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Tao Seeger Band—Rise and Bloom(independent)

The historical landscape is littered with the career corpses of the close relations of famous musicians, with too few able to make a dent of their own from beneath the shadows of their forebears. Such is the battle facing Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, whose fine Rise and Bloom does more than acknowledge his famous grandfather, Pete Seeger; the album revels in the relationship while establishing a unique sound of its own.

Recording as Tao Seeger Band, Rodriguez-Seeger is clearly the band’s leader, taking on the lion’s share of lead vocals, writing the majority of the original material and serving as the lone face on the stark CD cover. It either also helps or hurts that he’s got that last name; raised in Nicaragua, Rodriguez-Seeger moved in to the Hudson Valley home of his grandparents as a teenager, finding himself on stage before half a million people in Japan after criticizing Pete Seeger’s Spanish pronunciation on select folk songs.

How that brought Rodriguez-Seeger to where he is today is a story best left for another venue, because this is all about Rise and Bloom, which isn’t just the work of one man, but rather a band, one which often sounds as though it plays folk and world music through the electrified grid of a city. Rodriguez-Seeger’s voice is an instrument all unto itself, brusque and full and forceful. Sharing vocals and playing fiddle, as well as contributing the song, “Wade on In,” is Laura Cortese, whose voice complements Rodriguez-Seeger’s well on tracks like storming album opener, “Sail Away Ladies.”

Six of the album’s 11 tracks are Rodriguez-Seeger originals, with reverential-yet-explosive covers of his grandfather’s classics, “Bring ‘Em Home” and “Well May the World Go,” the latter featuring the distinctive harmonica of Blues Traveler’s John Popper.—Crispen Kott

Setting Sun—Fantasurreal(Young Love Records)

Even if you don’t realize it, you may have already heard the sounds of Setting Sun; the Catskill Mountains product has soundtracked commercials for the National Park Foundation and ING Direct, their easy electro-folk music as ideally suited for telling its own stories or someone else’s.

Like the work of kindred spirit Beck, Setting Sun is almost entirely the work of one man, Gary Levitt, who spent six months in quiet solitude putting Fantasurreal together with the occasional assistance of fellow musicians. Though the Beck comparison might seem lazy on the surface, Setting Sun’s own bio invites one to put the pair, if not in the same boat, drifting comfortably down the same winding river. And indeed, the quirky noises are not unlike those often punctuating Beck’s similarly alluring songs. But perhaps it’s the recently departed Mark Linkous, who performed Levitt-like feats of derring-do as the ringleader of Sparklehorse, that most closely resembles what Setting Sun has done here. Not that Levitt is prepared to go down as many dark corridors as Linkous explored, but if the sun shone on Sparklehorse a bit more often, it might have sounded a bit like Fantasurreal.

Four songs in, “Don’t Grow Up” isn’t just near the center of the tracklisting, but it’s also the album’s emotional center. “This is not forever, I am hoping you’ll be free,” might sound grim, but it’s delivered with more brightness than the band’s name might indicate. Fantasurreal isn’t just about feeling good; it’s about feeling anything, about getting somewhere even the stuff you don’t want to know about is all right. That’s no small feat, and Levitt’s Setting Sun pulls it off with seeming ease.—Crispen Kott

Joe Beck and Betty MacDonald—And Here’s to You(MacDee Music)

Before his untimely death nearly two years ago, legendary guitarist Joe Beck began recording an album with vocalist and violinist Betty MacDonald, one which would incorporate standards and originals. How serious his cancer was when the project began is unclear, but MacDonald and other musicians worked hard to complete the album, and as such it serves as a fitting tribute to a life of music.

Beck’s fluid jazz guitar made him a long-sought-after session player, as evidenced by a resume that reads like a who’s who of music—Miles Davis, Paul Simon, James Brown, Duke Ellington and Herbie Hancock are just a small handful of names on whose music Beck left his mark.

Here, then, is his final word, a warm and inviting collection which not only brings Beck’s own talent to the fore, but which also showcases definitively his innate ability to perform seamlessly with other musicians to create something beautiful.

Make no mistake, And Here’s to You is absolutely beautiful, with well-chosen standards like “Georgia on My Mind” and “My Funny Valentine” sitting naturally alongside Beck-MacDonald compositions like “Lullaby” and “And Here’s to You.”

If lines like “Tomorrow may never come” from “For All We Know” feel even more intimate than usual, it makes sense—And Here’s To You isn’t just the work of fellow musicians in total harmony; it’s a pure tribute in every sense.

The album closes with “In Remembrance,” written by and featuring the vibes of Mike Manieri. It’s fittingly somber and celebratory, as is the album itself.— Crispen Kott

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