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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

The Blazers
Puro Blazers
Rounder Records

If you had asked us about this Norteño-influenced Mexican music about two years ago, we would have rolled our eyes and suggested you instead listen to something Cuban or Brazilian. The hokey Polkas and the donkey-ride rhythm of the Cumbia were not exactly what set our hearts afire or our hips to shaking. Even Mariachi, with its proud horns and generous pizzicato, made more sense to us.

So what changed our minds? Last year's Los Super Seven did a lot. Maybe moving to the country and hearing similar music blasting out of other cars while waiting at traffic lights made the sounds more familiar. Maybe we've been over-saturated with the Afro-Cuban rhythms that are now everywhere. Whatever the reason, The Blazer's new all-Spanish disc, Puro Blazers, has followed us from home to the car and back again while we've been "enjoying" a Northern California heat wave.

The mostly acoustic set features cumbias, polkas and a bolero. The various guitars sound gorgeous throughout and the occasional accordion of Jesus Cuevas is a killer. The really nice thing is you could play this disc at a party and it would make great background music or you could dance like a dervish. It works both ways. And for gringos with Diet Coke instead of tequila in their blood, the cumbia is a deceptively simple to enjoy and dance.

The lyrics, thoughtfully translated into English from Spanish, go from the "Com'on let's have a party"-type of thing to moments so sweet and sincere, it's disarming. Following the songs with lyrics in hand is recommended.

Our only beef would be the cover's graphics. Lotteria is the Mexican version of bingo and instead of numbers, images like the sun, the musician, the harp and the drunkard are used. On this CD, the songs are represented as lotteria cards but the artwork is more appropriate for a New Yorker cartoon, not a sizzling set of Chicano flag-wavers.



Various Artists
From the Vaults
Volume One: The Birth of a Label
Volume Two: Vine Street Divas
Volume Three: Capitol Jumps
Capitol Records

From the Vaults is a new series from Capitol Records celebrating the birth of the label in the 1940s. The goal was to produce three CDs showcasing the best recordings of the period. How well they succeed is subjective, but we do know these three CDs provide several hours of great music that hadn't yet been released on CD. There are some tracks that seem to show up everywhere on CD these days (Cow Cow Boogie, Sweet Lorraine and I Don't Know Enough About You, among others), but there's enough new material here to justify your purchase. Despite a few odd choices, you can easily imagine yourself hearing the songs coming from a jukebox or radio show in the '40s.

Volume One, The Birth of a Label has a loose theme of "The First Years". Volume Two is a collection of female vocalists while the third volume, Capitol Jumps, attempts to focus on a more R&B flavor. Capitol Jumps proves to be the oddest programming. It's hard to imagine Peggy Lee's Don't Smoke in Bed or Johnny Mercer's One For My Baby (and One For the Road) as "jump" in anyone's book. Nat "King" Cole recorded a lot of material for Capitol that would be suitable for dancing but here we get Sweet Lorraine. If you ignore the theme of Capitol Jumps, the CD works, but if you're looking for a solid hour of hot swing, you'll be disappointed.

A lot of the material is pretty cornball and some of the numbers are covers of songs done better by others (Tex Ritter's Jingle Jangle Jingle comes to mind on both counts) but there are so many nice moments, it doesn't matter much. The novelties are nicely balanced with more straightforward bits and taken as a whole, the three CDs are a great overview of the early years of a small independent label that went on to become one of the industry's giants.

We also must mention the clever packaging. The covers replicate a vintage 78 r.p.m. sleeve, while the actual CDs look like vintage 45s. Each CD contains a booklet describing the music and the evolution of Capitol Records. The notes are by producer Billy Vera who is uncharacteristically (and thankfully) straight forward and to the point.



Jonah Jones
I Dig Jonah!
Collector's Choice

Jonah Jones was a veteran of the swing era who, like countless others musicans, found himself out of style, and employment, with the advent of Bebop and more serious forms of jazz in the 1950s. What's a trumpet player with a marketing problem to do? In Jones' case, he got a gig in an intimate nightspot and experimented with mutes. He got a drummer who used mostly brushes, and along with a piano and bass, they created a hip new minimalist form of swing that sounded modern, fun and owed more to Louis Prima than Dizzy Gillespie.

The quartet played mostly standards with an infectious shuffle beat. The sound was distinct and different, almost like Latinizing standards a la Edmundo Ros or that trend of disco bands adding that '70s beat to Swing music. The song goes in and a new sound comes out.

At first, the recordings on the new Collector's Choice compilation, I Dig Jonah!, may sound a little too much like easy listening for some tastes, but soon you'll notice a gentle rocking of your feet and the irrisistable urge to quietly dance. Not a full on jitterbug, but a sweet, close dance perfect for all your smooching needs. It's just corny enough so you can't take yourself too seriously but it's good enough that you can't help yourself.

The seas won't part, the price of crude oil will remain high and Celine Dion will still be in the news despite her threat of retirement, but with Jonah Jones you can grab a bottle of chianti, turn the lights down low and create your own little slice of heaven.




 



The Martini rating System

Coconut Grove Media


Scientific, Accurate
& Easy To Understand!
5 Martinis = Classic
4 Martinis = Great
3 Martinis = Good
2 Martinis = Fair
1 Martini = Poor

 

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