Joy Lynn White "The Lucky Few" Little Dog Records Joy Lynn White has been on the country music scène for only a short time. Nominated for the Academy of Country Music's New Female vocalist award in 1993, White's latest recording, "The Lucky Few," is an extraordinary example ot her scorching vocal prowess coupled with strong compelling country tunes. Selecting material from Jim Lauderdale, Lucinda Williams, and her own compositions, Ms. White has put together one of the best country recordings of the year. Part of the strength of this recording is due to Pete Anderson's production. Anderson, the producer and guitarist for Dwight Yoakam (who perfonms with White on "It's Better This Way") for several years, puts much of the power and energy that goes into Yoakam's music into this recording. The result is a perfect frame for the strengths of White's powerhouse vocals and deep country sensibilities. An example of this sensibility is on the opening cut, "(Your Oreams Are Just) Too Big For This Town." Aboutthe crushing repression one can feel in a small town, White hits just the right bases. When White sings about nothing stopping you "when you follow your heart," coming from smalltown Indiana herself, we get the impression that she knows exactly what she's singing about. Similariy, on Jim Lauderdale's "Try Not To Be So Lonely" the country angst continúes. While ing the listenerto be strong, White laments that she too knows how it feels to be lonely. The sheer vocal power of White comes out on "Why Do I Love You?" Anderson selects a countryrhythm and blues feel, replete with a screaming B-3 Hammond organ, to milk every ounce of emotion from White's pipes. The strong mix of production and music makes this tune perhaps the strongest of many strong cuts on this recording. The duet with Dwight Yoakam on "It's Better This Way" is a bit of a disappointment. White's performance is strong, but Yoakam sounds distant and not quite into it. Anderson might have been betterto leavehim out. Certainly White doesn't need anyone's help delivering the country goods. White does a marvelous job on Lucinda William's classic "I Just Wanted To See You So Bad." From the emotjon of White's quavering vibrato, the depth of her sweet alto, we feel what it's like to step over the bounds, to f all completely in lust, to understand the sentiment in the line "I must have been crazy, but it sure feit right." A great tune! Again , the only thing wrong with this CD is its length. Given that most of the material was penned by other songwriters, coming in at just under 34 minutes makes one wonder why they couldn't pack in a few more tunes for this extraordinary talent. In any event this is a first-rate recording well worth repeated listening. Alison Brown "Alison Brown Quartet" Vanguard Records It is not unusual for people to connect the banjo with bluegrass music. lts percussive pluckings have been at the heart of this rural folkmountain music f or centimes. But in fact, the instrument was once at the heart of most popular music. In the days of acoustic recording, the musicians would crowd around a bell-shaped horn instead of a microphone. The distinctive power and sound of the banjo made it the perfect ensemble instrument for the marches and fox-trots so pervasive in the recordings before the mid 1920S - the pre-electric recording days. Up until a few years ago, however, the banjo's role in popular music remained in bluegrass. But because of tal en ted and inventive artists such as Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, and now Alison Brown the aesthetic envelope of banjo music has been pusned straight into the mainstream (and sometimes beyond). The latest Alison Brown recording, entitled "Alison Brown Quartet," clearly shows that in the hands of an exceptional musician the banjo can play a much wider role in popular music. Brown, a Harvard and UCLA gradúate, has been performing professionally since 1980. But it was her 1 990 Grammy-nominated recording, "Simple Pleasures," that got her noticed. In the early 1 990s Brown toured and recorded with bluegrass divainstrumentalist supreme, Allison Krauss (the year Brown won the Banjo Player of the Year award by the international Bluegrass Music Association). From there she became the music director for Michelle Shocked's mid-1990s wortd tour. In 1 993 this current Quartet was fonmed, featuring John R. Burr on piano, Garry West on bass, and Riek Reed on drums. Together they perform some of the most innovative folk, jazz, pop, thing-but-bluegrass musicaround. This ensemble is truly a music quartet. Instead of merely backing Brown's banjo, Burr, West, and Reed stand fully on their own. Brown's banjo, instead of leading and dominating the sound, flows and combines with the other instruments to truly expand into new temtoryfor the banjo. Forinstance, the opening cut "g bop" is harmonie, fast and very jazzy. Burr's piano is aggressive while Brown's banjo is supportiveyet driving. Riek Reed ' s drumming is crisp and precise, giving the overall feel a push and power. Similariy on "Mambo banjo" the Latin rhythms, the parallel melodie lines between banjo and piano, and first-rate improvisation introduces music that goes well beyond the conventions of banjo bluegrass. The production sound of this recording is exquisite. Each note of Brown's arpeggios, each chromatic run, is brilliant - no better than on "The Wonderful Sea Voyage." Medium in tempo, this melody is familiar yet distinctive. The voicing between banjo and piano is marvelous - simple yet beautiful. The drumming and bass line builds, not unlike the sea might swell on this mythic sea voyage. The spontaneity and tightness of the ensemble lose none of their appeal after repeated listening. In fact, the strength of the musicianship, the catchiness of the melodies, and the emotive transparency of the musical sentiments make this a delightful number. There's not a bad cut on this excellent recording. My only caveat is, like so many CD these days, at under 37 minutes it is entirely too short. In any event piek this one up today.
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