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Jesse Moore: The Hoodoo Man
MonkeyBone Music, 2003

Jesse Moore—also known as “The HooDoo Man”—took the Hudson Valley by storm when he landed here in 2001. His shows at Oasis and New World Home Cooking left dancers sweaty and music fans breathless, thanks to a tight stage unit of Ulster musicians like drummer Eric Parker, saxman Charles Frommer and others. After a self-titled ep was well-received, Moore and his band returned to the studio to finish this current full-length cd. Ironically, just after the album’s release, the call of N’Awlins took Moore away from us. The new cd includes fan faves like his Meters medley “Fiyo on the Bayou/Hey Pocky Way,” “Mendin’ Ya Wayz,” and the hip title song. But new tracks like “Congo Square,” written after a backstreets epiphany, bring Moore’s deep spiritual side to the front line.

Now this slice of muffaletta music is available for winter-weary northerners, too. To purchase, check out Moore’s tantalizing Web site, www.thehoodooman.com.

—DJ Wavy Davy

Rich Bala: Hudson Valley Traditions
North River Productions, 2003

One might expect a heap of cornpone from a cd like this; but dismiss your fears of an up-with-people hootenanny. Hudson Valley Traditions dusts off story songs about past life in these here parts, but reminds us that the good old days—gop fairy tales notwithstanding—were never all that good. Hardship dominated, whether you were a towpath boy on the D&H Canal, a Rosendale cement miner, or a Catskills lumberjack.

Locally based musician Rich Bala has an expressive voice, by turns elegiac and playful, which makes these numbers (most passed down by oral tradition) more than mere museum pieces. He conjures up the grit and heartbreak of everyday life, the ambivalence toward work that could be quelled, momentarily, with a few pints of applejack. Still, a pride of place for the beautiful Valley bleeds through these hard-luck tales—as well as the saving grace of rueful humor.

Tom White, Geri White, and Bruce Morrison share vocals with Bala and infuse the 14 cuts with period instrumentation: harmonica, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and hammered dulcimer. Not a bad way of learning some local history. Order Hudson Valley Traditions from www.richbala.com.

—Jay Blotcher

Sal Casabianca: Living Between the Bridges
Depot Square Music, 2003

On his self-produced second cd, guitar man Casabianca sings of the vagaries of love and life, abetted by four adroit band members. Casabianca, a musician based in Queens, (hence the cd’s title, referencing the Whitestone and Throgs Neck Bridges), conjures moods gently, drawing from the current jazz-rock hybrid so prevalent in the industry and, alas, now coming perilously close to cliché. Casabianca’s goatee, dark sunglasses and funky cap indicate he is intent on living the dream. But first he needs to find and secure his own personal style, or risk being lost in the line-up.

Living Between the Bridges indicates there is growth ahead; Casabianca’s shimmering compositions are self-assured and his voice is warm and plaintive, but too often suggests other avatars of the craft: Sting, David Gray, and Bob Mould. When it comes to lyrics, songwriter Casabianca tends to play it too safely, dispensing philosophical observations about relationships and individuality that would give pause only to those who live the unexamined life. But on cuts like the exuberant opener “The Givers” and the soaring “Fool for Lesser Things”, Casabianca attains a perfect melding of lyric and music. Here’s one act worth watching. The third release could be the charm. Order at www.cdbaby.com.

—Jay Blotcher

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