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& & Vertigo Bliss: Focus & &


Spirited if somewhat formulaic guitar rock from a group of locals who seemed to have emerged from nowhere with Focus, a slick, professional sounding (and looking) package. "The Hardest Thing to Give (Is In)" opens the album with big guitars and earnest vocals courtesy of principal songwriter, Dan Kotlan. The backbeat and low end thump are provided by Steve Hurlburt and Jack Stone, respectively. The 10-song collection is varied with occasional power ballads breaking up the highly charged, more anthemic tunes. Sonically, Focus is reminiscent of Hagar-era Van Halen. Lyrically, familiar themes of love, loss, longing and betrayal dominate. Sounds ready for Triple A radio to me. Just go easy on those cliches, guys. & & -- Mike Corrigan & &


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& & Aaron Richner & amp; the Blues Drivers: Nothing to Lose & &


This quartet doesn't look old enough to have the blues, but one listen to Nothing to Lose might cause you to rethink that position. To call guitarist/songwriter/singer Aaron Richner a guitar prodigy might be stretching it, but he's obviously spent many hours, not only with his Strat but with his Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn records as well. His guitar chops are remarkable and the rest of the group -- including bassist Dan Powers, drummer Phil Bruni and conguero Abe Kellmer -- ain't exactly slouches either. Richner's emotional investment is as apparent in such electric blues chestnuts as Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" and Vaughn's "So Excited" as it is in his well-written originals (like "Blues I Know"). Convincing stuff from a group that has nothing but time and space to grow. & & -- MC & &


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& & Menagerie: Living By the Lake & &


Menagerie is the duo of Pamela Benton and Terri Stewart. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, both currently reside in Coeur d'Alene and draw inspiration from the beauty and serenity of the lake. On Living By the Lake, the pair have created a 10-song collection that falls squarely into the New Age/smooth jazz category. More engaging than mere background music, these guitar and violin instrumentals are nevertheless low-key enough to be used that way -- with dinner, in contemplative moments or during house cleaning. Smooth jazz may be the rule, but Menagerie manages to work other influences into their songs as well, including Celtic, blues and Native American themes. The sequenced rhythm tracks leave some cuts sounding a little sterile and mechanical. Less reliance on them would warm things up considerably. & & -- MC & &


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& & Paul Brasch: Find My Way (Burnside Records) & &


From the locomotive rhythm of the album opener "Keep My Place at the Table" to Brasch's whiskey-rasp of a voice, its hard to believe that this album isn't the lost recordings of say, Mississippi John Hurt or Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Brasch, however, is a fresh-faced Spokane native with a voice from another era. His hickory smoke vocals are paired on this album with not only the tight coils of his guitar, but friends Damian Coen on harmonica and John "Midnight" Cage on spoons and brushes. Most of the tunes are penned by Brasch as well, including the sweet lowdown of "Sittin' in My Kitchen" and the mournful longing of "Find My Way." An unexpected delight, however, is Brasch's cover of Hank Williams' "I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow." & & -- Sheri Boggs & &





& & The Celtic Nots: Live at the Shop & &


Spokane is a long way from the shores of Ireland, the moors of Scotland or the ruins of Wales. And that's just as well. In the current glut of all things Celtic, it pays to be just a little different. The Nots -- Carlos Alden, James Hunter and Nigel Elliott -- incorporate traditional Celtic instruments like the bodhran, cittern and penny whistle with such African instruments as the djembe and the udu drum. Their melodies, too, range from traditional folk songs of the British Isles to elements that sound at times Middle Eastern, at times like a rock concert jam session. Throw in a guitar and a banjo, and, overall, the sound is mellow, folk-heavy Celtic, neither the romantic excess of Enya nor the pop pandering of Riverdance. & & -- SB & &

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