Perhaps mid-heat wave is bad booking timing, because Casolando, a suave Latin quartet based in Chicago, will have your blood boiling beyond its current stroke-flirting level. The group, fronted by Colombian-born singer/songwriter Carlos Ortega, has done a fantastic job of capturing the music's undeniable energy and underlying sensuality by recording their latest CD, Iliana, live in the studio. With Swing music leading the way for certain Salsa/Latin acts to thrive, it's refreshing to hear no big horn sections on Iliana. Instead, Casolando relies on balladry (Ortega was inspired by early Colombian ballads from the '30s through the '50s), with the shuffling rhythms driven by the kinetic acoustic guitars as much as they are by the tasteful conga and percussion work by Chuck Sansone. The textural, hypnotic sway of Casolando is buoyed by Ortega's plaintive vocals. Sung entirely in Spanish, he manages simple but seductive melodies that match the music's discreet, somewhat-subtle eroticism. This is vivid, almost-cinematic music that is soaked in traditional sounds yet never gives way to simplistic clichés and succinct expectations.
At the Swing Lounge.
Platinum-selling "commercial radio" rockers The Verve Pipe have re-emerged with a self-titled album follow-up to their huge '96 hit, Villains. It's baffling sometimes when bands profess huge influence from classics and then it doesn't come close to panning out in their music. When the Gin Blossoms first came out, they hyped their love of Big Star and how it affected their music, which said to me, the picky listener, to stay the hell away from Big Star. That kept me away from the Pop/Rock genius of the Star for a couple of years until I realized that I probably shouldn't be so influenced by a crappy Rock band. If the Gin Blossoms were influenced by Big Star, imagine what they'd sound like if they hadn't been.
Verve Pipe singer Brian Vander Ark got to indulge his XTC fetish a couple of years ago when he traveled to England to write with Andy Partridge, leader of the perennial Pop force. None of that stuff's on The Verve Pipe, and, in fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find any kind of substantial influence on the album at all. The Verve Pipe continue to lay down the same kind of lackluster, generic guitar Pop that has been littering Rock radio formats for the past several years in the wake of "Grunge." There's no artistic touch to the band's sound, no craftiness to speak of. Though I'm sure they have some serious fans who love them for who they are, bands like The Verve Pipe are hypnotizing to consumers, watered-down rehashes so similar to everything else that people forget what they're buying. I've listened to the album three times and ... must buy ... new ... Collective Soul ... album.
Talented singer Nina Storey, at age 25, has the kind of vocal-wisdom-beyond-her-years quality of which stars are made. Perhaps most admirable is the versatility she chooses to display with it. A Colorado native from an extremely musical family, Storey has been through a lot in her approximately 10 years in the biz. At 15, she sang on a demo project her mother had garnered from MCA Records, and the project led to an EP and publishing deal. In college she sang in a band with her dormmates which led to a couple of albums and a USO tour. In '95 she was sidetracked by a car accident that almost led to her never singing again. (Today she takes care of her voice by not talking hours before a show, instead using sign language.)
Last year became a watershed year for the singer, appearing at Lilith Fair and releasing Shades, an album as diverse as her experiences. Storey is a fearless performer, dipping into Funk and R&B one second, Reggae and AltPop the next, making her a prime candidate for crossover success. Not all of the material is aces, but most of it is a perfect vehicle for Storey's expressive and sprawling style. She's been likened to a lot of singers, but the Joan Osborne comparison seems most apt because, like Osborne, Storey is in possession of a staggeringly solid voice that makes you stand at attention from the first notes emitted. Still, Storey is worthy of a wide array of comparisons because she's not attached to one specific style, something her independence has insured. Here's hoping a Svengali doesn't get hold of her and try to shape her into something she's not.
At the BarrelHouse.