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Music CD Recommendations

Spotlight on: Anthology: Urban Beats Vol. 1 and Connecti'Cuts
by Various Artists from the Connecticut music scene

Two Morning Star Records Compilations:
Various Artists, Anthology: Urban Beats Vol. 1
Various Artists, Connecti'Cuts

What do you know about the Connecticut music scene? Probably not much, unless you're a part of it. I live in Massachusetts and I didn't know anything about it before I was introduced to a portion of it through these albums: Anthology: Urban Beats Vol. 1 and Connecti'Cuts. There are apparently some truly talented musicians flying underneath the popular radar because the majority of the tracks on these two albums (a couple of the best ones are repeated) are top-flight material that would be comfortably at home on the Billboard charts (with a few strategically-placed bleeps here and there).

The opening of Anthology: Urban Beats Vol. 1 is a real shocker. One expects a CD with "Urban Beats" in the title to be heavy on the percussion, but Anshin's "Say Goodbye" is a torch song of the laid-back type. Anshin's silky voice is the highlight and there is very little "beat" of any kind, except that which is used for support. It's beautiful. On "I Loved You All My Life," she is reminiscent of Anita Baker at her best.

The dark side of Bridgeport is where rappers Uncut, Ill-flo, and Bad News get their subject matter. "Champion" is a little heavy for my tastes, preferring more positive rhymes, but the trio certainly have something to say (even if they are a bit flat in their singing). Uncut, Ill-flo, and Bad News have two more tracks to give a true sample of their variety. "CT News" is another story of the street, with posturing to spare, and "Dam, You Look Good" is a "hard sell" to a fine lady walking by--"ven aqui."

The Anthology really kicks off with Andre'a and "Open," a smooth groove with Andre'a's powerful pipes (which she exercises throughout) nicely accompanied by a backup trio. The percussion is creative without distracting from the music. Rapper Laylo is a true standout here, with three tracks to sample his work. "Hunger" is phenomenal. His rhymes are articulate, the chorus is pounding and inspiring, and the backing tracks enhance without showing up the lyrics. His experience is obvious in the style of his writing. Laylo is also featured on the penultimate track, "CT, Keep Cables and Lines Connected."

Laylo also gives good support to DeChelle on her "Misty Eyes." "Where are you, man with the misty eyes?" she asks, reminiscing on a fantasy she had and a man she can't forget. Laylo breaks in with an accompanying rap that tells another side to the story. DeChelle also shows up on "Undercover Girl," surrounded by a wall of sound while she talks about another man and their unconventional relationship. She has a real personality that shines through her lyrics.

Connecticut (or "CT") is, not too surprisingly, an important subject in the tracks on Anthology: Urban Beats Vol. 1, particularly in the raps by Laylo and Uncut, Ill-flo, and Bad News. The state also rears its head in the sole track by Dion's Allstars. "CT Be the Spot" is a celebration of their home state, mixing reggae, rock, and rap. It's hard not to get swept up in their anthemic cry. I cast my vote for this as the underground state song.

Ending the album is "Danado" by Potent Minds, with a fast-paced rap, melodic guitars, multi-part harmony, shared lead vocals, a punching chorus, and (to slip in a pseudo-culinary reference) a mild but unmistakable flavor of Chili Peppers. Something for everyone, as long as you like urban tunes. Morning Star's first collection, Connecti'Cuts sprinkles in a bit more pop and rock while still retaining the local sensibility. It starts off with the aforementioned Potent Minds song, "Danado" (which proves to be just as good an opener as it is a closer) which the Train-like The Alternate Routes follow with "Money is Gone," a low-key pop belter which has a lead vocalist reminiscent of early 1970s Billy Joel or Alan O'Day.

There's a lot going on in Dubstar's "Main Street." A smooth groove and vocal line ("Do you rememberrrrr?") blends well with the trip-hop beats and synthetic effects. The out-of-place rap breaks the mood a bit but the rest of the song makes up for it. "Father Forgive Me" from anteater is an intense alt-rock that hails from the Soundgarden era with more edge. Anthem's "Party up in CT" begins with a guitar whine that I would have sworn was from the fingers of Carlos Santana then continues with an unmistakable reggae groove. Immensely memorable, this could become Anthem's signature tune. "Open" by Andre'a follows then we're back to some grinding guitars that all of a sudden become melodic in Slim to None's "On My Mind," sounding a lot like the Pixies while retaining their own originality. Then we are treated to Laylo's lesser "CT, Keep Cables and Lines Connected"--the last song to appear on both CDs.

The next track really makes Connecti'Cuts shine. Tine comes through with a girl-power dance-pop anthem, "What I'm Not." The production highlights her voice, and, though she had no hand in the writing of the track, she truly makes it her own. The best thing I can say about it was that I was sorry it ended. I could see Tine, with the right promotion, taking off up the charts. Funktion ends with a rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" that is admirable in its intention, if not its execution. The band can't seem to decide on a direction. Are they trying to be Boyz II Men or Boogie Down Productions? In the meantime, their harmonies and horns would sound more at home on a sappy Christmas album than in our national anthem. It's truly time for another arrangement of the song, but this isn't it.

Sure, there are a few missteps, but that is going to happen in any collection, and these two albums more than make up for it with the good songs and the determination and passion of the artists. If you're from CT, support your local bands, and if you're not, find out more from the Morning Star Records website.

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Anthology: Urban Beats Vol.1VARIOUS ARTISTS: Anthology: Urban Beats Vol.1

Sophisticated,melodic urban music with power and passion.

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The BEST of Connecticut.The music is edgy power rock, haunting melodic alternative rock, laid-back reggae vibes, R&B influenced pop & outspoken, visceral hip-hop rap.

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