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Frank Ockefels

Better Than Ezra
Friction, Baby

Last year, Better Than Ezra's "Good" broke all over the alt-rock charts, and Deluxe, the album from which the single was culled, racked up impressive numbers. The trio's sophomore effort, Friction, Baby, is a smooth, radio-ready offering. Kevin Griffin, Ezra's chief, is capable of devising furnace-blasted guitar rock and baby-bottom-soft ballads with equal facility. Bracketed by a sturdy rhythm section (bassist Tom Drummond and drummer Travis McNabb), Griffin dodges the sophomore doldrums. "King of New Orleans" confirms the group's knack for hitting the commercial bull's-eye. But "King" is insubstantial fare compared to, say, "Long Lost," with its alternately assaultive and soothing guitars and Griffin's wounded vocal. Better Than Ezra's been around too long to be the Next Big Thing, but it'll do until It arrives. (Nicky Baxter)

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Low and Sweet Orchestra
Goodbye to All That

If the Low and Sweet Orchestra mutated into street buskers playing for cash in the French Quarter, I'd damn near give them every shiny penny. Sometimes sad, other times pristine and evocative, the Low and Sweet Orchestra creates outdoor music meant for strolling down cobblestone promenades. The group reminds me a little of the Pogues, Johnny Cash, Mano Negra and Springsteen, especially on "Sometimes the Truth Is All You Get." It's Kieran Mulroney's violin and James Fearnley's accordion that pin down the heart--or Mike Martt's husky, corduroy-lined voice. Either way, "A Nail Won't Fix a Broken Heart," "Take a Long Look" and "Miss Her Anyway" are the songs you want in the jukebox at closing time. (Todd S. Inoue)

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Jesse Davis
From Within

One glance at the personnel contributing to saxophonist Jesse Davis' From Within is enough to suggest that this is an affair worth remembering. Anytime a relatively unknown artist can convince pianist Hank Jones and bassist Ron Carter to accompany him, it is reason sit up and listen. Davis' fifth outing as a session leader is firmly ensconced in mainstream jazz, boasting a two-horn front, with young lion Nicholas Payton's trumpet lined up against Davis' tenor. Six of these nine brooding tunes were written by Davis; the other three maintain the album's abiding feeling of interiority. "Journey to Epiphany" defines the mood, a piece of fragile beauty featuring stirring solos from Davis (on alto), Jones and Payton, respectively. "Tai's Tune" is more upbeat. As a soloist, Davis is terse and swings with subtlety. "Tai's Tune" finds Lewis Nash laying down a Latin groove; Carter's upright bass work is beyond reproach. (NB)

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Wally Pleasant
Wally World

The first thing that jumps out are the song titles: "The Day Ted Nugent Killed All the Animals," "I Want a Stalker," "The Ballad of Ty Cobb." Wally Pleasant's semi-humorous acoustic wanking will play well with Dr. Demento, which is where much of Wally World belongs. To endure each track back to back is to subject oneself to an hour-long coffee talk with the overly clever Thing That Wouldn't Leave. Wally World is worth a few giggles around the campfire, but like those "you might be a redneck if ..." joke books, the novelty bears the shelf life of an unwrapped Twinkie. Sorry Wally. (TSI)

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