MUSIC REVIEW- CD round-up II: Folk, pop, and a Carnival of Oddities

March Madness is upon us. In sports, that phrase, of course, refers to college basketball hoops and hoop dreams. In music, March Madness is that time of year when the tour season picks up. This past week alone was an exciting one: G. Love and Special Sauce, GZA and DJ Muggs, Mogwai, and Chick Corea all came to town in a span of seven days. Does that not impress you people? Are you not entertained?

Charlottesville is slowly becoming a certified music Mecca. I can see it now– people traveling from as far as Bristol to get a piece of the action!

Meanwhile, the local scene continues to bubble as old town favorites and newcomers emerge with stronger and more competitive material. Which brings me to part two of my CD Roundup. I can't begin to stress how excited I am about this time of year and what it brings around musically.

Artist: Mary Gordon Hall

Album: Wine Glasses & Wooden Spoons

Type of music: Focused folk

The Good: I could go on for days about this Mary Gordon Hall record. To begin with, Jeff Romano and company have done a wonderful job creating a comfortable bed for Hall's vocals and guitar to lie on. Hall doesn't attempt to tackle major issues with her songwriting. Instead, she pens simple yet clever stories dealing with everyday life. She ingeniously takes common objects and occurrences and transforms them into insightful allegories. A number of local respected musicians lend themselves to the project. Terri Allard, Morwenna Lasko, John D'earth, and Spencer Lathrop are just a few. There is a large sense of community here, and it just feels good.

The Bad: Folk is not my favorite music, but I find myself drawn to it more and more as I get older. I lack the patience to listen to 12 tracks of music that evoke a single mood. Wine Glasses is soft and sleepy through and through. Although M.G.H.'s narrative songs held my attention for a while, I eventually found my thoughts drifting.

Artist: Sickshot

Album: {1}

Type of music: Hard as hell pop rock

The Good: This is one impressive disk of chorus-driven hard rock. After just one listen, I had the songs stuck in my head for a week. The four-piece ensemble, anchored by Kevin Murphy's mind-blowing drumming, is a force to be reckoned with in Charlottesville, and anywhere else they set up shop. The album is a wonder of studio work as well as flawless musicianship. Sickshot has what it takes to go the long haul.

The Bad: Rock songwriters have a tendency to refer frequently to a mysterious entity called 'you.' I affectionately refer to this as the 'universal rock you.' I believe every song on this album refers to the universal rock you somewhere. It is a very vague concept that I feel is a cop-out in many instances– a way for the singer to say something and say nothing at the same time. This album could do without so many of those occurrences.

Artist: Slate Hill Phil

Album: Carnival of Oddities

Type of music: Old time country Americana with a carefree agenda

The Good: Listening to Carnival of Oddities is like sitting in a room with Slate Hill Phil on any day while he plays and does whatever else comes to mind. The recording is low-fi and soft. Background noises are like background instruments. Phil writes melancholy odes to life's downs and downers. One couldn't ask for more feeling and tender soul. No matter how many times I put the album down I always go back to track seven, and it stirs something in me that is rarely touched.

The Bad: Phil's carefree attitude is at times a detriment. The earlier songs on the album are very loose and sloppy and lack the honesty of the second half of the record. I understand wanting to make an old-time recording, but many of the songs are just recorded badly. You have to strain to make out words, and Slate Hill Phil is one songwriter that you really want to hear.