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CD Disc-overiesAn anthology, by George; Minibar is open; and from G. with Love

By Tim Davis, Lynn Farris, Gene Hyde

George Benson -- Anthology (Warner/Rhino) This two-disc career summary begins with Benson's funky mid-60s organ-based band, a showcase for his fluid, Wes Montgomery-influenced chops. His talent was such that Miles Davis invited him to play on some sessions. Before long, however, Benson hit the big time with his pleasant Breezin' LP and its string of hits. Commercial success poised Benson on the tightrope as several divergent roles beckoned. Would he continue as an innovative guitarist who garnered critical acclaim, or would he stroll down the road of continued commercial success as a pop hitmaker? Benson chose the latter, as documented on the second disc of this set, a disappointing batch of smooth jazz vocals, far too little guitar, and some woefully overblown arrangements. If you listen hard enough, you can hear the great George Benson tucked away in the fluff of contemporary jazz trappings, but the overall impression is that an important jazz guitarist simply sold out. -- GH

Alejandro Escovedo -- A Man Under The Influence (Bloodshot)

Recorded in Chapel Hill and Kernersville, NC, by regional stalwarts Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter, A Man Under The Influence features turns by a veritable who's-who of NC musicians: Ryan Adams, Stamey, members of Hazeldine and Glory Fountain, Caitlin Cary, Chris Phillips of Squirrel Nut Zippers, Jon Wurster and Mac MacCaughan of Superchunk, Chip Robinson of the Backsliders, and more. It's still Escovedo's show, however, featuring a good deal of songs polished to a sharp edge in his live shows (Castanets, Rosalie, As I Fall), only suffering slightly from the lack of Texas-style wide-open-spaces soundscapes he purveys so effortlessly in his stripped-down live trio. As Escovedo albums go, it's more rocking than most anything he's done since Buick MacKane, and without any of the alt-rock/country posturing (though for a guy who's said to barely tip back the bottle, he sure has a lot of albums with alcohol references). Arguably his best solo record to date. -- TD

Finding Forrester Soundtrack (Columbia)

Producer/compiler extraordinaire Hal Willner (of Night Music fame) has assembled a fine sample of material from Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman's 1965-72 Columbia material. The Davis selections run the gamut from electric Bitches Brew outtakes to acoustic quintet sessions from 65, while Ornette's contributions range from fiery to orchestral. New tunes by guitarist Bill Frisell round out this package. The overall tone is pleasantly ethereal, with dreamy Miles tunes interspersed by Ornette's furious 10 minute septet number Happy House -- the sonic equivalent of an extended thunderstorm in the middle of a languorous contemplation. Willner's sequencing gives these individual tunes an added edge -- one that's sometimes soft, sometimes sharp. -- GH

Bill Frisell -- Blues Dream (Nonesuch)

Blues Dream is the most recent addition to Frisell's impressive and eclectic catalog. After a dose of Nashville, a solo effort and a trio disc, Frisell expands his band to a septet on this engaging recording. Seven instruments allow Frisell to set his guitar in a series of richly textured arrangements that feature a number of the guitarist's regular companions, including Greg Leisz on lap, pedal and National steel guitars. Also on board are Denver trumpeter Ron Miles and New York trombonist Curtis Fowlkes. The results are lush and compelling, as the septet adds a fullness to Frisell's now-familiar atmospheric musings. And, of course, the whole show's in service of Frisell's dazzling fretwork, as distinctive and intriguing as any in jazz. -- GH

G. Love & Special Sauce -- Electric Mile (Epic/OKeh)

Five (as in their fifth release) just might be the number for the funky bunch from Philly. G. & The Sauce are known for their musical mix of hip-hop meets folk meets blues meets reggae, and nothing proves their ability to pull it off better than Electric Mile. From the ska-ish/reggae fueled opening track of Unified (written by G. Love and Ras of the Long Beach Dub All-Stars) to the soulful moments of the final track, Free At Last [Reprise], G. & Co. are looser than ever (and if you know anything about G., ya know that's a good thing). Compared to their last two efforts, Yeah It's That Easy (1997) and Philadelphonic (1999), it appears as if G. & The Sauce have gone back to their roots with the new record -- back to the days of numbers like Blues Music and Garbage Man (found on their self-titled debut). The trio did recruit several guest players for the new album, including former Morphine percussionist Billy Conway and keyboard wiz John Medeski of Medeski, Martin & Wood. The blues rapper also pairs up with old friend Jasper Thomas on the infectious track Parasite. (Thomas, incidentally, also appeared on the track This Ain't Livin' off the first record.) Phat grooves, cool rhymes and some darn catchy melodies: Get you some Love. -- LF

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