Mishka: great voice, songs overwhelmed by production | AspenTimes.com
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Mishka: great voice, songs overwhelmed by production

Stewart Oksenhorn
Reggae singer Mishka, who appears at the Belly Up next month, has released the CD, "One Tree." (Courtesy mishka.com)
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Here are reviews of current CDs by artists scheduled to perform at the Belly Up in Aspen:Mishka, “One Tree”produced by Mishka and Felix Tod (Cornerstone RAS)The Beautiful Girls, “We’ve Already Gone”produced by Mat McHugh and Ian Pritchett (San Dumo/Silverback)Mishka comes to his reggae voice naturally. Though he was born to Canadian parents, he was raised mostly on a sailboat that cruised around the Caribbean. It is an excellent voice – laid-back and spirited, rich and unique.On “One Tree,” however, Mishka’s voice is awkwardly backed by a production that is heaviest on programmed drums and keyboard. The sounds themselves grate, and they are a poor match for Mishka’s rootsy voice and pretty songs. Which is a shame, because a lot more can be built from Mishka’s talents, which even includes a decent shot at soul sounds on “Rock With Me.” For proof, check out his self-titled, 1999 debut, and the excellent song “Give You All the Love.”

On “We’ve Already Gone,” Australian band the Beautiful Girls starts with a base of rhythms and Mat McHugh’s mellow vocal delivery, both stemming clearly from reggae. But on this, their debut U.S. release, the Girls – an all-male band – deftly add tricks from rock, pop, soul, hip-hop, blues, folk and dub to make a wide-ranging, interesting record. The reggae influence really ties it together, even if the songs themselves, lyrically anyway, only occasionally have much to do with reggae traditions.The Yellow Snow Tour, featuring Mishka and the Beautiful Girls, stops at the Belly Up March 4.

Dr. John, “Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack: The Legendary Sessions, Volume Two”produced by Jack Heyrman & Ed Levine (Cleancuts)In the late ’60s, New Orleans singer and pianist Mac Rebennack emerged as Dr. John, a costumed persona playing Bayou funk with a splash of flamboyant voodoo. In 1981, in a New York studio, Dr. John sat behind an acoustic piano, with no band, and made his first solo piano-and-vocal album. Dr. John had been transformed back into Mac.That session, released as “Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack,” showed that underneath the headdress was a proper heir to New Orleans piano icons like Professor Longhair. So much so that, a year later, Rebennack did an encore, “The Brightest Smile in Town,” re-released here with bonus tracks under the new title. Mac handles all sorts of material, predictable (his own staple “Didn’t He Ramble,” the New Orleans standard “Marie La Veau,” Huey “Piano” Smith’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”) and not (Jimmie Rogers’ “Waiting on a Train,” the standard “Come Rain or Come Shine”). A different side of New Orleans, a different side of Dr. John – and a good one.Dr. John plays the Belly Up Sunday, Feb. 19.

The Legendary Shack*Shakers, “Pandelirium”produced by Mark Robertson and J.D. Wilkes (Yep Roc)Moving at a speed and intensity that recalls SoCal ska – or better yet, new-school Klezmer – Southern rock quartet the Legendary Shack*Shakers make inspired rock lunacy on their third CD, the appropriately titled “Pandelirium.” Led by singer/keyboardist J.D. Wilkes, the Shakers blow their way through songs of killers (“Somethin’ in the Water”), illness (“Iron Lung Oompah”) and, most humorously, myths that need to be put to rest (“No Such Thing”). The Shakers, who get guest appearances here from such smart punks as Jello Biafra and the Rev. Horton Heat, claim relations to the Goth scene, but this is too much fun and energized to call to mind black overcoats and suicidal thoughts.The Legendary Shack*Shakers play the Belly Up Sunday, Feb. 26, opening for Rev. Horton Heat.Blackalicious, “The Craft”produced by Chief Xcel (Anti)Only a few hip-hop groups would dare title an album “The Craft,” or at least merit such a title. Hip-hop thrives more on posing, personality and attitude than musical craft. But Blackalicious, the Bay Area duo of rapper Gift of Gab and producer/DJ Chief Excel, continue to make musical innovations on their fifth CD. Their ideas – rhythmic, textural, lyrical – are constantly shifting, as they search for new expression. The catchy “Powers” recalls Prince-like soul; George Clinton adds vocals on “Lotus Flower,” which updates the funk of P-Funk. The title track is a positive rap, giving thanks for the gift of musical talent – and claiming the responsibility that comes with it – laid over a swirling, futuristic soundscape.Blackalicious plays the Belly Up March 7.

Action Action, “An Army of Shapes Between Wars”produced by William Wittman Victory Records)Scotland’s Franz Ferdinand is being given much credit for their fresh take on ’80s New Wave. But where Franz Ferdinand’s recent “You Could Have It So Much Better,” failed to make me care to revisit the early days of MTV, New York’s Action Action gives at least a reason to think that chilly synthesizers, sculptural hair-dos and The Cure are worth resurrecting. On “An Army of Shapes Between Wars,” produced by William Wittman, a key Cyndi Lauper associate, the quartet flexes some muscle, adding a new sensibility to the sounds of Depeche Mode and Men at Work.Action Action makes its Aspen debut March 6 at the Belly Up, on a bill with Something for Rockets.Trampled By Turtles, “Blue Sky and the Devil”(Banjodad)On their second CD “Blue Sky and the Devil,” from 2004, Minneapolis quartet Trampled by Turtles plays bluegrass that veers from slow and traditional (“Nowhere to Hide”) to fast and pushing the envelope (“I’m a Target Too”). The band sounds best when they hit the dark vocal tones, as they do often (“Codeine,” “Dyin”).Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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