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Tommy Emmanuel, "Tommy Emmanuel Only,"; Kelly Bell Band, "…Ain't Like It Used To Be!"; Original Soundtrack "Sexy Beast"

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Tommy Emmanuel, "Tommy Emmanuel Only," (Artful Balance) - Ask anyone who has seen Australia-based guitarist Tommy Emmanuel perform live and you're likely to get a dazed shake of the head or simple statements such as "He's the best guitar player I've ever seen" or "Why doesn't everybody know about this guy?" His latest CD doesn't quite capture all of the excitement of Emmanuel's live show but it does go a long way toward giving a listener some of the best instrumental acoustic-guitar playing around. Emmanuel's self-penned tunes run the gamut of moods and tempos from the opening harmonics of "Those Who Wait" through the fleet-fingered runs of "Luttrell" to the melodious cascades of sound and percussion of "Drivetime." The guitarist plays with heart and humor throughout both wrapping listeners in gentle sonic storms and leveling them with fierce full-bore riffing. The microphone picks up a chuckle at the close of the 14-cut set as Emmanual seems to even surprise himself with the relaxed and friendly picking of "Ol' Brother Hubbard." This artist performs in Richmond a couple times a year. Until the next time around gives you a chance to see this amazing player live, pick up a copy of "Only" and tune into this guitar monster's six-string surprises. — Ames Arnold

Kelly Bell Band, "…Ain't Like It Used To Be!" (Fowl) - This Baltimore-based band's latest has plenty of surprising musical punch for a wide range of listeners, especially those unfamiliar with the group's sound. At the top, the obnoxious rumblings of an oncoming hip-hop assault had me braced for the worst. But as they breezed through hip hop, jazz, blues, funk and ballad styles, it was soon apparent these guys are up to plenty and much of it involves some pretty tasty licks.

"Thinking About Tomorrow" has a nice Jimi Hendrix feel to it, "Must've Bumped Your Head" finds Taj Mahal meeting Sly Stone and "Talkin' in Your Sleep" has an updated B.B. King sound. "Workin' Me" grooves with bottom to spare and there's even the a cappella introduction, "Missing You," that smoothly leads to the percussion-driven "Lock Me Up." On "Lost My Baby for The Blues," the singer sounds like a young Lou Rawls while "Take Me Away" casts an odd-but-interesting, operatic-ballad light on the project. Throughout, there's plenty of catchy piano, funky bass and some harmonica, sax and organ to round things out. Guitars come on jazzy as well as heavy. The singing is soulful and funky. Moods and percussive rhythms shift with pleasing ease and satisfying results. The group also utilizes the talents of some of the D.C. area's best players including Ron Holloway, Mark Wenner and Bobby Parker. If the Kelly Bell Band's goal is to create a fresh blend of soul, funk and blues, they've hit their target dead center. — A.A.

Original Soundtrack "Sexy Beast" (Beyond) - The soundtrack for the new film "Sexy Beast" is interesting but flawed, like the film.

The success formula for a soundtrack to an eclectic film like "Sexy Beast" is to put together uncommon music, and that's done well here. The four guys who put this together (one is executive producer James Lavelle of the English record label Mo' Wax and member of the electronica/hip-hop group UNKLE) first dug deep for three rarities: the movie opener "Peaches," a testosterone-filled number by '70s punk poseurs the Stranglers; a Dean Martin Latin oldie, "Sway"; and "Daddy Rollin' Stone," a slightly sinister older R & B song.

Lavelle fills out the middle with some original works in a collaborative effort between his group and South (another Mo Wax group). These are solid electronica soundscapes. Then come the selections by Roque Ba¬§os. Here Lavelle and company fell asleep at the controls. We go from hip, interesting music to two long and boring tracks of background noise (strings and more strings). These tracks reveal another mistake: There's way too much movie on this soundtrack. The minute-plus samples from the film should have been trimmed, or at least given their own tracks so you don't have to listen to them every mind-numbing time. Not surprisingly, the songs that use samples well come from UNKLE, a group that used to include DJ Shadow. So what was Lavelle thinking with the others? — Wayne Melton

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