Richard Barone

Cool Blue Halo

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Barone's step into a solo career was an interesting one; his first album, rather than being a new full collection of studio songs, was a live recording at New York's Bottom Line club. Backed by a trio including noted session cellist Jane Scarpantoni, Barone does songs old and new, along with three fine covers that refer to long-standing touchstones. His choice of a Marc Bolan cover, "The Visit," shows the depth of his long-standing T. Rex fandom, as the original was an album cut from that band's self-titled album. The other remakes are more high profile: the Beatles' tender "Cry Baby Cry" gets an appropriate makeover, while David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" sounds like Kurt Cobain and company might have drawn a little inspiration from that as well when Nirvana's Unplugged session was taped. As for his originals, from the start, Barone easily nails his credentials as an underrated performer of sharp, lovely tunes. "I Belong to Me," where the title phrase comes from, gets not merely a good rendition in part thanks to Valerie Naranjo's vibes but a killer performance from Barone. Other winners include the quietly nervous "Flew a Falcon" and the haunting "Sweet Blue Cage," with a hypnotic guitar solo. The low-key strength of the performance throughout -- Barone's clean, high vocals matched by the easy acoustic/electric groove of the musicians as a whole -- helps make Cool Blue Halo something of a lost pop/rock classic. Those who appreciate the slightly wounded feeling from bands like late Big Star and the Shoes will definitely find something to love here. While other versions may not be better, it has to be said that the Line CD pressing has slightly skewed mastering, making it sound like much of the percussion is closer to the microphone than Barone is.

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