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There’s a connection between being a musician and Halloween that goes beyond the obvious skulls/pumpkins/fake blood/heavy metal stereotype, at least for me. It’s a holiday where you can be as nutty as you want; roll yourself in tinfoil and carry a samurai sword around all day? Great! I had some friends in Charlotte that decided to make themselves into “human fruit baskets” one year. Let’s just say that the costume involved a huge amount of Saran wrap, some strategically placed apples and bananas, and nothing more. Eeek.

By Chris Cooper

Sharon Jones and her amazing band of funk/soul revivalists were responsible for one of the happiest musical misunderstandings I’ve ever experienced. Having seen her previous CD filed in the blues section of the local record shop, with its wholly authentic late 60’s packaging style, grainy, off center cover photo and altogether goofy back cover notes (including a visual diagram to help you learn the latest dance move that’s ‘taking the nation by storm,’ the Dap Dip) I could do nothing but feel safe in the assumption that it was a reissue of some obscure soul gem from back in the day.

By Chris Cooper

I first heard Johnny Irion years ago at a little venue in Charlotte. He was performing with his then quite pregnant wife Sarah Lee Guthrie, and the two of them exemplified everything that’s good about smart, latter day country/rock songwriting. With a collective family tree that includes names like Steinbeck and, well, Guthrie for Pete’s sake, that’s not really a surprise.

Bands just have to stick with it. Whether on the grand scale of being a signed, touring group or one whose “tour” constitutes a weekend long stand at the two or three bars populating the local main drag, giving in to the many pitfalls lying in wait just can’t be an option.

Blessed, demented genius

By Chris Cooper

The picture you see when you flip open the new Moolah Temple Stringband CD shows singer/guitarist/found-sound alchemist Jonathan Wertheim whacking some hapless little synthesizer to bits with a mallet. That’s almost all that needs to be said if you’re familiar with the kind of sonic de-(re?)construction he and Ian Moore have pursued since the days of Smoky Mountain Drum’n Bass, the project from which Moolah Temple was born.

By Chris Cooper

Two things still stick in my mind about Darren Nicholson’s excellent self-titled 2006 release; state of the art musicality married to a completely down to earth attitude, whether in person or on disc. Nicholson’s mastery in bluegrass mandolin has earned him no shortage of acclaim, some of which came in the form of an IBMA award for his work with Alecia Nugent.

Fresh voices gain ground

Angi West: Orange Thread In A Blue Sea

Thoughtfully arranged tunes that wander through elements of folk, sun-dappled guitar and piano-driven pop and the occasional hint at twangy alt-country aren’t difficult to find on Angi West’s new CD.

Carried by a shape-shifting voice and nicely crafted storytelling, Orange Thread In A Blue Sea takes a few attention-grabbing turns. Check out the cabaret drama brought by the accordion halfway through “Every Drop In This Glass,” or the shimmering pedal steel and piano of “The Light In Your Eyes” for fine examples of choosing exactly the right color at the right time to enhance a song.

West demonstrates a disarming fragility in sections of “A Good Catholic Boy,” but no other tune reveals her “old soul in a young body” personality and tone as well as “Black Crow,” sung a cappella with nary a frill to be found.

“Home” shines brightly as well, and has the most potential as a song that could gain her more attention if heard by the right ears. It wouldn’t sound out of place on an older Kate Bush album, either, in the way it’s delicate verses build until giving way to a chorus and bridge peppered with strings and West’s aching delivery. And though the word “love” makes several appearances in the lyric, there’s a pervasive sense of sadness to the song that keeps you from breathing too easily. Again, it’s that sense of drama that pulls you in, marking the difference between simply hearing something that’s “good” or something that deserves another spin to really digest and enjoy.

It probably doesn’t need to be mentioned that West is a local musician, this is her very first CD, and that the majority of the recording of Orange Thread In A Blue Sea was handled right here in WNC, but just in the case it did, well, there you go. West is a musician with no shortage of potential, and seeing where she goes with it is just one benefit of having another gifted songwriter in our midst.


Corinne West: Second Sight

I swear that it’s pure coincidence that both artists reviewed this week are female and happen to have the same last name. Just wanted to get that out of the way.

Corinne West has a voice that’s sweet, but just beneath the surface is something a little coarse and blue and just waiting to jump out. Even on the first cut, during the line “you know why I lose it /and I know why you’re quiet,” it’s the way she yells “quiet,” the frustration in her voice that gives this already powerful song real wings.

Of course, having the baddest cats out of Nashville in your corner can’t hurt in the least, especially when they have names like Jerry Douglas (jedi of the Dobro that he is) and similarly talented mandolin master Mike Marshall. Toss Tony Furtado and Darol Anger into the mix and you have the makings of a fine CD.

West isn’t afraid at all to embrace bluegrass and country as her roots, but it’s a quality in her voice that keeps the music from feeling too “grassy.” At once playful and the next moment world-weary and matter of fact, her interpretive skills are truly impressive, doing great service to an already stellar bunch of songs. Wells’ ability to go straight for the gut with a tune could easily have been developed in the formative years she spent as a busker, where one’s skill ability to emote is directly related to one’s likelihood of eating that night.

Second Sight has a distinct personality as an album — the choices to keep a chuckle into the microphone at the end of “Gandy Dancer” or the birds chirping at the close of “Cabin Door” heighten the quirkiness factor. West’s voice and songwriting are chock full of humor, wit and emotion as well, and she’s endowed with an innate understanding of harmony. Creating train whistle-styled layers here and lush waves of voice there (“All Good Things” being one of the best illustrations of these qualities) she sounds like she enjoys what she’s doing, let alone how good she is at doing it. Add to it the stellar playing of the “band” and you’ve got one of the most enjoyable new bluegrass CD’s I’ve heard in months. Excellent.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

By Chris Cooper

Robben Ford: Truth

Not many guitarists can meld the harmonic sensibilities of jazz with the visceral punch of blues and make it work. Often, the “blues” part of it gets watered down in order to better accommodate the instrumentalist’s need to demonstrate their “jazz” leanings, and we know that never works very well.

By Chris Cooper

The ocean’s a powerful thing. Source of life, nice to look at ... all that stuff. How many fond memories do you have of the beach, the sights and smells, seagulls and bikinis? Ever found yourself wandering the shoreline and had some little tune pop into your head that went something like, oh, I don’t know — “... I wish they all could be California girls ...” or “... little deuce coupe, you know what I like ...”

By Chris Cooper

Through the last few “Play For Peace” extravaganzas I’ve been lucky enough to meet and perform with some musicians I might not have had the opportunity to otherwise. Having studied, poked and prodded Sylva’s little microcosm of a music scene over the years, I’ve attended many more shows than I’ve actually participated in, something most of my closer friends have graciously tolerated me whining about somewhat incessantly. “Oh, woe is me, always a bridesmaid, never a guitarist...” it would go, ad infinitum, with much eye-rolling and self conscious gnashing of teeth. “If only I could get out there and play some rock and roll, then everybody would know I wasn’t totally full of... myself.” I mean, Mark Knopfler was a music writer back in the day, and he doesn’t suck, right?

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