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VARIOUS ARTISTS—MANY HANDS: FAMILY MUSIC FOR HAITI(Spare the Rock Records)

The tricky thing about reviewing a benefit album is maintaining one’s objectivity, especially when the cause is such a noble one. Fortunately, Dean Jones’ Many Hands bursts at the seams not just with good intentions, but with damn fine music as well. Instead, the problem lies not in picking out rare gems in an otherwise meager collection, but rather having to leave unmentioned worthy tracks simply because there isn’t enough room to praise them all. Readers are just going to have to run out and buy this CD to experience it for themselves.

The story goes that Jones, himself a family musician with a lengthy pedigree, hit upon the idea of a family music album to benefit earthquake-ravaged Haiti in the middle of the night. By the next day, he’d already enlisted the participation of several fellow musicians, a number which blossomed into the 22 tracks on Many Hands.

Some of the songs fall into the classic kids’ music category, such as “Check it Out” by Caspar Babypants and the Haitian-themed “Here We Go, Zudio” by Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem. Other artists take the genre in different directions, like the XTC-esque power pop of Jonathan Coulton’s “The Princess Who Saved Herself” and hip-hop artist Secret Agent 23 Skidoo’s “Noise.”

There are also artists known the world over, from Pete Seeger to They Might Be Giants to Dan Zanes. That’s not to dismiss anyone else, like Emily Curtis, who opens the proceedings with the sublime “We Belong,” or Uncle Rock’s infectious “Shadow Dance.”

Jones himself serves as more than the album’s producer, notably performing solo on “Little By Little” and with his band, Dog on Fleas, on “Sing About the Sun.”

Many Hands won’t just make you feel good for supporting Haiti; it’ll also make you feel good when you stick it in your CD player and listen. . —Crispin Kott

www.manyhandscd.com / www.sparetherock.com

CLEOMA’S GHOST—TAKE ME BACK: A CAJUN REVERIE(Little Bird Records)

The music of Cleoma’s Ghost sounds like a party, especially on their new album, Take Me Back: A Cajun Reverie. It’s the kind of party found on rickety front porches on lazy summer nights, fireflies dancing in the distance. In many ways, the album’s Cajun party vibe is inherent in the music, some originals and some already familiar. But even more so, it’s in the authenticity the musicians bring to the table.

Take Me Back, according to the Cleoma’s Ghost website, is the culmination of numerous trips to Southwest Louisiana, soaking up the atmosphere, as well as meeting new people like “Karleen,” who Buffy Lewis and Roger Weiss met at a drive-thru daiquiri bar in Holly Beach before it was blown out to sea by Hurricane Rita.

Lewis, who sings and plays guitar, and Weiss, who plays the fiddle and also sings, combine to form a perfect musical pairing, each aware of what they bring to the party without stepping on one another’s toes. It’s a natural trait which serves them well, not only in their own interplay, but also when other musicians enter the picture.

Covers of “Jambalaya,” “Iko Iko” and other traditional numbers weave seamlessly with originals, like the accomplished title track.

If you’re a fan of the fiddle, you’re in luck. Of the 16 songs on Take Me Back, 14 begin with the fiddle, with only “Louisiana Boogie Woogie” (guitar) and “Born in the Country” (a cat, a dog, and then the fiddle).

Take Me Back is more than just a travelogue; it’s likely to transport the listener to another place. —Crispin Kott

www.cleomasghost.com



LARA HOPE & THE CHAMPTONES—HEARTBEAT(Champtone Records)

Rockabilly is alive and well and living in Saugerties. At least that’s how it shakes out on Heartbeat, the new EP by Lara Hope & the Champtones, a six-song collection that’s either timeless, retro or some combination of the two.

“’53 Boogie” serves as something of a manifesto, as Hope sings “I’m a rockabilly baby” while the Champtones roll with no apparent irony in that it’s possible none of the band’s parents were even alive the year the song is presumably set.

But that’s hardly a quibble, minor or otherwise, because not only is Heartbeat packed with authenticity in the style and substance, but it’s also a ton of fun.

“Cruising in a six-speed hot rod Chevrolet” sounds like a blast on “Big Block Betty,” and the temptation to sing along with the band is almost too much to resist. It’s easy to picture the song, along with the title track and “Great Minds Drink Alike” going down a storm in a jammed juke joint, and if there’s one negative to be found in Heartbeat, it’s that it’s too damn short. Buy the EP, but clamor for an album before long.—Crispin Kott

www.myspace.com/larahopeandthechamptones



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