For almost ten years, Les Cooper and his Dalharts have carried the torch for honest-to-gawd country. Good thing they had the patience to stick it out, because the Dalharts have matured into one heck of a fine band. Thanks to Les's rich bray, Tim Cooper's sugarcane steel-guitar playing and the seasoned craftsmanship of the rest of the Imperial cast, locals have a homegrown cure for Nashville's illnesses.
Run by Andrew Murphy, a spry and indefatigable supporter of homegrown music, Boulder-based Smooch Records has done more than just put out records: The label has helped cultivate an identity for the grassroots network of independent artists who make and record music in the Front Range. The sporadic Smooch live showcases are sampler-platter style concerts that give listeners a chance to taste a little of what's going on underground. Recently, the Smooch logo has appeared alongside some of the area's finest musical exports, from Maraca 5-0 to Jay Munly. Pucker up.
Cut live at the Boulder Theater in 1996, So Long of a Journey captures one of the finest acts to emerge from the contemporary bluegrass scene in all its glory: From the traditional favorite "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" to the joyous "Won't You Come and Sing for Me," the playing and singing of Pete Wernick, Tim O'Brien, Nick Forster and Charles Sawtelle is as skilled as it is spontaneous. With the passing of Sawtelle, future Hot Rize reunions will necessarily have something missing, which only makes this CD all the more valuable.
The Corvairs never made much of an impact nationwide, but the band was among Colorado's hottest new-wave acts in the late '70s and early '80s, and Denver Sessions '79 perfectly captures the era. The music can be goofy at times -- "T.V." interpolates the theme to The Munsters -- and the recording quality is rather primitive (for information, visit www.newwave.50megs.com). Still, songs like "Hands of Time" and "Surf Noir" perfectly capture the spirit of the times.
Otis Taylor is among the most ambitious blues performers on the planet, as Respect the Dead demonstrates. Rather than churning out good-timey blues for tourists or mimicking the styles of yesteryear, he uses his compositions to explore issues of love, history, race and justice. Songs like "Ten Million Slaves," "32nd Time" and "Jump Jelly Belly" may seem to be heavy sledding on the surface, but thanks to the conviction and talents of Taylor and collaborators Kenny Passarelli and Eddie Turner, they emerge as inspirational, educational and mysterious.
Exposed is about as pure a jazz CD as you're apt to find: Like all Creative Improvised Music Projects offerings, it was recorded directly onto a computer without compression, echo or any post-production tampering. As a result, listeners can hear every nuance in regularly enthralling performances by saxophonist Fred Hess and his worthy associates: trumpeter Paul Smoker, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Damon Short.
Dotsero bassist Michael Friedman reaches beyond his usual smooth-jazz audience with Swingset Jazz, an album of adaptations of children's standards like "I've Been Working on the Railroad." Though the album is meant to be educational as well as fun, Friedman may be able to trick kids into thinking it's just the latter. Whimsical and high-spirited, Swingset Jazz adds another volume to the relatively small body of jazz works for children.
We all know the altitude is to blame for everything, from a cheap pop-up at Coors Field turning into a tape-measure home run to the somewhat sorry state of sushi. But since when did it cause locals to become hard of hearing? What else could explain the release of a disc as engaging as the Czars' The Ugly People vs. The Beautiful People receiving less local coverage than John Elway's latest post-retirement hobby? Much of Europe is already wise to this release, which has landed the Czars in the pages of cross-Atlantic publications from Time Out to Mojo. On the disc, lush, melancholy vocals beautifully color such stellar tracks as the lilting "Lullaby 6000" and the hypnotic "Drug." Hometown crowds should join the Beautiful People.
Former Jux County frontman and current Czar Andy Monley released Denver, his first solo CD, in January. A collection of songs Monley wrote in his downtime over a couple of years, the album features guest cameos from a fine group of local players, including guitarist Janet Feder, Mike Serviolo, Monkey Siren's Glenn Taylor and Mark Harris and the Czars' John Grant and Chris Pearson. Denver is melodic, moody and nearly perfect. We wish the whole city sounded this good.
Those who've resisted the charms of Dressy Bessy in the past complained that the four-piece's music was too cute, too sweet, too cuddly. But on Sound Go Round, too much feels just right. Each ditty here is an irresistible hook-o-rama whose allure is magnified by lead singer Tammy Ealom's winsome crooning and guitarist John Hill's unfussy production. Anyone who can listen to this disc without smiling has some issues in need of resolving.

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