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[whitespace] Chris Cain

Chris Cain
Live at the Rep
Chris Cain Music

Last year the San José Repertory Theatre commissioned local guitar hero Chris Cain to score the musical Thunder Knocking on the Door: A Blusical Tale of Rhythm & Blues by Keith Glover. The music on this album was recorded live at the Rep in June 1997. Of Live at the Rep's 10 cuts, four are culled from the musical. Cain has always been a lethal performer. "Good Evening, Baby" gets things off to a raucous start with a taste of jazzed-up B.B. King, a little Albert King and a whole lot of Cain. "Baby" showcases the guitarist's virtuoso gifts. His solo is well executed; slurred notes are chased by precise, almost delicate fretwork. A master of dynamics, Cain knows when to fire away and when to take it slow. His version of Willie Dixon's "Help Me" is a slinky, full-bodied groove. Of the tunes specifically written for the musical, the funky strut of "Thunder Knocking on the Door" and gritty "Back on Top of My World" are stand-outs. The former is an R&B-inflected number boasting a snapping, tightly wound rhythm section and concise, groove-based stroking by Cain. For those of us unable to make the show, Live at the Rep is the next best thing to being there. Order by mail: Chris Cain, P.O. Box 1271, Santa Cruz 95061-1271. (Nicky Baxter)

Mark Growden

Mark Growden
Downstairs Karaoke
Wiggle Biscuit Records

A familiar voice to local music lovers, Berkeley's Mark Growden has played in town at What Is Art? and UCSC numerous times over the last year. (He even thanks What Is Art? and locals like Matthew Embry in the liner notes.) He's recently released his first full-length album, Downstairs Karaoke, and on it Growden mines a deep well of sonic styles, utilizing eclectic sounds from exotic instruments--xylophones, tabla, glockenspiels, grandma's organ--many of which Growden plays himself. His songwriting is rooted in folk but he adventures into klezmer, into Indian-influenced sounds, into experiments with feedback, all while maintaining a distinct sense of continuity. While these forays into eclecticism establish Growden as a musical oddity, it's the tranquil, simple songs, the ones with just some acoustic clicks and strumming, that showcase his warm, resonant voice. It's that voice, along with his gift for wordplay (as in "Rental Car" where he sings "Sometimes I feel like a piece of red meat/Precariously placed on a conspicuous plate/ In the middle of table at a potluck for a bunch of young vegans"), that makes Growden so intriguing. For details on the CD, check out www.wigglebiscuit.com. (Karen Reardanz)

Root Awakening

Root Awakening
Roots Tonic
Stamina Productions

Local reggae artists Root Awakening are extra mellow on their latest album, Roots Tonic. From the first track, Root Awakening's melody winds itself around the listener, evoking a faraway Caribbean island and warm sandy beaches. The band's feel-good tunes caress the ears like a tropical wind. Roots Tonic is the perfect CD to put on for those mellow moments of relaxing and unwinding. Root's message is simple, and the band's unchanging tone and lyrics reflect this. In "Manners," the vocalist repeatedly chants that all people should mind their manners and be considerate of others. Other tracks venture into the political, like "Free the People" and "Cover Up." Overall the album deserves praise for crafty musicianship and vocals, but despite its laid-back groove, all the tunes start sounding really similar really quickly. The problem is not so much lack of creativity as that the music is a cookie cutter of what the dreadhead cult has been doing for years. (Karina Ioffee)

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From the February 10-17, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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