- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2002

BILLY GIBSON

The Nearness of You

(Inside Sounds)

Billy Gibson, who has been amazing blues fans for years with his tremendous harmonica talents, has said, "Blues and jazz are separate sides of the same coin." He proves on his new album that he is adept at both.

Mr. Gibson brings the classic songs of Duke Ellington, Victor Young, Hoagy Carmichael and Bob Hilliard back to life with a mixture of smooth vocal stylings and harmonica skills.

The first track, "When I Fall in Love," sets the mood for the rest of the album. "Moonlight in Vermont" is slow and mellow, with a romantic feel. Two fun midtempo songs are "Sweet Lorraine" and "Have You Met Miss Jones?" Mr. Gibson's own composition "Darling, Please Come Home" is another number listeners will enjoy.

Mr. Gibson performs several instrumental tunes that are sure to please. "Misty" is delivered with that old jazz-club feel and features a saxophone solo by Bryant Lockhart. Mr. Gibson's harmonica styling tells the story on "In a Sentimental Mood," accompanied by a sweet guitar solo from Joe Restivo and a backdrop of upright bass from Kevin Sheahan.

Mr. Gibson provides a classic instrumental rendition of a favorite of mine, "The Nearness of You," that should not be missed.

"In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" closes out this 11-track album and a delightful nearness to music. Amy Baskerville


KASEY CHAMBERS

Barricades and Brickwalls

(Warner Bros. Records)

Kasey Chambers surprised a lot of people two years ago when she released her country-rock debut, "The Captain," a record that sounds like the American South but comes from southern Australia. The young singer-songwriter turned her dominance of the Australian charts into international success and since has found an eager audience waiting for her follow-up.

That second album, "Barricades and Brickwalls," likely will meet fans' expectations, though the singer does not sound nearly as innovative as she did on her debut. Her forays into the rock world are more blues-oriented this time, and the country tunes tend to be rooted more in the honky-tonk tradition. The one constant is Miss Chambers' voice, a sometimes powerful, sometimes childish wail that recalls Emmylou Harris, early Dolly Parton and even Lucinda Williams (who puts in a guest appearance here).

The record opens with the blues guitar riffs of "Barricades and Brickwalls," a full-out rock tune that finds Miss Chambers in top form. The song even uses country-style harmonies to give the production more depth. She sings, "You can tie me down on a railway track/you can let that freight loose" as she describes her powerful emotions.

Unfortunately, Miss Chambers pens a few too many ballads that rely on her wistful voice, which grows a bit grating after nearly an hour's worth of music. "The Nullarbor Song," "A Million Tears" and "Falling Into You" don't capsize the album, but they fail to measure up to the record's better tracks.

Those highlights include the Hank Williams-style "A Little Bit Lonesome," the Gram Parsons cover "Still Feeling Blue" and the album's gospel closer, "I Still Pray." Despite these flaws, "Barricades and Brickwalls" is still worth checking out. Miss Chambers' growth as a songwriter is clearly evident, and her promise glimmers throughout. Derek Simmonsen


ZOEGIRL

Life

(Sparrow)

Zoegirl is a female contemporary Christian trio that accompanied superstar singer Carman on his recent 73-city tour around the United States. The group's second album, "Life," is 100 percent better than its debut, "Zoegirl." If only the three would put some of their better cuts at the beginning of their albums. The first few cuts in "Life" are lackluster, breathy teen pop. An exception, "R U Sure About That?" which is based on a theme from Beethoven's "Fur Elise," is clever.

Then the quality goes up. "Plain," a song about about teen girls' low self-esteem, has great lyrics. The piece was penned while the band was on a missions trip to Venezuela, a country known for its beauty queens, but the girls they met talked obsessively about how ugly they felt.

The defiant tune "Here and Now" hits all the right spots regarding Christian youths who refuse to give in to the world culture. "The Truth" is also a song with a good message, addressed to Gen-X'ers who have been told their generation will amount to nothing.

The best cut by far is "Forever Seventeen," sung from the perspective of a girl who died at that young age. It is catchy, lyrical and beautiful and based on a true story about a 17-year-old girl who was killed by a drunken driver. Its haunting message is a good start in the band's effort to produce "values-oriented" pop music. Julia Duin


BILL COSBY

The Best of Bill Cosby

(Twentieth Century Masters)

It's a bit debatable whether this CD actually contains "the best" of Bill Cosby's comedy acts, as it leaves out classics such as "Noah" and "To Russell, My Brother Whom I Slept With." Yet some of the numbers in this release hark back to childhood days when we would giggle over jokes by the first black comedian whose humor appealed to white folks as well. That was the 1960s, remember.

Mr. Cosby's specialty is his sound effects: the basketball in a garbage can, various barking dogs, the plane engine in Fat Albert's car and other deadpan spiels. The best numbers are "Wallie Wallie," "Lower Tract" and "Slow Class." The real howler, "Fat Albert's Car," is a hysterical rendition of how Mr. Cosby's friend tries to pass his driving test.

What endears Mr. Cosby to us all is his self-portrayal as the slow kid who doesn't always get it a character with whom all of us can identify. J.D.

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