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One Road Trip, Three CDs

August 22, 2011

It's a rare treat for me to embark upon a road trip armed with a stack of long-overdue-to-listen-to CDs for the journey. I don't own a car, so only get to drive in rental vehicles. And when I do rent, I either make shortish trips, or completely forget to bring any CDs and instead listen to parts of my existing music collection on my iPod.

Yesterday, the stars aligned with a longish trip to the outer limits of Sonoma County and then on to the Point Reyes shoreline. On the way, I listened to three 2011 and 2010 releases by solo vocal artists. One didn't appeal to me much, another had some wonderful moments and the third I enjoyed immensely. I heard this album through twice in its entirety over the space of a couple of hours while driving back from Point Reyes Station.

1. Forrest Day, self-titled album: The gravelly-voiced singer-songwriter's songs are all very compact. He throws in many smart alec clauses, articulated clearly and very fast to create a universe that is mostly pessimistic in its outlook. I found myself quickly tiring of the relentlessness of Day's sound. Most of the tracks reminded me of the vintage R.E.M. track, "It's the End of the World as We Know It."

2. Bryan Anthony, A Night Like This: Anthony has a beveled-edged jazz voice and his singing of lovely old standards by the like of George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin finds the perfect counterpart in the the instrumental talents of the Gary Norian Trio (Gary Norian, Piano; Thomas Helton, Bass, Joel Fulgham, percussion.) Anthony certainly knows how to swing a tune and the best songs on the album are the ones where he doesn't seem to have to try too hard. A few tracks do grate on the nerves though -- the downbeat numbers which require a deep emotional connection. In tracks like "This Is All I Ask" (Jenkins) and "So in Love" (Porter) he overdoes the schmultz.

3. Melissa Czarnik, Raspberry Jesus: This incredible young rapper from Milwaukee had me under her spell from the first to last moments of her album. Some of the songs are biographical, some are issues-based and many touch on the theme of love in a raw and wise way. Whatever the subject, Czarnik's tracks are all verbally and musically smart. She has clear diction and there's a musicality to the way she raps -- her speaking is very much like singing. The sonic palette is very broad. I loved the use of a garbled-up Delibes "Flower Duet" in the song "Been this Way" and there are some gorgeous, tripping saxophone solos in "Canned Nutrition." This girl is going all the way.


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