CD reviews that wouldn’t fit into today’s paper — John Vanore & Abstract Truth, Mint Condition, NewFound Road
JOHN VANORE & ABSTRACT TRUTH
Trumpeter John Vanore projects a coolly assured sound on his latest CD with his pocket big band. Now with 14 pieces heavy on brass (four trumpets, two trombones, and a French horn), Vanore continues to mine a stylish Gil Evans vibe, with maybe some Maria Schneider thrown in. These eight tunes meander through various realms of coolness without failing to communicate.The set flags a bit by the end but generally stays true to Vanore, Widener University’s director of music, whose band is named for Oliver Nelson’s classic album “Blues and the Abstract Truth.”
Pianist Ron Thomas lights up “Envy.” Saxophonist Bob Howell and guitarist Greg Kettinger score, too, with solid work. The session reaches a high point on “You Go to My Head,” with Michael Mee playing some memorable saxophone.
— Karl Stark, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Live At The Down Home,” (Rounder)
When NewFound Road left southwestern Ohio on the bluegrass trail a decade ago, it was primarily a bluegrass gospel group. But it wasn’t long until the quartet was covering a full range of bluegrass material, from sacred to secular, traditional to contemporary.
Tim Shelton, lead singer and guitarist, is the only founding member still with the group. The newer members of the band — Jamey and Joe Booher and Josh Miller — are good musicians and NewFound Road is as strong as it ever was. But Jim VanCleve’s fiddle — added for the album — seems so essential to the music that it’s hard to imagine the band’s sound without it.
“Live At The Down Home” was recorded live last December at The Down Home, a Johnson City, Tenn., restaurant/club. Most of the material comes from earlier albums. But a live performance — even recorded — brings more energy to the music than a studio recording.
The band does a good job of taking songs from other genres and turning them into strong bluegrass songs.
There’s Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”; Dave Loggins’ “Please Come To Boston”; Jackson Browne’s “These Days”; David Paich’s “Houston,” a country hit for Glen Campbell; and Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got To Memphis,” from his years as a country singer.
There are a couple of bluegrass classics — Earl Scruggs’ “Ruben” and Carter Stanley’s “Lonesome River.”
But NewFound Road also creates some great original music.
Miller wrote “Blackadders Cove,” an uptempo murder ballad; and co-wrote “If You’ll Pretend,” an uptempo love song, with Shelton; and “We Ain’t Going Down Without A Fight,” an uptempo song about a moonshiner declaring war on revenue agents who have arrested his son, with Barry Bales.
— Keith Lawrence, Owensboro (Kentucky) Messenger-Inquirer
Born into the Minnesota R&B scene of the 1980s, Mint Condition was more like slick but sweat-inducing soul classicists Maze and the Commodores than souped-up neighbors such as the Time and Prince. Mint Condition used some of the synth, slap and tickle that made the Purple One reign, but vocalist Stokley Williams had a rich and passionate tone that bordered on the insistent.
The harmonies were silken, the rhythms swinging, and the band’s overall musicality earthen and live. There was, and continues to be, something hearty and tactile about Mint Condition’s husky sound, a touchy tradition they follow with elegant, funky aplomb on the heel-clicking “I Want It” and the quietly thundering “Can’t Get Away.”
There’s a sonic depth to those tunes you simply don’t (or can’t) hear in nouvelle AutoTuned R&B. That density carries over to the emotionalism of songs such as the woozily mid-tempo “Walk On” and “Not My Daddy” (with singer Kelly Price), with their sad sentiment intact but without treacle. They even have a tune about moms (“Unsung”). Dag. With just a hint of hip-hop swagger to make “7 …” minty fresh, this is what honest, open, mature soul sounds like. Pay attention.
— A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer