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Reviews of CDs by Floating Folk Festival, Jars of Clay and Keller Williams and The String Cheese Incident 

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Floating Folk Festival, "Volume 2" (Planetary Records) — The second collection drawn from these loosely aligned local musicians features a worthy group of acoustic-based tunes that ably represents a slice of the city's current singer/songwriter scene. Recorded in studios and living rooms across town, this effort combines the talents of a broader-based group than 1998's "Volume 1" and to these ears renders an overall stronger and more even product. Each song holds its surprises and my favorites are many. There's Regan's pure, soaring supplication "Talk to Me" matched with Eileen Edmonds' beautifully subtle and lyrically economic "Water Tricklin." William and Denise Perritt craft a thoughtful tale of youthful wanderings, while Kate Lawson catches the ear with a sad but truthful story of time's passing. Gerry Laverty spins an unpitying look at failed love, while Texas Ed Kitchen paints a pointed portrait of everyone's favorite clueless redneck. Pam McCarthy wrestles her devils with crystal voice while May-Lily Lee's heartfelt "Wanna Love" speaks to lovers everywhere. Produced by Festival founder Brooke Saunders, this 15-cut CD is a labor of love by individuals and groups deserving any acoustic music fan's attention. — Ames Arnold Jars of Clay, "If I Left the Zoo" (Essential/Silvertone) — With its third, and best, release, Jars of Clay is no longer a decent Christian rock group. They're simply a darned good band, period. Led by vocalist Dan Haseltine, the Nashville quartet's sublimely textured tunes incorporate crunching electric guitars and strummed acoustics spiced with "Eleanor Rigby" strings, "Sgt. Pepper" sound effects and Fab Four harmonies. Although never hiding their faith, the band eschews dogma. Rather, the lyrics are clever, subtle affirmations that avoid becoming strident screeds. Doubt, yearning, anger and fear figure in their pop hymns — and if the heavenly allegiance in "No One Loves Me Like You" still seems a bit much, substitute secular love as its inspiration and just enjoy the group's uncanny pop instincts. Any way you slice it, Jars of Clay presents satisfying, innovative rock that draws equal inspiration from R.E.M., the Beatles and ... the Gospels. — Eric Feber, The Virginian-Pilot Keller Williams and The String Cheese Incident, "Breathe" (SCI Fidelity) — These guys are fun and they're fine musicians, so I really hate to bad mouth this effort by Williams and his mates. But if I'm alone out among the cranky stars to pick at these guys, so be it. That's not to say this CD doesn't have its moments. Most of the band members are multi-instrumentalists and Williams is blessed with a bounty of creative guitar notions. "Breathe" is clearly a labor of love, and as a rhythmical, acoustic-based instrumental effort it's fine. But lyrically these guys need to come out of the clouds and ditch the tired hippie mantras of the late '60s. Of course, it's precisely this "vibe" that's secured Williams and The String Cheese Incident a niche as festival darlings among the twirling masses of new generation tie-dyes. But all of this "we-don't-really-know-what's-going-on-but-isn't-it-all-too-much" shtick is tired and boring to anyone who has found life beyond the bong. — Ames Arnold
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