Reviewed this month: CDs by artists Andy Monaco, Zone Azul and Wendy Ohlwiler. We had no idea what kind of response our last roundup of local CD releases would generate when we covered new works by Marv Hamilton, Tangle Ridge, William Barclay, Kristin Erickson and Stacey Board in September. But thanks to popular demand (and these three worthy new discs) we’re back. Oh, and by the way, remember to open your hearts (and wallets) to local music.
It may not be entirely fair, but Andy Monaco almost inevitably gets lumped in with the jaunty, hard-strummin’ barefoot singer-songwriters of the Jimmy Buffett ilk (maybe it has something to do with the beret he often sports, and the parrot earring). So it’s more than a bit surprising to hear Maybe, his sophomore release.
Far grittier and full of juice than those who have only seen Monaco’s coffeehouse act might expect, the album is reminiscent of “Jazz”-era Ry Cooder, Little Feat or even (high praise indeed) Tom Waits.
If Monaco does not yet measure up to those influences, he has come a long way as a songwriter in the eight years since his first album. Most notably, his gruffly ironic voice has grown into a more pliant instrument-one the arrangements here are carefully crafted to showcase. And if “Your House” is essentially a retread of Steely Dan’s “Babylon Sister,” at least give Monaco credit for having the good taste to borrow from classy sources.
In all, a lot of fun, so long as you program your CD player to skip the bathos of “Favorite Shoes,” a number that wallows in sentimentality so deep that even Bobby Goldsboro would turn his head in shame.
I don’t have a clue what a “calico sea” is and I’m sure you don’t either, but it’s an oddly fitting title for this release by southern Utah-based singer-songwriter Ohlwiler. For the most part, the lyrics don’t make a lot of conventional sense and the chord progressions are notable for unexpected left turns. That said, there’s an oddly defiant logic to these 11 songs that helps them to linger in the memory like a half-remembered dream.
Holding all the disparate elements together is Ohlwiler’s ability to deliver invective that is simultaneously
biting and melodic. There are a few numbers (notably the title track and “Dread”) where her voice might
have been pushed higher in the mix, but in a collection that strong it’s a small complaint.
And while there’s enough acoustic guitars on display to satisfy folkie sensibilities, six-string flash is also evident, courtesy of local alt-rock MVP Dave Williams, whose churning rhythm and highly intuitive solos provide frequent high spots. Guests include Melissa Warner and Stacey Board, and their contributions are welcome enough, but the spotlight never strays far from Ohlwiler, whose quirky-yet-winsome vocal style and free-association lyrics only become more intriguing with repeated listening.
Fim da Fronteira
Anybody remember John Cusack’s affecting portrayal as the downcast record-store owner in the film “High Fidelity”? In one of the movie’s best scenes, he complains bitterly about his upstairs neighbor, played by Tim Robbins, who “listens to whatever world music is trendy that week.”
Unfortunately, Brazilian jazz was appointed the trendy music for two whole weeks back in the late ’90s and listeners who are allergic to trends have avoided it ever since.
Which is a shame, really, because when it’s done right, this mélange of American, European, and native influences is nimble without being gratuitous, lovely without being overly sentimental, and effortlessly catchy for its syncopated rhythms that have long been familiar to American ears through bossa nova and samba.
All of which brings us to Fim da Fronteira, by Salt Lake-based Brazilian pop-jazz band Zone Azul. Led by guitarist-singer Alan Sandomir, who sings only passably but emotes beautifully, this collection is permeated with longing and joy in about equal measures-even if you don’t speak Portuguese.
As Sandomir points out in the liner notes, the local musicians who contribute effectively combine modern Brazilian pop and jazz influences. In particular, guitarist Keven Johansen contributes fine playing that is alternately feathery and full-throated, and the adept rhythm section of Mark Mottonen and Jim Stout intuitively know when to press the throttle and when to hang out on the back end of the beat. In sum, an adventurous collection that will serve as an introduction to a frequently underappreciated style. (www.zoneazul.net)