You gotta wonder about an album bookended by "The Golden Age of Swing" and "Flinging Poo at the Zoo." Doctor Sparkles himself lands somewhere in between, masquerading on the sleeve in a sequined black jacket, oversize red top hat, red eyeliner, and tie-dye T-shirt. This all detracts only slightly from his child-friendly, jungle-themed swing revival.
This San Francisco trio takes Latin fusion back to the edge, reinventing Brazil minute-by-minute and injecting samba with rock and funk experimentalism. Stroll through their songs on Carl Rembe's fat basslines, tiptoe atop Emilio Benevides' sparkling percussion, or simply absorb the universal exuberance of Alex Köberle's Portuguese vocals.
Self-proclaimed "hip OG" Ken Ekool wants us to know he's beyond the slick scheming of his younger contemporaries: I don't need another booty call/I need a full-time lover, gotta have it all. The Oakland resident's R&B style is typical but endearing: drum claps, keyboards, funky basslines, earnest vocals. Ekool wrote, performed, and produced.
Charming tales about decaffeinated coffee, golf course foibles, five-dollar shoes, picking up chicks at the library, and more - all set to peppy, horn-laden cabaret grounded in blues and '40s and '50s vocal jazz - make Stuart Rosh's fourth album an unexpected and undeniable treat. Across all twelve tracks, he and his band never lose their groove.
Much as Matisyahu employs reggae memes to express Jewish ideologies, El Sobrante's Saul Kaye takes a so-obvious-it's-brilliant turn by using blues music to tell Old Testament tales. The two concepts fit together like the teeth of a zipper on this vibrant live recording, with a backing band that muscles emotion into Kaye's narrative originals.
Despite sounding like they were recorded into a $10 tape recorder, the Karma Bandit's songs aren't half-bad. It's just one man (a former cabbie, belting out some surprisingly lucid lyrics) and his guitar (acoustic, roughly picked and strummed) on these five folksy tracks. Perfection is for whiners, and sometime amateurs can teach the pros.
Tracy Cruz's voice isn't a perfect instrument, but it possesses a resonance that helps her communicate with uncommon grace. Cruz also contributes guitar and songwriting to this strong soul debut, produced by her husband. You can take me wherever you want to go/In your car, in your home, in your stereo, she allows in "Let Me Sing," and it's not a bad proposition.
Even Jimmy Buffett is subtler than Davidson and his steel drum shtick, which boils down to this line from the title track: Every day's a holiday/Taking work and making it play. "Going Coastal," "Mental Health Day," and "I Need a Weekend" bluntly aspire to trade the drudgery of office life for a day or two in the tropics. Wouldn't it be nice?