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Reviews of CDs by Jack Lukeman, Ann Rabson, The Gourds and Magic Slim and the Teardrops

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Jack Lukeman, "Metropolis Blue," (Razor & Tie Records) — Irish vocalist/songwriter Jack Lukeman or "Jack L," as he's sometimes known, is a hard one to peg. The warmth of his baritone demonstrated in songs such as the symphonic "Georgie Boy" of "Metropolis Blue" underlies the unearthly qualities in that very same voice. The album's first track alone, the Nick Cavelike opener "Crazy," verifies the dark attributes of Lukeman's singing style. The other songs that appear are largely melancholic and even macabre in nature. Dare I say, part gothic rock? Lukeman's haunting croon may draw comparisons to any number of popular singers, but it would be doing him a disservice to compare him to any one of them since he's better than most. His strong voice would have even fit in nicely with the early 1980's New Romantic and New Wave movements. Lukeman's self-described "method singing" allows him, with the help of co-songwriter/lead guitarist David Constantine, to pull off an elaborate (yet eerie) cabaret performance where he sings each number as the persona of a different individual. Some of the odd characters he acts out through his songs include a small child on "Rooftop Lullaby" and a transvestite in "Boys & Girls (Ode to Ed Wood)." I'm told his shows have a riveting theatrical quality to go along with the music. In the space of 50 minutes Lukeman proves he has what it takes to make a great album: songwriting talent, a strong presence and a voice to die for. — Angelo DeFranzo Ann Rabson, "Struttin' My Stuff," (M.C.) — During the past decade-plus, Rabson and her band mates have managed to build a musical career that's evolved from a one-joke, uppity-woman gimmick to a respected and honored position in the blues community. This latest solo effort by the singer-pianist leaves most of that bad-girl stuff behind for a musical walk through a pleasing variety of blues styles that both struts and croons. From the lively opening New Orleans-style piano riffs to the final instrumental boogie, Rabson lets her hair down while she runs through her 16-cut set of originals and covers. Her self-penned tunes are often too lyrically cute, but her piano accompaniments are always tasteful and often surprising. Among the covers, highlights include Rabson's reprise of Amos Milburn's "Let Me Go, Whiskey" and Brownie McGhee's "Sportin' Life Blues." Her version of "School Days" turns Chuck Berry's classic rock tune into a 1930s Kansas City romp and she digs deep to bring Eddie Bo's '60s hit "Check Mr. Popeye" back to life. Rabson also shows off her guitar skills on a couple of songs and this serves to effectively break the keyboard-heavy mood. — Ames Arnold The Gourds, "Bolsa de Agua," (Sugar Hill) — What in the world is going on here and why does this weird little recording work so well? There aren't any melodies to speak of and the lyrics are often absurdly cryptic. There's not much instrumental flash and the singing is haphazard, nasal and downright out of tune in spots. Nonetheless, this Texas band has recorded one of the most intriguing collections of tunes I've heard in a while. It's not always an easy listen, but there's a wide-eyed, dusty road, big sky feel about each track that catches the imagination. Mysterious and rough-hewn throughout, the songs seem to be about trekking life's path with little clue but much good cheer. The mix of banjos, fiddles, mandolins, organs and guitars creates a grab-bag of strangeness that roams folk, country gospel and mountain music territories. "El Paso" conjures vague notions of good times and desert visions while "Pickles" runs through recipes and metaphors for perseverance. "Bolsa de Agua" is not for everyone, but for fans of way-gone acoustic music, this is a must. — A.A. Magic Slim and the Teardrops, "Snakebite," (Blind Pig) — Slim's latest pulls no punches. Deep in the electric Chicago blues style, the guitarist fills the bill with slinky and tasteful guitar lines, never using two notes when one will do. The band leader's gruff vocals and the overall spontaneous feel captured throughout the recording create a fun, live feel that sets the right bluesy mood. "Shake It" rocks with plenty of jagged-edged spirit while "I Ain't Lookin' For No Love" lopes along in a tried-and-true but no less pleasing groove. On "Country Boy," Slim sings about his roots in his deep, throaty voice and his playing is measured, precise and, at times, downright spooky. The ghost of Howlin' Wolf even makes an appearance to hang all over the slow and sexy "Please Don't Dog Me." As for his Teardrop sidekicks, Slim lets rhythm guitarist Michael Dotson's withering slide take center stage on the title cut. Slim's brother Nick Holt and Allen Kirk lock down the bottom on bass and drums on cut after cut. There's nothing breathtakingly new here, but there is plenty of honest music for fans of the tough side of the blues. — A.A.

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