- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

JOE MANNIX

White Flag

(Mannixrock.com Records)

In his bio, Joe Mannix (no relation to the classic TV private eye) recalls how he would spend hours as a youth in the 1970s listening to discarded jukebox singles from his parents' nightclub. That helps explain why the songs on "White Flag" channel '70s singles chart fixtures Billy Joel, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, and even Jimmy Buffett.

With a melodicism and clarity of vocals (if not always lyrics) missing in much of rock today, "White Flag" is a rare indie-label pearl amid a bed of oysters.

As with Mr. Mannix's 2001 double-CD "Come to California," there is a theme running through "White Flag." In this case, he says, "It's about a struggling songwriter making peace with the big, bad world of popular music." (Hmm, wonder who the struggling songwriter could be.) The best songs here are the pessimistic "Higher Intervention" and the defiant "White Flag" ("No apologies and no regrets/It's the long run, so place your bets./Ego, toil and trouble/and all these worn-away frets").

Most of the rest of the 15 tracks here are elegies to lost love, the best of which are "Bellerose Hill," embellished by Keith Lindsay's keyboards, and "Port Aransas," which evokes Mr. Buffett (think "Come Monday," rather than "Margaritaville.") The only misfire on "White Flag" is the preachy, pious "Everyman," which is wildly out of place thematically and is salvaged only by Mr. Mannix's delightfully Dylanesque harmonica riffs.

Joe Mannix performs at a CD-release party for "White Flag" tonight at Velvet Lounge, 915 U St. NW.

Peter Parisi


CYNTHIA CATHCART

Alchemy of a Rose

(Highland Circle Music)

Silver Spring native Cynthia Cathcart hadn't given much thought to playing a wire harp until she inherited one. Unlike the more typical nylon-strung harps played by harpers with trimmed fingernails, the wire harp comes with strings made of brass, bronze, gold or silver and is played with long fingernails. Of Scottish descent (Clan Ogilvie), she was amazed to learn such harps are known as "clarsachs" in the old country and date back to the 10th century.

She's come out with her first CD of wire-strung harp music, accompanied by a variety of Gaelic instruments: bodhrans, flutes, bagpipes, didjuridus and at the end, a peal from the bells of the National Cathedral. (It took some negotiating with cathedral bellringers to record the latter).

Wire-strung harp music is an acquired taste, as the effect is not as mellow as typical harp music. Even for regular harpers, wire-strung music is considered esoteric. This nicely presented CD, which comes with helpful historical explanations and cultural backgrounders, contains much that is worthwhile, ranging from the merely pleasant to the haunting.

The best track is the almost nine-minute "Brian Boru," a Scottish war song dedicated to the victims of September 11. Sounding something like a 21st century Caledonian battle hymn with Revolutionary War overtones (the drum used in this piece was actually used 200 years ago in that war), "Brian Boru" starts with a battle horn. The harp then chimes in as a call to war. It evokes a heroic age of warfare before weapons inspectors and security council resolutions when warriors smeared their faces in blue warpaint like Mel Gibson and charged. So buy this CD, and if you don't like it mail it to Kofi Annan.

Julia Duin


RUBY HAYES

Ruby's Blues

(Princess House Records)

Attention D.C.: There's a new blues singer in town. Ruby Hayes is her name. On her new CD, "Ruby's Blues," she interprets smoky urban blues classics "At Last," "Stormy Monday" and "Since I fell For You" made to order for her sultry voice with its traces of blues and jazz legends Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith.

First discovered in church when she was 14, Miss Hayes' roots are in gospel, but she has long since crossed over. After her debut at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel's Apple of Eve Lounge in 1975, she joined a blues band called The Exclusives. She now fronts her own band, Ruby and the James Quartet, which delves into the catalogues of greats like Cole Porter and Duke Ellington for standards to which she brings the respect and understanding which should always underlie interpretive license. Such is her passion for her art that Miss Hayes is now pursuing a degree in music at a local university and working with blues master Nap Turner. When it comes to the blues, Miss Hayes is a lifelong learner.

So add "Ruby's Blues" to your CD collection, and if you can, catch Ruby's blues live on Monday at Blues Alley.

C.R. Hodge


JONAH SORRENTINO

Collaborations

(Uprok Records)

Hip-hop, rap and Christianity may seem like strange bedfellows, but on "Collaborations," Jonah Sorrentino's new CD, they're starting to get better acquainted.

Mr. Sorrentino likes his morality straight, no chaser. The literal-minded "Wait for You," commands the young to stay virgins until they marry and ends with a phone conversation in which a young man informs his girlfriend he'll be sleeping in his own bed, not hers. A let's-not-spend-the-night-together song, think of it as a somewhat tardy answer to the Stones song that was too hot for Ed Sullivan.

"Revenge of the Nerds" is a salsa-flavored song about some poor sap who can't get a girl to dance with him, replete with clever sound effects of the youths who mock him. "Fifth Element" is a conversation between a microphone, turntable, spray can and the Lord Himself, using passages from Isaiah 53. "Industry" is a street-slangy sermon on whether Jesus needed a manager, booker and record agent like today's Christian musicians do. In the commercialization, Christianity gets too watered down, the song preaches.

"Where Were You?," about child abuse, is a screaming match between a father and son unfolding while father is beating mother. The second verse is in the voice of the abused child. One of the best cuts is the last: "Coke, Fry, Cheeseburger," a witty song about a guy stuck in a fast food line who can't make the cashier understand him. This CD is a good example of what contemporary Christian music should be: spiritual, but not evading emotionally charged contemporary social topics.

Julia Duin


GRANT GREEN

Retrospective 1961-66

(Blue Note)

With his rhythmic drive, fluid single-note lines and blues-infused licks, guitarist Grant Green ranks as one of Charlie Christian's main heirs, but his music fell into relative obscurity after his death in 1979.

The four-CD "Retrospective 1961-66," with 39 tracks Mr. Green recorded for Blue Note as a both a sideman and a leader, should help restore his reputation.

Mr. Green's roots were in organ trios, which often featured guitarists as the lead soloist, and the first two CDs find him playing soul-jazz on numbers such as "Funky Mama" in combos with Hammond B3 organists.

The third disc showcases Mr. Green performing straight-ahead jazz in small combos, demonstrating his versatility by interpreting jazz standards ("'Round Midnight"), Latin tunes ("Besame Mucho") and spirituals ("Go Down Moses"). The most interesting track is a 10-minute version of "My Favorite Things."

The fourth disc focuses on Mr. Green's performances with some top horn players. Appropriately, the selections include Mr. Green's "Blues for Charlie," his tribute to Mr. Christian.

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