- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002



Richard Shindell Recordings (Signature Sounds)

"Courier" reminds listeners just how talented Richard Shindell is as a performer, in this potent live mix of his best-known songs. Backed by vocals from Lucy Kaplansky, his former Cry Cry Cry band mate, and with a band that features John Putnam on guitar, Mr. Shindell has put together a disc that stands up to repeated listening.

The recording is virtually seamless. He introduces a trilogy of truck-driving songs that opens with his powerfully emotive "The Next Bext Western" and moves through a cover of Lowell George's "Willin'" at one venue the Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck, N.Y. and closes with "The Kenworth of My Dreams" from a show at Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair, N.J.

Other highlights include a stirring "Reunion Hill," a palpably sinister "Fishing" and the yearning of Bruce Springsteen's "4th of July, Asbury Park" to close the concert.

"Courier" demonstrates Mr. Shindell's craftsmanship as a songwriter with a flair for telling stories from a character's point of view. What makes the recording so special is that it also displays his emergence as a real presence onstage. Jay Votel


Fare Thee Well

(Old Train Music)

Bluegrass Unlimited magazine in 1999 called Dean Sapp one of the genre's "most underrated singers" and "Delmarva's best-kept bluegrass secret." That he took 2000 and much of 2001 off from the studio wasn't surprising. Mr. Sapp had, after all, produced two double CDs in 1999, "Living in a Crossroads," comprising a lot of new material, and "Live From Australia," which followed him on a 1998 tour Down Under. In the interim, he also started a line of custom-made guitars and expanded his monthly concert series in Elkton, Md., to include weekend workshops for bluegrass musicians.

Mr. Sapp's latest offering, "Fare Thee Well," is perhaps his most lighthearted recording ever. It incorporates barnyard sound effects at the close of Randy Head's song about hogs, "Ten Cents a Pound," as well as Mr. Sapp's infamous impression of Lester Flatt to open the Earl Scruggs instrumental, "Nashville Blues."

The disc takes its title from a Bob Dylan song that Mr. Sapp has been performing in concert for several years, and it contains some lively instrumentals opening with "Kicking Grass," written by Mr. Sapp's brother, Ben Sapp, on banjo and closing with Mr. Sapp's own instrumental "Cherokee."

Mr. Sapp wrote four other songs for the 12-track recording, including the new and humorous "Won't You Stay for a While," which looks at marital infidelity from the standpoint of a man hiding from a jealous husband in his paramour's closet. "We'll Go Steppin' Out" is another carefree tune about a couple heading for a night of dancing, and in "The Lost Souls," Mr. Sapp revisits one of his favorite topics the sinking of the Titanic. He issued his disc, "The Night the Titanic Went Down," in 1997.

Mr. Sapp also recalls his travels to the island in the flowing resophonic guitar instrumental, "Australia My Love." Harford Express mandolin player Dan Curtis of Baltimore weighs in with an instrumental of his own, "Moon Bride's Waltz."

"Fare Thee Well" captures a lot of the energy and fun Dean Sapp & Harford Express produce onstage. The music is unvarnished, the songs honest and the vocals and harmonies are clear as a bell the way bluegrass was intended to be. J.V.


High and Lively

(Flat Five Press)

This is the first solo album for Mr. Mitchell, a rather unconventional violin-playing singer-songwriter out of Roanoke, who squanders too much of his quirky side for rather bland contemporary country on this debut. The 29-year-old has classical violin training, and in the songs where he moves the strings to the forefront, the numbers shine. Unfortunately, the rest of the disc is a bit uneven, though the young performer shows promise.

The record is a hodgepodge of country, rock, folk and Celtic music, which varies from gentle, acoustic ballads such as "Tatankwa" and "Gifts" to the superb acoustic-rock tale that makes up the middle three songs ("Time Forgotten," "Take Me Back" and "Home") to the almost bluegrass-style finale "Mindless in GMaj."

Mr. Mitchell works best as a songwriter on the quieter numbers, when the guitar and violin interplay is better able to stand out. Unfortunately, the slick production, especially on the opener, "Gentle Spirit"; the turgid "Carry On"; and the piano-laced rocker "Dawn's Light," kills much of the intimacy that is built up by the earlier numbers. Mr. Mitchell should stick to his quirky folk side and drop the bid for modern rock stardom because his violin skills are too good to be wasted on poor material. Derek Simmonsen



(Sparrow Records)

This is Mr. Chapman's newest of 12 albums with Sparrow Records. His stories are told through light-hearted praises, as in "Jesus Is Life," and emotional love songs such as "When Love Takes You In," which was written to his new daughter, adopted from China.

For more power you need not look too far. "No Greater Love" was written about Christian martyrs in South America, and the combination of strong vocals and moving lyrics paints the picture of Mr. Chapman's aim to serve God in all he does. The steady tension he builds through the opening's low marching to the crescendo of the chorus is filled with passion. Low, subtle guitar blends easily with light drum work to flow from verse to verse, complementing and emphasizing Mr. Chapman's message. His heart is in this one.

Serious lyrics are what make "Declaration" another firm step in Mr. Chapman's career. While some say his work is repetitive and stagnant, the real passion in the words continues to hold Mr. Chapman at the top of the praise and worship genre.

His work is a combination of guitar (lots of guitar), and the talents of his award-winning band, whose new rock style has been compared to Creed, Train and even the classical style of the Beatles. Mr. Chapman and his crew, along with the Chapman family, put "Declaration" together to let people dance the glory of God, and feel the tears of our weakness and God's strength. Brian Sortor


Jam Session Concert

(Nagel-Heyer Records)

The Sidney Bechet Society is an indispensable part of the jazz world, as it seeks to remind the public of a man who may have been the greatest jazz clarinet player. Had Mr. Bechet not died in 1959 at the relatively young age of 62, he might have joined fellow pioneer Louis Armstrong as a permanent part of American pop culture.

Unfortunately, as a musical group on a live album, the society never rises above merely good. This latest recording, captured live in New York in 1999, assembles a group of talented musicians to play songs composed or made famous by Mr. Bechet. The playing is impeccable and the arrangements are smooth and energetic.

But the sad fact is, the musicians never manage to transcend the conventions of small-combo jazz and bring something new to Mr. Bechet's old songs.

The one remarkable standout on the album is clarinet player Evan Christopher, who comes close to capturing the heartbreaking beauty and longing of Mr. Bechet's playing. Sean Scully



(Arista Nashville)

When last we left neotraditionalist country singers Alan Jackson and George Strait, they were lamenting "Murder on Music Row," their 2000 duet on which they decried the pop-stylized dumbing down of country music.

Messrs. Jackson and Strait have reunited on "Designated Drinker," one of the best tracks on Mr. Jackson's fine new CD, sales of which should but, sadly, probably won't persuade the suits on Nashville's Music Row that they need not compromise the country sound to make the cash register sing. ("Drive" debuted at No. 1 on both the pop and country charts in its first week, with sales of nearly 500,000 copies, despite its minimal concessions to pop sensibilities.)

From "Designated Drinker" (the disc's rousing second single) and "When Love Comes Around," a pair of likely-to-be country dance hall favorites propelled by Paul Franklin's steel guitar and Stuart Duncan's fiddle, to the Cajun-flavored "That'd Be Alright" and the acoustic "Once in a Lifetime Love," "Drive" is, happily, unpretentious gear-jamming country.

Irene Kelley's Emmylou Harris-like backing vocals and Mr. Duncan's mandolin lend a nice touch to the bluegrassy "A Little Bluer Than That," while the title track, the disc's opener, is a pleasant reminiscence of childhood.

There are just three misfires here: the dopey "I Slipped and Fell in Love" and the self-indulgent "First Love" (about "an older woman" which turns out to be a 1955 convertible) and "Work in Progress," detailing his shortcomings as a husband.

A self-described "singer of simple songs," Mr. Jackson wrote or co-wrote all but three of the 13 tracks on "Drive," which includes both a studio recording of his touching September 11 tribute chart-topper "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" and a live version performed at the Country Music Association Awards in November.

One review I read described "Drive" as Mr. Jackson's best-yet LP. Not having heard the previous 11 (including two hits collections) in their entirety, I can't attest to that, but I can say that "Drive" makes me want to go back and take the others for a spin. Mr. Jackson performs March 10 at Patriot Center. Peter Parisi

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