auspices of the underground soul movement of the '70s. Sure, I can visualize a floor full of ravers dancing it up to Essential Mix (because for them this CD will be a party on plastic), but for me it's a celebration I wouldn't want to be invited to. — A.D. Jerry Portnoy "Down in the Mood Room" (Tiny Town)

There were several excellent CDs released this year by harmonica-driven bands, and you can add Portnoy's latest to this group. Informed by the harp player's recently acquired affinity for trumpet-master Louis Armstrong, the set is performed with great respect for music but with no shortage of humor. Portnoy's tone throughout is warm and full, both easy on the ears and jaw-dropping at the same time.

With a full cast of veteran band mates and produced by Duke Robillard, the 13-cut project features Portnoy originals as well as fresh arrangements of familiar tunes. Yes, you may have heard such standards as "Canadian Sunset," "Stormy Weather," "Lullaby of Birdland" and "Sentimental Journey" before, but you ain't heard them quite like this. As for lesser-known songs, Portnoy's deliberate blowing on "So Slow" cuts a serious groove, while his own "Lazy" — one of the few vocal tunes — speaks for all who prefer to keep life simple.

Full of tasty jazz-blues combo sounds and spot-on playing by a harmonica ace and some longtime musical friends, "Mood Room" is a must for those times when hanging out is the remedy. And check out those shoes Portnoy's wearing on the cover. This whole package is a serious deal.

— Ames Arnold Isabelle's Gift "Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms" (Jimmy Frank's Recording Company/23-Studios)

With a musical style that comes closer to Pantera (than say Lynyrd Skynyrd), the self-described "Southern Punk Rock 'n' Roll" band Isabelle's Gift follows in the footsteps of such notable punk and old-school metal-infused Southern rock 'n' roll groups as Nashville Pussy. The songs on this album are likely to catch the interest of a wide range of individuals with their creative hooks and go-go-go momentum. Not since White Zombie has a band penned such a great metallic-influenced album to listen to while driving down the highway to points unknown. "Tequila Smile" would be the real standout cut for me here, but "Mosquito Machine" is also amusing for its fawning over a beloved car. The record consistently puts the "pedal-to-the-metal" in the department of wrought songwriting propelled by Southern (in this case Columbia, S. C.) flair.

— Angelo DeFranzo


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