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Reviews of CDs by Mister Green, Paul Thorn and Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks

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Mister Green, "Legacy" (Mister Green) — Although Mister Green consists of two lawyers and a school teacher, the group could just as well exclusively be making its living playing music. The group's sound is riddled with songwriting one might have found in the popular music of the 1960s and early- to mid-'70s, without being hackneyed. Mister Green has even had its music appear in the background of MTV's "Making The Video," with additional appearances to come. Not too bad for a Richmond-based band.

"Legacy" is almost a concept album of sorts. The recurring theme of the release seems to be about breaking with one's past and basing that newfound life on one's own terms. "Legacy" is also a tribute to the process of growing up while in the end still maintaining the ties that bind. The song that best sets this tone is the album's title track. Other tracks, such as the tragic tale "Legend of Moonshine Billy," are compelling narratives that actually make the listener take the time to follow along with the accompanying lyric sheet. The folky guitar rock of Mister Green's "Legacy" would sit comfortably with any enthusiast of the genre, while speaking to those who can appreciate good songwriting as well.

— Angelo DeFranzo

Paul Thorn, "Ain't Love Strange" (Perpetual Obscurity) - By the sound of it, Paul Thorn strikes out a lot when it comes to love. But he sure doesn't strike out when it comes to writing great songs. The off-the-wall tunes on "Strange" conjure up loveless losers, strippers, jilted men and trailer-park crazies, as well as powerful emotions shot full of sorrow. Throughout he's looking to find love and the search finds him on dead-end roads without a clue. When he plumbs a lighthearted mood with the story of the unlikely friendship between "Fabio and Liberace" or the discovery that a "Mood Ring" is the key to understanding women, Thorn writes with a sharp eye rather than relying on the silly or obvious. When he's passionately serious as he is during "I Have A Good Day Now and Then," "What Do You Take Me For" or "Where Was I," he displays an ability to hit close to home with heartbreaking simplicity. A Church of God minister's son, Thorn hails from Mississippi and is a former professional boxer. Though he's far from a household name, he's opened for Sting, toured with Paul Carrack, Peter Wolf and bluesman Peter Green, and has had the occasional tune cut by Tanya Tucker and Sawyer Brown. Subtly backed by a basic-rock studio band that includes his frequent writing partner Billy Maddox. Thorn's new CD explodes with humor, sadness, bold images and truth. This guy's songs belong in the collection of anyone who has looked around to find they're suddenly off the team and in the game all on their lonesome.

— Ames Arnold

Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, "Beatin' the Heat" (Surfdog) — Any old Dan Hicks fans out there? Well, your man is back with his first studio album since 1976, and he hits the same easy-rolling jive grooves that stamped his earlier career. "Heat" features 15 cuts full of the same left-of-center points of view, catchy rhythms and girl-ensemble sidekicks that made him a hipster on the San Francisco music scene in the late '60s and early '70s. A quick scan of titles such as "I Scare Myself," "I've Got a Capo on My Brain" and "Hummin' to Myself" make it easy to guess the tone of this upbeat collection. An impressive gang of guests joins Hicks on several of these quirky tunes. Ricki Lee Jones slinks in for two vocals, Brian Setzer contributes stinging lead guitar to two tunes, and Tom Waits croaks along with Hicks in his best lovable Louis Armstrong rasp on a song. Bette Midler adds her voice to a hot and rapid-fire duet while Elvis Costello also trades lyric licks with Hicks. Hicks picks up a megaphone for his version of Waits' hilarious "The Piano Has Been Drinking," and "He Don't Care" hits the right note as the singer takes a lighthearted if ultimately disapproving look at a stoner's out- of-touch world. "Hell I'd Go" finds Hicks dreaming about joining a "UFO guy" on a journey through the cosmos. "Heat" is simply good fun with a twist.

— A.A.

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