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Cool Spins: The Mix Staff Picks Their Current Favorites

Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer (World Circuit/Nonesuch); Eliades Ochoa: Sublime Ilusion (Higher Octave)Given the incredible success of

Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer (World Circuit/Nonesuch); Eliades Ochoa: Sublime Ilusion (Higher Octave)

Given the incredible success of 1998’s Buena Vista Social Club CD, on which Ry Cooder assembled a band of veteran Cuban folk musicians in a Havana studio for a spirited workout on a number of traditional son, it’s not suprising that there is a genuine Cuban music boom going on right now. Two of the players on that disc put out CDs this past summer and both are well worth checking out. Ibrahim Ferrer was the soulful singer whose voice dominated the BVSC project. On his solo disc, produced by Cooder (who also plays guitar) in Cuba, he occasionally moves away from the folky strains of the previous album toward a fuller sound with copious horns and strings. I was not in Havana nightclubs in the ’50s, but this is the kind of music I imagine was played there. Ferrer has a wonderful romantic quality to his crooning, and the arrangements are always tasteful and appropriate. And though it’s Ferrer’s disc, this is still definitely an ensemble at work. On Sublime Ilusion, guitarist/singer Eliades Ochoa presents a looser, rawer sound that is no less compelling than Ferrer’s. Ochoa plays slinky electric guitar and sings divinely. The accompaniment by the Cuarteto Patria and guests such as Cooder, Ry’s percussionist son Joachim, David Hidalgo, Charlie Musselwhite and horn player Luis Gonzalez is just right. The 15 songs span many different eras of Cuban music; it’s quite a rich banquet.

Ibrahim Ferrer: Producer: Ry Cooder. Engineer: Jerry Boys. Studio: Egrem (Havana, Cuba). Mastering: Jerry Boys, Livingston Studios (London).

Sublime Ilusion: Producer: John Wooler. Engineer: Clark Germain. Studio: Ocean Way (L.A.). Mastering: Bernie Grundman (L.A.).

-Blair Jackson

George Jones: Cold Hard Truth (Asylum)George Jones was still in the process of approving and cutting final vocals for this album when he was involved in a near-fatal car accident. Now that he’s on the road to recovery, Cold Hard Truth serves as a testament to the great singer’s continuing strength as an artist. According to the liner notes, some of the vocals on the CD were meant to be replaced, but after the accident, the label decided to go ahead with the tracks they had. It’s not too surprising that Jones’ scratch vocals are much better than 99% of the country singers charting today. What is pleasantly surprising is the tasteful restraint shown in the production. Jones is accompanied by a crackerjack ensemble of musicians-no giant, schmaltzy strings, just a ten-man country band-and backing vocalists John Wesley Ryles, Larry Marrs, Vince Gill and Patty Loveless. Highlights include the ACM Award-nominated single “Choices” and a rocking love song, the title of which says it all: “Real Deal.”

Producer: Keith Stegall. Recording engineers: John Kelton and Mark Nevers (vocal overdubs, background vocals). Mixing engineer: John Kelton. Studios: Javalina, Sound Station and Wedgewood Sound (all in Nashville). Mastering: Hank Williams/MasterMix (Nashville).

-Barbara Schultz

Willie Nelson: Night and Day (Pedernales/Freefall)Here’s an unexpected treat: an all-instrumental album of standards by one of the best singers in the business. What’s going on? Well, if you’ve ever seen Nelson perform or listened closely to his records you know that he’s an exquisitely tasteful master of the nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, and he’s got a crack band that can play in any style. The repertoire hits classic tunes by a range of great writers, including Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, Fats Waller, Cole Porter, Django Reinhardt and Harry Warren. Fiddle player Johnny Gimble, pianist Bobbie Nelson and harmonica ace Mickey Raphael traverse the different styles with ease and grace, and Nelson is at his unpredictable best in his solos. I particularly like the versions of Django’s “Nuages” and Waler Bullock and Jule Styne’s “Vous et Moi.” Pleasant through and through.

Producer: Willie Nelson. Engineer: Larry Greenhill. Studio: Pedernales (Austin, TX). Mastering: Terra Nova.

-Blair Jackson

Various artists: Alright, this time, just the Girls (Sympathy for the Record Industry)Sympathy for the Record Industry’s two-CD compilation of grrl-dominated garage bands, Alright, this time, just the Girls, is dedicated to Brill Building-era Carole King, although one suspects the arguable Queen of ’60s girl groups would simply invite the anthology’s raw women to eat her Suburban Assault Vehicle’s dust.

But girls (and even boys) who like their pop hooks swathed in trashy-sounding guitar, sweet and flashy vocalizing, and girlie subject matter will probably want to get their pink-tipped talons on this collection. More than 40 bands try on a spectrum of rock ‘n’ roll styles. There’s infectious pop by The Muffs, surf guitars from The Neptunas, airy French confections by April March, snotty and horn-fueled punk by The Honeymoon Killers, dreamy garage rock from Holly Golightly of Thee Headcoatees, reverb-heavy rockabilly by Earl Lee Grace, and a down-and-dirty twist from the Japanese band 5, 6, 7, 8’s. Throw in pioneer XX-chromosome new wavers (The Bags, The Revillos), big-name blondes (Hole, Free Kitten) and even newer waifs (early Donnas incarnation, The Electrocutes), and you have indisputable evidence: Chicks rock.

No recording or engineering information available. Producer: Long Gone John. Mastering: John Vestman (Fullerton, CA).

-Kimberly Chun

Vegas Demilo: Before It Gets Old (Starving Cowboy)There’s a lot to be said for a band that combines guitar crunch with accessible pop hooks. The San Francisco band Vegas Demilo is part of a noble tradition-you could say it goes back to The Beatles, though this group has a little more in common with power pop progeniters such as Tommy Tutone and Dwight Twilley. There’s nothing startlingly original about Vegas Demilo but they’ve definitely got the goods: a singer (Foster Calhoun) with a strong but even delivery, lots of variety in the guitar textures (John McCauley and Brad Wait), crisp drumming (Steve Perry), and catchy tunes you might find yourself singing along to first time through. There’s a dash of cynicism, a teaspoonful of angst, a fair amount of drama, but it’s always tuneful and driving-even the ballads. A band to watch.

Producers: Foster Calhoun and Alec Johnson with Dug Nicols and Travis Crenshaw. Engineers: Travis Crenshaw and Dug Nicols. Studios: Brilliant (S.F.) and Russian Hill (S.F.). Mastering: Paul Stubblebine/Rocket Labs.

-Blair Jackson