Reviews of new CDs from Ricky Skaggs, Walter Bell and Pinehurst Kids. 

CD Reviews

Ricky Skaggs, "Ancient Tones"Walter Bell, "An Evening with Flutist Walter Bell and the L.J.U."Pinehurst Kids, "Minnesota Hotel"(Click on a CD title or cover to order that CD from Amazon.com)
Play These Songs"Mighty Dark To Travel""Boston Boy""Little Bessie"

Real Audio Required Ricky Skaggs, "Ancient Tones" (Skaggs Family Records) — "Ancient Tones" is Ricky Skaggs' second recent release that announces his renewed commitment to hard-core bluegrass music, and from the opening woody mandolin notes it's a masterful effort. Skaggs has caught some flack for assuming the head of the bluegrass torch-bearers parade since the death of Bill Monroe, but "Tones" certainly pleads his case well. Of course, it helps to have great support from his band; Kentucky Thunder is a wealth of pickin' treasures with fiddler Bobby Hicks, hand-in-glove tenor singer Paul Brewster and guitarist Bryan Sutton lending jaw-dropping licks.

The lineup here relies heavily on tunes from Monroe's and the Stanley Brothers' repertoire, and Skaggs and the band keep the approach traditional and the dynamics and tempos varied. The fingers fly on "Mighty Dark to Travel" and "Boston Boy," while the set ends with a gently rolling "Little Bessie." On "Tones," Skaggs' friendly voice and fierce mandolin combine to make enviable magic.

— Ames Arnold

Play These Songs"Summertime""My Funny Valentine""All Soul"

Real Audio Required Walter Bell, "An Evening with Flutist Walter Bell and the L.J.U." (Reika) — This CD provides live documentation of the Richmond-based performer's pursuit of mainstream commercial success. At local gigs Bell works an audience like a candidate on election eve. A live record should catch him at his best. But while he is intense, his playing is not.

The music is lilting and lightweight, a transparent bid for the soft, fat heart of the market. A set of standards rendered in a standard manner, it's pretty and intentionally unchallenging. The L.J.U. (Latin Jazz Unit) provides smooth support for Bell's right-up-the-middle renditions of songs such as "Summertime" and "My Funny Valentine." Fine music for an afternoon nap, as long as the CD player is programmed to skip the lengthy intro and stage patter.

— Peter McElhinney

Play These Songs"Switch""Johnny Mercer""So Shinny"

Real Audio Required Pinehurst Kids, "Minnesota Hotel" (4 Alarm Records) — Because of a music industry glut of flash-in-the-pan hits, many rock groups sound the same these days, making it difficult to tell them apart. No doubt the Pinehurst Kids' first effort will go unnoticed or dismissed as unoriginal, unless you realize "Minnesota Hotel" was first self-released in 1997.

"Minnesota Hotel" is mostly straight-up college rock, but Chicago label 4 Alarm Records gives the Pinehurst Kids a second chance to prove they can grind out a lot of variety; even a few surprises.

Tunes such as "Switch" and "Johnny Mercer" have the symphonic, math-rock appeal of early Smashing Pumpkins and Slint. And the entire album has the glitzy, highly produced sound of bands like Shellac. But these kids are at their best and most inventive with tracks like "So Shiny," a lethargic but at the same time sardonically upbeat song with a deadpan delivery reminiscent of Weezer.

Original sound or not, Pinehurst Kids have enough variance and strength to draw a crowd to their Aug. 1 show at Twisters.

— Wayne Melton


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