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I’ve never understood the frequent knock against Bob Dylan’s singing. He may not be operatic in scope, but I’ll take what he brings to the table eight days a week simply because it’s perfect for his music. I say this not because I’m comparing Stuart Kabak to the legendary “song and dance man,” though it’s not a connection without merit. But with a largely conversational tone and limited range, Kabak comes off completely naturally.

It doesn’t always come together, as “She Was Naked” wavers between intimacy and voyeurism, and that conversational tone is almost too conversational at times on the otherwise emotionally resonant “Numbers.”

Kabak’s subject matter is pretty heavy throughout, though with Nazi concentration camps and 9/11 making unforgettable appearances in “Numbers” and “Towers of Love” respectively, sometimes a topic as simple as performing to an empty house (“Play for Me”) can serve as a breath of fresh air.

Kabak’s comfortable pace and inclusive musical accompaniment aren’t breaking any new ground, but that’s hardly the point. By evoking a traditional musical history, No Matter Where You’re Going marches along a familiar trail worth traveling.
—Crispin Kott


Rock & roll, for better or worse, is often considered an art form. And sometimes when that happens, the rock rolls right out the door in favor of pretense. If that sort of thing bugs you, Rob Skane’s Phantom Power Trip should provide some relief.

Like Bruce Springsteen acolyte, Jesse Malin, or the Smithereens, Skane clearly believes in the power of rock & roll, and on this 11-track album, he unleashes that power like he’s blown up a dam, each song stampeding along relentlessly. In truth, there are 12 tracks on the CD, though the last falls into the art-over-all-else category. “Noise Track” is likely designed to show versatility in approach or influence, but as it comes off, it is a fairly simplistic collage for potheads.

That solitary misstep aside, Phantom Power Trip is a fine record, one which manages to cover a lot of territory in what is often thought of as a limited palette. “In My Room” isn’t a Beach Boys cover, though it does, in its own way, plumb similar issues of isolation and loneliness with a gorgeous guitar-and-organ accompaniment. “Girl Next Door” comes out of the bedroom to toast a lovely lady through the lens of Cars-style pop music, while “Would You Be There” is positively college rock along the lines of a less vulgar Violent Femmes, a backward guitar solo as a much more successful use of studio time than the aforementioned hidden track.

A linked bio on Skane’s website worryingly calls him the Ace Frehley of Albany, though, thankfully, Phantom Power Trip is easily more enjoyable than anything on any of those KISS solo albums, Frehley’s or otherwise. —Crispin Kott


I’d rather not know where Big Joe Fitz picked up his name, because somewhere in the middle of the first song on This is Big it hit like a ton of bricks. He’d already won me over even before his voice suddenly took on the power of a thousand soul singers, but then came that moment.

It’s not worth trying to pinpoint where that moment came, because frankly the album is full of moments like that. And maybe there was even a moment like that way back somewhere in Fitz’s own early years, when his smooth R&B croon suddenly rattled his very bones and scared the crap out of him.

Let’s be clear lest anyone think otherwise: This is Big is a covers album, a dynamic soul-jazz triumph, but not one of original material. Even so, as Fitz and his band lay waste to more celebrated blue-eyed soul singers like Mick Hucknall (Simply Red), familiar tunes like “Hard Times” and “Imitation of Love” become very much their own.

“Get it While You Can,” written by Jerry Ragovoy and Mort Shuman, sounds like it was found in a vault originally closed in 1967, Mark Dziuba’s stunning guitar evoking Jimi Hendrix during those moments he settled back and proved why blistering solos were only part of his repertoire.

It’s absurd to admit this, but I can’t bring myself to look at the photos in the album sleeve, especially the one where Fitz is standing alongside his band with a friendly smile on his face and an angular beret atop his head. I just can’t believe this voice comes out of that guy. It’s my failing, I’ll grant you, but it’s not going to prevent me from continuing to spin this terrific album. —Crispin Kott

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