Groove House Records
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LA's Box the Walls were always really singer/ songwriter Wendie Colter's project, so it's no surprise that Payday, their 1998 indie release, has just been reissued under Colter's moniker. But no matter whose name is on the cover, it's still one hell of an album. Colter's amazingly expressive voice perfectly captures the startling range of emotion in her songwriting (for blurb writers out there, that's "amazing, perfect, startling"). For instance, there's a marvelously whimsical lilt to her pipes in the song "Popular Wisdom," in which she trashes the mythology of effortless, trouble-free love: "It's a cynical spin that taints the taste buds/With the sediment that gathers at the bottom of the bitter cup/I have tried to drink it up/Drink it up." On "7th Wave," she's all rock & roll power and indignation—but unlike most rockers, she can hit "angry" and still stay in key. Colter has a talent for finding the emotional frequency a song demands, never faltering into the cartoonishness of harder-edged vocalists or —spare us all—stumbling into sappy Jewel territory. Beyond Colter's exquisite voice, Payday is marked by some fantastic guitar work by John Theodore, particularly on "7th Wave," in which he navigates a complex series of tone and speed changes with amazing acuity, weaving the song into a seamless tapestry. Also impressive is Brian Mastalski's moody bass line, which effectively underscores and grounds the album. A remarkable disc all around, regardless of whose name is on the jacket. (Victor D. Infante)
Joey DeFrancesco started playing the Hammond organ when he was 4 and was gigging for money around his native Philadelphia by age 10. Miles Davis asked him to join his late-'80s band when the organist was only 17. Now 28, DeFrancesco has gone from prodigy to a genuine B-3 godfather. He seems to want to play the part, too—his new disc, Goodfellas, celebrates the great Italian crooners and Mafia music of yore, so it's only appropriate that DeFrancesco pulled in two other Italian-Americans, guitarist Frank Vignola and drummer Joe Ascione, to round out his trio. They had never played together before, most of the songs are first takes, and the album took just two days to make—talk about easy money. The result is a ray-of-sunshine reworking of spaghetti anthems like "Speak Softly Love" (from The Godfather) and "Volare" into hard-swingin', straight-ahead groove tunes in the tradition of Louis Prima. Though the album is laden with upbeat numbers, the musicianship occasionally takes some deadly serious turns:as any paisan must, DeFrancesco pays a heartfelt tribute to Sinatra, with covers of "Young at Heart" (featuring Vignola's emotive recipe) and "Fly Me to the Moon." But cuts like "Whack 'Em" and the title track have DeFrancesco squabblin' and squawkin' in a bucket of B-3 grease, blurting out blues riffs that couldn't get any dirtier. Mingcha! (CJ Bahnsen)
[EDITOR'S NOTE: "Mingcha" is the Italian equivalent of "Yeah, baby!"]