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New projects by local performers keep rolling in. Here’s what we have for this month:

Joy in the Mourning - Yellow Tie Guy

Daniel W. Hill has just completed this project (scheduled for release May 21) with help from producer Darren Guzzone, who also performs on drums for this record. Joining them are upright bass player and vocalist, Mary Celeste, and guitarist Jason McKinney, who is also an accomplished writer and performer. This band is currently performing all over the D.C.-Metro area with former “Dusk at Hand” and “The Slobs” drummer, Ralf Madrigal, and is scheduling shows at various festivals and venues along the east coast.

This CD rocks right out of the blocks with “How Could I?” As an unbiased listener tuning into Hill’s work for the first time, my impressions from this first song were that I could have been listening to Stone Temple Pilots or REM. It charged out of the gate and got my attention right away.

This CD has many appealing traits. The mix for one, is deftly crafted. The intermingling of vocals and soft electric guitar tracks overlapping as the songs unfold is a creative tactic. “Falling For You” is one such effort, easily listenable and nicely done.

“Everything” is well mixed, with great harmonies throughout. Drummer Guzzone is a very busy fellow on this song and his succinct rolls drive the song’s pace, which is highlighted with back and forth vocals drifting in and out.

“War (Should I Be Surprised)” should be noted for its great guitar rifts throughout. A good song well done.

But it was “No Sense Of Direction” that quickly became my standout tune. Always, every CD that comes through my office has a song that rises from the rest and this was my favorite from the opening acoustic guitar licks. It’s very easy to listen to and from my sometimes skewed perspective, would be the “pitchable” track on this CD. It has the hook and sound radio stations love.

“Bitter Cup” is heavy from the outset. Yet at the same time, it’s everything that’s good about this project. Great vocal work, the guitar licks are flawless and the drums are superb. And is this really a standup bass Mary Celeste is playing? You wouldn’t know it unless you read it in the liner notes.

Her talent really rises up in “Who Knew Forever,” the CD’s final cut, which is a great track to finish with. It builds in crescendo as it rolls along, driven by Celeste’s prominent licks. (That really is a standup? Really? Wow!)

Other cuts include “When It Comes,” which starts softly and slowly draws you in as it builds up momentum. And “Play It Like It Is,” which has a neat arrangement where guitar licks are staggered behind the song’s main rythmn as the vocals drift in an out. Enchanting in its layers, the song was one of my favorites.

The album features guest talent from local composer and bassist Dan Hones on the song “No Sense of Direction.” The project also features Daniel's sister, Angela Marie Hill, performing background vocals for the song “War,” which was released as a single Sept. 13.

Former editor Dickson Mercer told me about Hill when I first came on board here. He told me to “pay attention to this guy.” Now I know what he was talking about.

‘Portrait of Smooth Jazz’ Mark Stevens

Another product from Keith Harancher’s KMH Studios in Lusby, Mark Stevens’ newest release, “Portrait of Smooth Jazz” is exceptional. You won’t find any vocals on this project. What you will find are wonderful jazzy melodies that Stevens milks from his Fender Stratocaster with sweet skill.

The opening track, “Autumn Sky,” kicks things off just right. Soft and light, it sets the mood for what’s to come.

“Latin Breeze” opts for acoustic Latin rythmns and accomplishes so much with a light guitar, with the Strat superimposed inbetween. It’s a nice touch. The song is bouyed by Adrian Chobani’s piano work and Willie Hutcherson’s outstanding bass.

“Never To Grow Old” is more compelling than other songs on the project. The rifts are sweet and I love Hutcherson’s bass line subtly drifting throughout.

“The Hillsides of Summer” is reminscent of Pat Matheny’s work. Piano driven, Stevens’ Strat is the accompaniment, not the main instrument. It’s drifting eloquence is infectious. At 6:20, it’s the longest cut on the record, but it’s also so nice that you don’t mind at all.

“The Light Bringer” and “In Another Time” are both light, easy listening, as is “Through it All.”

“On A Clear Day” and “Beyond” close out the project just right. Chobani’s innovative piano and Hutcherson’s exceptional bass make this project stand up from beginning to end.

I found this CD a great place to go mellow. I like mellow. It’s one of my favorite moods and can certainly be acheived through Mark Stevens’ truly inspiring effort. “Portrait of Smooth Jazz” is excellent listening all the way through.

‘I Couldn’t Make It Without Him’ - Jay Armsworthy

When Jay Armsworthy first began performing bluegrass, I remember him being a little “hard on the strings.” He hammered down on bluegrass picking licks so hard he often broke strings at a rapid rate. Once he learned to tone down his exuberance, he became an excellent performer and his love for the music stands out in his newest release, “I Couldn’t Make It Without Him.”

This collection of spiritual bluegrass tunes busts right out of the music box with Kristen Scott Benson’s banjo and Aaron Till’s excellent fiddle. Till has performed with Mark Chestnut and others and makes a great impression on this album. It is Armsworthy’s strong voice which carries this work, however. He has matured as a performer and a vocalist, and that is certainly evident on this project.

Armsworthy’s choice of material reflects not only his strong faith, but his devotion to the music as well. “Wings of Angels,” an old Carter Stanley composition, was a last-minute addition to the project placed at the beginning of the CD. It gets the album off just right. “I’m Dying A Sinner’s Death” is a Roy Acuff composition and Armsworthy’s strong vocal, embellished by Don Rigsby’s excellent tenor harmonies, does old Roy proud. “Heaven’s Door,” a song Armsworthy pulled from Canada’s Bluegrass Diamond, is nicely done, bouyed by Till’s excellent overdubbed fiddle tracks.

“Oh Jesus” is a tune written by Armsworthy’s friend Bobby McGill. He noted that, “To see his face when I played this recording for him was priceless.” It’s easy to see why.

Recorded at Riverside Studios, Mount Gilead, N.C. and produced by Greg Luck, former sideman with J.D. Crowe and the New South, this project is finely done. The craft with which he produced these songs shows his devotion to his art. He did an excellent job.

“Don’t Let Go Of My Hand,” a Tom T. Hall composition, proves that just because it’s Gospel doesn’t mean it has to be melencholy. This song jumps. Jason Moore’s upright bass helps in that effort. But Wayne Benson’s mandolin licks (Benson plays with Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out, considered the top bluegrass band in the land) really make the song, along with Armsworthy’s capable (and refined) flat-picking. Till’s fiddle licks light it up like it was “Salty Dog.” I found my foot tapping unconsciously. That’s always a good sign.

The album’s title cut, “I Coouldn’t Make It Without Him,” is more somber, but who cares? The arrangement is excellent, and the mandolin licks provided by Benson are right on time, as are Till’s sweet fiddle rolls.

“Mansion God Is Building” is a jumper; another good toe-tapper. “Power of Prayer” is a song Armsworthy noted jazz singer Phyllis Horne wrote “especially for me.” He explained in the liner notes, “When life is not going in your favor, prayer is a powerful tool. God does listen.” He does the song justice, and takes Gary Ferguson’s “Take Me To Heaven” and slams it home with Rigsby’s excellent tenor accompaniment.

Another hometown composition, “When Jesus Comes to Take You Home,” by Leonard Fowler, closes out the project with its hard-driving nature. A perfect song to take you down the road.

I am amazed at how far Armsworthy has come in his art. His voice is a great bluegrass vehcile. His love of the music comes through with flying colors in this excellent product. If you love Jesus and you love bluegrass music, this CD is the one for you.

jnorris@somdnews.com