Kevin Bryan’s record reviews

Mark Harrison,”Crooked Smile” (Highway Records)- London based Harrison may be plying his trade half a world away from the source of his inspiration but his curiously timeless songs remain steeped in the spirit of the Mississippi blues, and “Crooked Smile” should be required listening for anyone who’s ever professed an interest in this fascinating genre. The understated Mr. Harrison and his like minded musical cohorts have assembled a relaxed and deeply satisfying set for your delectation, with Mark wielding his trusty 1934 National resonator guitar to excellent effect during mellow gems such as”Honeyboy” and “Georgia Greene.”

John Hiatt, “Mystic Pinball” (New West NWA 3060)- Hiatt’s tough yet tender approach to music-making may have earned the veteran singer-songwriter a whole host of critical plaudits over the years but the Indianapolis born musician remain a relatively obscure figure as far as the bulk of the record-buying public is concerned, and this excellent new album is sadly unlikely to rectify the situation. Aerosmith producer Kevin Shirley brings all his technical expertise to bear on a typically eclectic and gutsy batch of self-penned songs led by “We’re Alright Now,“ “It All Comes Back Someday” and the deliciously macabre “Wood Chipper,” aided and abetted by some inspired playing from Hiatt’s backing band The Combo.

“The Music and the Song of the Great Tapestry of Scotland” (Greentrax CDTRAX372D)- This eclectic 2CD set does an excellent job in capturing the musical soul of Scotland, drawing on contributions from many of the fine artists who’ve recorded for Greentrax over the years alongside a few gifted outsiders such as Eric Bogle and The Proclaimers, who chip in with their 1987 hit, “Letter From America.” Dick Gaughan, Robin Laing and the criminally under-appreciated Rod Paterson also make telling contributions to the package, and the compilers have also included Sheena Wellington’s memorable live performance of Burns “A Man’s a Man For A’ That” from the re-convening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

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Musica Antiqua Koeln/Goebel,”Bachianas-Music by the Bach Family” (Archiv 479 0377)- Reinhard Goebel’s period instrument ensemble have always felt a special affinity for the music created by the various members of J.S.Bach’s large and remarkably talented family, and Archiv’s new 5 CD set explores a fascinating assortment of their vocal and instrumental creations. Goebel’s highly expressive violin work is one of the most attractive features of this well researched collection, which also features Czech mezzo-soprano Magadelena Kozena’s highly acclaimed 2003 recordings of assorted Bach cantatas and arias.

Family,”Live”(Mystic MYS CD 176)- This quirkily compelling live set has been assembled from a batch of live tapes that were apparently unearthed in Family frontman Roger Chapman’s loft, capturing the highlights of the band’s typically energised show at London’s Rainbow Theatre in November 1971. The contents capture the raw spontaneity of Family’s live act quite superbly as the band launch into perennial crowd-pleasers such as “Drowned In Wine,” “In My Own Time” and “The Weaver’s Answer” with their customary disregard for the niceties of polish and presentation.

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