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CD Reviews 

Various Artists
Medicine Show, Vol. 3: Gatherings of the Tribe
(Acadiana Arts Council)

Benefit albums are notorious for being well-meant, musically average experiences, almost to such a degree that you have to wonder if a conscience and musical sense can co-exist. Medicine Show, Vol. 3 is reassuring in that concern. The album is part of a fundraising effort for a traditional music program at University of Louisiana at Lafayette in the name of the late BeauSoleil founding member Dr. Tommy Comeaux, with a series of shows at Lafayette's Grant Street Dancehall and albums culling the highlights from those dates.

It really helps that there's a lot of Sonny Landreth on the two-disc set, with four tracks with his band -- Dave Ranson and Kenneth Blevins on bass and drums, respectively -- and another four on which he guests. His guitar is at its most evocative when he duets with Zachary Richard on "Côte Blanche Bay," suggesting the sun rising or setting on the bay with a series of delicate, richly echoed phrases. It sounds like Landreth's also playing with the Bluerunners, particularly on the rockin' "Grand Chenier," when Will Golden's lap steel guitar mimics Landreth's wiry sound. The similarity is such that you have to speculate that Landreth influenced Golden or the same players and sounds influenced both of them.

The surprise of the album is how genres mix, with rock and Cajun coexisting surprisingly well at the heart of the performances. "Port Arthur Blues" by the Nouveau String Band with Marce Lacouture is the most notable exception, defined by the lead fiddles, but the electric guitar is at the core of most of the songs here, though rarely at the expense of the Cajun roots. -- Alex Rawls

R. Scully
R. Scully

(Independent)

Best known as guitarist and singer for Morning 40 Federation, the downtown band that sings about booze, Ryan Scully has made a debut album that cuts deeper than barroom fanfare. This record is about being in love, and hopelessly so.

With his twisted, dark country songs, Scully explores the pleasure of being in perfect step with a lover. "You got the socket," he sings, "I got the plug / I gotta feelin' it's gonna be pretty snug." He contemplates death in terms of love lost on "Deepblueoverdose," musing, "The time has come for this city to fall into the dirt / the time will come when you miss me, as I fall right off the earth." Sometimes, Scully's poetry is purposely lackluster as he's charmingly careless with his rhymes and singing. His lines often trail off into lazy whispers.

Each song keeps its own pace, some slow and dreamy like "Reprise," which, oddly, opens the album. Others, like "Corkscrew," are hopped-up and playful. Like most of the songs here, this one utilizes Beck's magical formula of filters, falsetto and slide guitar to add texture to the tracks. He pays similar attention to his songcraft, and knows how to evoke emotion through melodies, harmonies and dynamics. His smoke-and-whiskey rasp can't always support his most poignant pitches, and if he were a better singer, he could make his listeners weep.

But what Scully lacks in skill, he makes up for in mood. The album is a slow-moving emotional roller coaster, rendered in content acoustic strumming, melancholy electric guitar solos, and desperate vocal wail. -- Cristina Diettinger

Rockin' Jake
5 PM Breakfast
(Zuluzu)

Rockin' Jake's high-energy live performances have earned him a reputation as one of the best harmonica players on the highly competitive New Orleans scene. Jake's approach is fairly traditional -- his style combines elements of Slim Harpo and Jimmy Reed with a Chicago-influenced band sound and Paul Butterfield-inspired improvisational chops.

Though he's an inventive songwriter, his latest album, 5 PM Breakfast, shows off his band's Louisiana roots in a live set of covers recorded at the Green Parrot Bar in Key West, Fla., last New Year's Eve. The only original is "The Lonely Frog" by guitarist Randy Ellis, who also brought the hellfire arrangement of "Zydeco Boogaloo," a highlight of the band's live shows, with him from his stint with Terrance Simien. Jake and Ellis share solo space in this tightly knit quartet, which also includes drummer Sammy Neal and bassist Renen Barrett. The harmonica-guitar call and response on Harpo's "Shake Your Hips" sets the tone for a wild hour of music. Clifton Chenier's "Hot Tamale Baby" also gets a serious workout, and Brian Stoltz joins in on guitar and vocals for the Mardi Gras Indian chant, "(Somebody Got) Soul, Soul, Soul." Jake's gorgeous take on War's "The World Is a Ghetto," an instrumental that references "Eleanor Rigby," provides a quiet change of pace before the rave-up finale, a medley of Bobby Bland's "Turn On Your Lovelight" and the brass band anthem "Do Whatcha Wanna." -- John Swenson

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