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MUSIC | LOCAL ANGLE

Making Music

Whether blues, swing or jazz, most local bands' releases are grade A.

October 01, 1998|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Here are capsule reviews of CDs by groups that frequently play in the area.

Flattop Tom & His Jump Cats, "Swing Dance Party" (Palamar Records)

It's a swing dance, a party, a riot and a rock concert all rolled into one, as Flattop Tom orchestrates this frantic activity into a 17-song dance marathon. With a head flat enough to land small planes on, Tom Hall sings up a storm. And during instrumental jams at live gigs, he has been known to jump onto the dance floor and shake a leg with the other sweaty dancers. Mostly Hall originals are on this one, destined to be a hit on the swing circuit, but there are also a couple of reverent covers, "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and "Don't Let Go" by Roy Hamilton.

GRADE: A-

*

Susan Gabriel Bunn, "Jazzin' Up the Neighborhood"

This is mostly a lady at the piano with a tight backup band doing jazz and blues songs. Better yet, Bunn has the captivating voice to pull it off. You can take Mom to see Bunn.

GRADE: B

Next Gig: Tonight at Padri Italian Cuisine in Agoura.

*

Dear Enemy, "Dear Enemy" (Black Benny Records)

Not to be confused with the '80s band of the same name, this Dear Enemy is four tourists who went to Hollywood and concocted a bunch of songs about urban alienation in the Big City--yeah right, you guys and 6 million other people. The whole thing has sort of a classic-rock groove, but the songs themselves seem generic and uninspired. Back to wherever they came from or at least to Songwriting 101.

GRADE: C

*

Cafe R&B, "Black & White" (It Works Music)

Rockin' L.A. blues band featuring a steamy singer in the one-named Roach. She could make a can of Raid sweat. The band is tighter than your boss, but Roach is the show. Originals and covers are all blasted apart equally.

GRADE: A

Next gig: Oct. 9 At Cozy's.

*

Jay Gordon, "Electric Redemption" (Blue Ace Records)

This L.A. blues guitar player is a guy who has everyone else just trying to keep up as he pulls off endless incendiary guitar solos. This is Gordon's fourth album, with a fifth threatened for an early '99 release. Here's a guy who attracts guitar players who show up to watch and take notes.

GRADE: A-

*

Home Cookin', "Home Cookin' " (Blue Dot Records)

Brenda Boykin is a speaker-threatening blues belter out of Oakland who effortlessly cruises through a well-chosen collection of blues classics, plus a couple of originals.

GRADE: A-

*

Dogwood Moon, "Live at the Moondog Cafe"

Definitely not on the Boston timetable, this low-budget duo now has a mere three CDs in just two years. This live effort contains all their good ones, including "Big Dipper, "Infinity" and "Flying." It's pretty basic: Jonathan Grossman plays acoustic guitar and harmonizes with Laurie Gunning, who sings better than everyone. They don't rock, but they're great. They're also off on tour for six months.

GRADE: A

*

Ron Rogers, "La La Land" (Doo Rag Records)

Another transplanted Texan in a black hat, Rogers is a gifted songwriter who writes these slightly bluesy, slightly twangy down-home tunes. "Give 'Em Guns" probably won't be playing in Charlton Heston's Walkman, but the title tune is getting some airplay. The musicians are all first-rate and this is a solid effort by a Burbank-based player.

GRADE: A

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