Random acts

Of note

Ukulele Madness Good news for fans of Ami Worthen’s Mad Tea Party: The nostalgic, upbeat duo (Worthen and Jason Krekel) recently announced plans to begin recording a new CD of old-time novelty-jazz tunes, Old Songs for New Ears, at Collapseable Recording Studio in Asheville. The album is a followup to last year’s full-length Be in Life. No release date has been set. For more information, visit www.whosethatrecords.com.

Listening room (album reviews)

The Stretch, The Shuffleboard City All Stars (Shufflecity Records, 2002)

“I woke up this morning with the best of intentions,” a voice on the CD begins.

Those words are followed by the hardest-rocking, coolest-sounding, bass-heaviest instrumental I’ve ever heard in a local release: “The Best of Intentions” lays down the kind of groove that makes you want to drive fast, show no mercy to the petty difficulties of the world and otherwise pretend your humdrum life is actually a stylish montage from a slick Hollywood action film.

You could easily buy a copy of The Stretch for that one tune (it’s really that good), though not exploring the rest of the music would be a disservice to your ears. The whole album is filled with equally impressive, if wildly different, offerings.

At this point, you’re probably saying, “If The Shuffleboard City All Stars are such a great local band, how come I’ve never heard of them?”

For one thing, they aren’t from Asheville. In fact, they’re the best-kept musical secret in Hendersonville, where they seem to enjoy a fiercely loyal following.

It’s easy to see why. Where Asheville has many bands of varying skill levels all trying to fill different niches — hard-kicking metal, grooved-out funk, nouveau-classic country, bass-heavy hard rock, DJ’d mix-music and pop-oriented newgrass — Hendersonville has one band doing all of that at once.

And doing it all very, very well.

Sometimes, more than one influence pops out at a time. Take, for instance, the darkly atmospheric “Return,” which sounds like Space Hog playing a Black Sabbath tune, only with a mandolin providing the arrangement’s musical spine. A better example might be the twangy, upbeat-yet-mellow “Mexi Mart” — about bingo, unhappy relationships and that titular haven of all things purchasable.

Doing justice to all of The Stretch‘s varied content in a short review would be nearly impossible. The album contains moments of utterly dark heavy metal, upbeat near-newgrass and almost perfect funk. All combined, it makes for an outstanding local album.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

soundproof room, Jr. James & The Late Guitar (A-Tone Music, 2002)

If you took some of the most appealing pieces of world music, jazz, pop and dub from the past few decades, filtered it through the hands, voices and hearts of some of the Asheville area’s most versatile musicians, and immortalized the result on a CD, you’d have something very much like Jr. James & The Late Guitar‘s third album.

If this seems like too strong an endorsement, then you haven’t yet heard soundproof room.

Take the new lineup of The Late Guitar, which includes not only a returning Nancy Alenier and Tyler Ramsey, but also local performers Aaron Price, Bill Reynolds and Mike Rhodes, as well as numerous guest artists. With so many talented musicians working together, the album exhibits a great variety of influences that combine to create a wholly new sound.

Of course, many of the record’s best songs are really reworked tunes from the group’s two previous albums, hymns to her and second of nine. Like the band itself, the songs “Brand New Rock” and “Questions” have also come into their own on this album, sounding fuller and richer than in previous incarnations.

The album is sometimes a little weak, though. The occasional spoken-word bits about direct-to-brain music marketing can be distracting, while a few tunes come dangerously close to hybrid-genre jam sessions as opposed to truly individual songs — the vaguely Caribbean-and-atmospheric-effects-sounding “A Maze in Space,” for instance. Thankfully, Jr. James and his cohorts typically reign themselves back in before any damage is done.

When all the band’s strengths coalesce perfectly, as with as the title track and “Recognize,” the album’s defining pop track, Jr. James & The Late Guitar’s latest album fully commands the listener’s attention.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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