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Jr. James and the Late Guitar

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From the first funkified lick of Jr. James and the Late Guitar's new CD, you're transported to church the way it really ought to be. The opener, "American Dream," is a musical indictment of our Bush-wacked nation's communal sins, greed and avarice, and--like any soulful gospel sermon--it calls you to task even as it makes you want to shake your tush. Tyler Ramsey's keyboards burn hot as fire and brimstone, Samba Ngo ignites his guitar like God's own flamethrower, while Jr. James intones the capitalist mantra:

How much can you steal?

How little can you feel?

How much can you forget?

Jr. James proves he's a one-man band on "Cat in the Jungle," an instrumental safari stalking your unsuspecting psyche through the wilds of the American wasteland. Former Sugarsmack punk goddess Hope Nicholls serves up "sax and toast," surely the breakfast of postmodern champions, on a boundary-breaking, earthshaking medley of Stanley Clarke's "School Days" and Ornette Coleman's "Theme from a Symphony." Call it courage, audacity, or garden-variety insanity, but this mixture of musical metaphors works like a witchdoctor's charm.

Samba and Jr. James trade wickedly melodious licks on "New Colossus Dub Plate," yet another foot-shuffler that just won't let you stay still. "O-Mega" is that out of control 18-wheeler breathing down your neck, bright lights blazing, on a dark and rainy interstate: Merge, baby, merge. And you'll know you've found a local entryway into the international music scene when Jr. James countrifies "Egyptian Reggae" with, of all things, a mandolin. Natty dread, y'all!

As with Jr. James' first CD, Hymns to Her, eclecticism is the order of the day. Appropriately enough, the Late Guitar saves the best for last. On the punning title "Dublin," Jr. James' mandolin dances an Irish jig over a bouncy reggae beat. So much for "never the twain shall meet."

As you can tell by the title, this is the second installment in a nine CD series. As solid as Hymns to Her is, Second of Nine offers a fresh and irresistible revelation, a new testament emerging from the old. Who knows what sonic apocalypses await? If the first two are any indication, all I can say is third time's the charm.

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