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CD reviews of Ben Lee, Skavoovie and the Epitones and Kelly Kennedy.

CD Reviews

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Ben Lee "Breathing Tornados"Skavoovie and the Epitones "Ripe"Kelly Kennedy "Wicked Polly"Ben Lee "Breathing Tornados" (Grand Royal Records) — Australian-born Ben Lee began his career in '93 fronting critically acclaimed indie rockers Noise Addict. Less than two years later at the ripe age of 16, Lee jumped on the chance to record his solo debut which quickly became a college radio favorite.

Now on his third solo album, Lee presents synthesized pop with dramatic keyboards, catchy electronic beats and casually emotional lyrics. At times he strums acoustically, at others he wails in a Bowie-like snarl.

"Breathing Tornados" spans the emotional spectrum of Lee's 20-year-old life, from the simple, tender "Birthday Song," written for girlfriend Claire Danes, to the hypnotically catchy "Cigarettes Will Kill You" with its melancholy request, "I want a TV embrace."

With songs like "Sunflower," that sound like a collaboration between Beck and The Cure, Lee's folksy, retro New Wave is somehow perfectly modern. — Carrie Nieman

Skavoovie and the Epitones "Ripe" (Moon Records) — Ska bands don't get much better than Skavoovie and the Epitones, a Boston-based 10-piece band on ska-only label Moon Records. "Ripe," their latest helping of swing-infused, horn-heavy ska, is everything you could ever want from a ska album. This sophomore effort is a gold mine of foot-stomping instrumental tracks, like the fun, campy "Japanese Robot," and the sinister (but in a swinging kind of way) "The Plague." And you better believe "Ripe" has a sense of humor, best exemplified in the wonderfully nostalgic, goofy "Aquaman" and the downright bizarre "Frog Spirit."

Special mention goes to one of my personal favorite songs of all time, "Blood Red Sky." If you've ever driven through the desert late at night, whacked out on caffeine and scared of who knows what, then you know exactly where this song is coming from.

"Ripe" is delicious, juicy, masterful ska from 10 true disciples of the old school. But as good as this album is, it can't touch Skavoovie's live show. And it's coming to Richmond, Friday, April 9, with labelmates the Scofflaws. — Mark Stroh

Kelly Kennedy "Wicked Polly" — This CD is subtitled "Early Songs of Love, Destiny and Doom" and that pretty much gives fair warning of the tone of this gorgeous project. Rooted in Celtic songs of tragedy and driven throughout by beautifully spare arrangements, Kennedy has created a downbeat but delightful CD for fans of these traditional songs and sounds. Kennedy's voice is crystal and her piano befittingly grand yet simple in execution and tone. Her pitch is pure even on the many difficult melodic twists inherent in these tunes. Clearly in love with the music she sings, Kennedy also has an impressive knowledge of its history. This haunting CD belongs to a genre largely alien to my CD collection but "Wicked Polly" is nonetheless among the best locally produced efforts I've heard recently. — Ames Arnold

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