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[whitespace] What Nots
Why Not: The latest from the What-Nots has a little of everything that the Santa Cruz indie rockers do--including a country song.

Presents of Sound

Our crack critics track down the best local CDs for giving and keeping this season

SURE, it's a great song. But Will Smith's "Will 2K" likely has a shelf life of six shopping days past Christmas. Once pop music fans wake up the day after New Year's Eve--Y2K bugged or not--partying like it's 1999 is a thing of the past.

The latest crop of local CD releases comes from a half-dozen bands who have proven that they're here for the long term. And every one of the albums in this musical gift guide has been verified by Metro Santa Cruz labs as Y2K compliant.

As a bonus, in honor of the new year, our team of psychics has put together a prediction: Y2K will be the year of Sista Monica. With a new album just sent off to Bernie Grundman Mastering for final touches, she's betting that the next millennium will start off with a righteous blues-funk and not the same old swing of things.

The What-Nots
Too Much of Everything
Flying Harold Records

Most of us think of the What-Nots as everything but a country band. Well, whatever. On Too Much of Everything, set for release Friday, the foursome proves that it can even do Patsy Cline proud with "Country," a ballad sung by guitarist-vocalist Eden Fineday. More original than a generic alternative band and edgier than your average pop group, the What-Nots rock through a wide range of styles with their long-awaited second album. The fast-paced "Even Me" highlights guitarist/vocalist Phil Sherwood's voice--and someone should build a shrine for drummer Kevin Northcutt after his percussion performance in "Pretty" and give bassist Brendan Thompson an overall gold medal. With a tight sound, good recording quality and excellent cover art, Too Much of Everything shows that the What-Nots deserve their burgeoning fan base in every way. (Mary Spicuzza)


Scentuality

Kenny Stahl
Scentuality
Carmel Jazz Recordings

The simple elegance of Kenny Stahl's breathy flute tone paired with Bob Basa's capable guitar accompaniment underscores the melodic brilliance that has allowed standards like Astor Piazzolla's "Adios Nonino" or Thelonious Monk's "In Walked Bud" to endure. Spare arrangements--mostly just melody and a couple of choruses of improvisation for each player--focus on Stahl's strong interpretations of classics of instrumental pop and a trio of originals. (Rob Pratt)


Big Town

Sean Kennedy & the King Kats
Big Town
Rocket King Music

Sean Kennedy has a knack for getting a dizzying riff under your skin and letting it soak into your consciousness. Kennedy's guitar effortlessly works its way up a totem pole of rockabilly, country and blues while laying down rock & roll to the nth degree. His passionate verses on "Sweet Tree" and "I'll Be Yours" are stickier than that hunk of Bazooka gum hot off the Pontiac Grill. "Racer Girl" is spaghetti Western at its Prego-y apex. The ripping piano makes those great balls of fire of yesteryear commit arson of the incredible kind. Hot Rod Larsen's thumping bass stomps are guaranteed to be the cat's meow. I haven't been this amazed since the time I was cleaning my cat's litter box while nibbling on a Kit Kat when a tragic mix-up transpired. (Matt Koumaras)


Livin' in a Dream

Aaron Nason
Livin' in a Dream
(Self-released)

Right from the start, it's obvious that Aaron Nason's bandleading debut, Livin' in a Dream, is a bass player's album. The opening track, "Primal Stomp," has his towering bass sound fattened with a wide chorusing effect. As a player, Nason is equally at home running deep, dark and mechanistic like Darryl Jones in Miles Davis' mid-'80s fusion bands, slapping and popping on a gliding R&B groove or funking around a midtempo strut. His songwriting (10 of the album's 11 tracks are written by Nason, mostly with Dale Ockerman) is balanced and generally tight, with strong jazz-fusion influences from David Sanborn and Marcus Miller--and maybe, in more soulful moments, Grover Washington Jr. However, some songs (most notably "Beach Street" and "Hear Me Calling") tend to drift without purpose. Performance credits on the album read like a Santa Cruz dream band: Ockerman on keyboards, Ron E. Beck on drums, Beck and Charmaigne Scott on vocals, horn solos by Rebecca Coupe Franks and Jeff Kashiwa and a guest solo from guitar god Robben Ford. But for all of the showcased talent--including a great mixing job by David Luke--Livin' in a Dream never really wakes up and faces the world with anything but a groggy countenance. (RP)


Drinkin' Cryin' & Moanin'

The Haywoods
Drinkin' Cryin' & Moanin'
Wormtone Records

There's something about the Haywoods' new album, Drinkin' Cryin' & Moanin', that makes me nostalgic for the days before I was born. Maybe it's Chad Silva's vocals in "You Burn Me Up" as he sings "You're my firecracker/I'm your little match." Or perhaps it's Rich D'Amore's stand-up bass contributions to born classics like "Waitin' on You" and "She Treats Me Nice," penned by guitarist Johnny "Mojo" Munnerlyn. Some of the album sounds like a jaunt through Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry favorites, but with original lyrics and a tight sound, there's something irresistible about the Haywoods' debut. Unlike some of the fly-by-night bands that jumped on the rockabilly/psychobilly craze a few years back, this quartet has a polished sound that shows a love for the music rather than trends hopping. (MS)


Afro Bush Jazz Highlife Funk

Danjuma Adamu: Kosono
Afro Bush Jazz Highlife Funk
(Self-released)

Few people, even professional musicians with decades-long careers, radiate music the way Danjuma Adamu does. On albums and onstage, as in person, he has a melodic manner, a bounding step and a seemingly effortless connection with the deepest rhythms of the world that, on his latest, Afro Bush Jazz Highlife Funk, can make earning a traffic ticket, in the song "Ticket Master," seem like a portentous moment. For Adamu, every beat is a dance, every snatch of melody a symphony, and the score of originals in this collection all ring with that spirit even when the production quality sags below Adamu's usual high standard. Amazingly, considering that Adamu plays nearly everything on the album, the tracks drive with the enthusiasm and stamina of a live band just returning from a long tour instead of the laid-back overweening precision that usually characterizes an overdubbed studio album. Lyrically, Adamu for Afro Bush Jazz turns more toward themes of daily life than the spiritual, as in his previous effort. But even when he's singing on "Busy Body" about neighborhood gossips, his husky tenor has vast powers of enchantment. (RP)


Música sin Filtro

Cara Dura
Música sin Filtro
(Self-released)

Though a little ragged around the edges, Watsonville ska heroes Cara Dura nonetheless turn out a spirited debut disc with Música sin Filtro. A melding of ska, punk, surf guitar and even spaghetti Western-inspired textures (as in the ironically titled "No Me Hagas Surfir" or "Don't Make Me Suffer"), Cara Dura's raw and gutsy sound largely overcomes the album's poor recording quality and performance problems like intonation among the horns and wandering tempos in the rhythm section. Chivo's rough vocals--part sneer, part come-on and done in both Spanish and English--take on common punk-rock themes ("Debauchery," "Cerveska") as well as stark imagery ("Camino a la Muerte") and anti-drug diatribe ("Waste Away"). The cover of the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" (here done as "La Migra") flat-out rocks, and tune for tune Cara Dura has more fire and passion than a dozen area bands with twice their years and experience. But though the band's songwriting shows craft and an appealing playfulness, technical issues of musical performance keep Música sin Filtro from rising above the level of a solid first recording. For the legion of local fans, though, this long-awaited full length (set for a December release) won't disappoint. (RP)


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From the November 17-24, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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