- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 10, 2002

CLIFF EBERHARDT

School For Love

(Red House Records)

If life were fair and stardom based on raw talent, Cliff Eberhardt would be a household name. In another age, Mr. Eberhardt would have found his niche on Tin Pan Alley or writing for Broadway shows. His songs display the highest level of craftsmanship, his guitar playing is superb and his singing deeply emotional.

But if life were fair, singer-songwriters would also have less insight into quotidian ironies of life and their material would be lacking. Mr. Eberhardt takes advantage of every angle in this extended look at relationships: "School For Love," which features 12 new songs and closes with a rich version of the traditional "Clementine."

Although most of these songs are about affairs of the heart, only two "Blessings" and "My Sweet Liza" qualify as love songs. The rest deal with love from some other perspective, such as a wise confidante, as in the title track, when he sings "Someone should have told you from the very start/love could lead you to this broken heart."

Perhaps "Memories of You" displays his talent best. The protagonist of the song claims he is "never alone, I'm never all by myself. I'm living with these memories of you." Certainly thousands of songs have expressed this sentiment. But Mr. Eberhardt does so to great effect: "Oh, who needs the heartaches and the tears?/I love you more when you are not here/I don't need you here with me/I prefer your memory."

These songs like all of Mr. Eberhardt's work have a timeless quality. The title track starts with a musical and lyrical introduction, the like of which hasn't been heard in popular music since The Beatles' "If I Fell."

"Love Slips Away" and "Sugartown" both feature Mr. Eberhardt on slide guitar and "Merry-Go-Sorry," which is an archaic term for laughing and crying at the same time, has a Celtic flavor. It is one of only two songs on the disc that doesn't include the word "love." The other is the driving, "Whenever I Sing the Blues." Together, these tunes display the range of Mr. Eberhardt's work, from playful to powerful.

Figuring strongly in this disc are the production and keyboard contributions of Seth Farber and the backing vocals of Liz Queler.

Jay Votel


WILLY PORTER

Willy Porter

(Six Degrees Records)

The first time he opens his mouth to sing, Willy Porter's gravelly voice recalls Bruce Springsteen, except the older, wiser Mr. Springsteen, rather than the young firebrand. Thankfully, even if Mr. Porter sounds somewhat like the "boss" initially, his skill with a guitar makes these comparisons moot before the first song is over.

By the time the next song "If Love Were an Airplane" comes on, Mr. Springsteen is left behind as Mr. Porter stretches his voice a key higher. While his voice may change from track to track, the one constant that remains is his remarkable acoustic guitar skills, which help turn what could have been a drab solo effort into a more interesting work.

Skip over the whiny pop number, "If Love Were an Airplane," and instead check out "Unconditional," a touching, stripped-down folk ballad or "Everything but Sorry," which matches an almost rapping verse to a slightly sinister riff from Mr. Porter.

Unfortunately, things nearly come to a standstill on some of the slower tracks, such as the snail's pace opening of "Big Yellow Pine." In fact, when Mr. Porter stays in the lower register his songs are far superior to his high crooning.

If only he had stayed at the bottom of the scales for most of these tunes it's one of the glaring faults in what is otherwise a strong effort from the young singer-songwriter.

Derek Simmonsen

ELLEN CHERRY


The Ellen Cherry Primer

(Self-released)

Ellen Cherry may have one of the best kept secrets in the local music scene in Kristin Putchinski, the group's lead singer, songwriter and guitarist. She has a strikingly well-polished voice that bears traces of Sarah McLaughlin in its earnest pleading.

The highlights on "The Ellen Cherry Primer," the Baltimore band's latest release, are mostly the rockers, including "Uncrossed" which charges ahead with animated drumming from Drew Moody and a repeated, acoustic power chord progression. Miss Putchinski's voice hovers over a whiny electric guitar riff, a pattern that is repeated elsewhere on the album.

The main fault here is focusing too much on the slower, folk-influenced ballads at the expense of the faster numbers. Miss Putchinski's voice remains intriguing throughout, though, whether on the Alanis Morisette-esqe "6-4-4" or the driving "New Song," which finds her forcefully singing "And I'll never feel that way again" over a murky, guitar chorus.

One of the album's standouts is "The Meanest Waltz," which uses the basic 3/4 beat as a template for an atmospheric song that adds a toy glockenspiel and cello to enrich the musical template. It feels like a speeded-up version of the Cowboy Junkies and shows that the band is willing to venture into new creativity territory.

The group would do well to follow these impulses more often, as "The Meanest Waltz" perfectly juxtaposes Miss Putchinski's smooth voice against the musical chaos going on around her.

"The Ellen Cherry Primer" may show a band beginning to feel comfortable with itself, but in Miss Putchinski it also has a great, developing talent. Copies can be purchased through the band's Web site at www.ellencherry.com.

D.S.


COUNT BASIE AND HIS ORCHESTRA

Basie Meets Bond

(Capitol Jazz)

In 1965, studio time was booked for Count Basie and his orchestra to record a number of arrangements by Chico O'Farill and George Williams of music from James Bond films. And so, with a strong lineup of sidemen and featuring tenor saxophonist Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, the tapes rolled and swinging versions of "Goldfinger" "Kingston Calypso," "From Russia with Love" and "Underneath the Mango Tree," among others, were laid down and issued on vinyl in 1966.

Now, in 2002, the master has been transferred to CD for listeners starved for tight, well-orchestrated swing and jazz. But in the rush to unearth the past and profit from what is sitting on the shelves, one lesson is often forgotten the original itself may have been flawed. That seems to be the case with "Basie Meets Bond."

While Mr. Basie and his musicians give it their all-out best, and the Bond films had some catchy and well-written themes, the nuances of the Bond music are lost against strident horns. Even Lockjaw Davis' sax has lost its vigor against them. The finesse you hear when Mr. Basie played his own music is missing.

Scripps Howard News Service

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