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Reviews of CDs by Kris Kehr, Burlap to Cashmere and Jon Randall

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!B! Kris Kehr, "Long, Long Year"
!B! Burlap to Cashmere, "Anybody Out There?"
!B! Jon Randall, "Willin'"Kris Kehr, "Long, Long Year," (Woobie Cat) — This Pennsylvania singer-songwriter's music was previously unfamiliar to these ears, but making his acquaintance through this project was a welcome surprise. Backed by guitars, lap steel, keyboards and a finely grooved rhythm section, Kehr tackles the ultimate mysteries on this winning 10-song independent release with simplicity, humor and no shortage of disappointment. He weaves both half-whispered and rough troubadour vocals through the haunting arrangements and creates a mood that's defiant, defeated and no doubt familiar to most. Whether singing of the guy tricked by love, the philosopher wondering life's cost, or the lost soul who is simply over his head in the reality game, Kehr tells his tales simply but with just enough poetry and conviction to make them worthwhile. His subjects remain fixed on the search, despite the roadblocks of fear and shattered dreams. Kehr's journey through life's crapshoot is a bumpy one, but it's well worth the time. - Ames Arnold

Burlap to Cashmere, "Anybody Out There?" (A&M) — Bands that have the nerve these days to write such lyrical observations as "the world is crying" or wonder "is there anybody out there?" usually drive me screaming to the CD rack in search of something I can tolerate. This CD is chock-full of this sort of writing.
But, in fairness, I have to admit that Burlap to Cashmere's spiritual rock holds modest pleasures, and I can understand why the band has garnered critical nods. The six-man group's music is melodically comfortable, middle-of-the-road fare that conveys a positive and, for some, an eternally important message. The bass and percussion push the sound with plenty of energy and singer-writer Steven Delopoulos has an unaffected yet urgent delivery. Amidst much of the negativity on today's scene, Burlap to Cashmere is easy to recommend to fans of pop-rock spiritual music. The band plays live at Mulligan's, 8006 W. Broad St., on Friday, Dec. 3. Call 222-4090 for details. - A.A.

Jon Randall, "Willin'" (Eminent) — Randall broke onto the music scene in the early '90s as the 21-year-old guitarist-singer in Emmylou Harris' monster gospel-bluegrass band, The Nash Ramblers. A few years later, "Willin'" shows he's far more than a gifted sideman, and his first solo project bursts with both acoustic reflection and rock-edged urgency.
Not shy about revealing shattered dreams and busted hopes in 10 original tunes, Randall's shimmering high baritone expresses emotion without precious self-absorption, and his arrangements effectively drive home his uncertainties. Though often personal, the emotions he bares are the stuff of many a lover's story. "Can't Hurt Anymore" reflects on the isolation and sorrow found in failed love, while "Sweet Loretta" celebrates joyful connections with unabashed, slow-dance simplicity.
Nashville players, including Sam Bush, Al Perkins and former boss Harris, lend talents to the project, but this effort is Randall's to win or lose. Exposing both heart and a reluctance to quit in hard times, this release probably misses a mainstream market, but should hit dead center with fans looking for those honest drops of musical integrity that fall through the commercial cracks. - A.A.

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