Randy Villars

Awakening

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    5
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It's the rare saxman who can come out of nowhere and fail to remind us of everyone who precedes him. On newcomer Randy Villars' debut Awakenings, alto madness reigns, but he falls into the same type of pattern that the equally impressive Andy Snitzer does-namely, his only sin is creating a solid release that is engaging and enjoyable, but simply nothing fresh and innovative. In fact, until he funks out with sharp electric edges and smoking improv on the layered horn jam, "The Flash," you might think you've stumbled onto one of Eric Marienthal's earlier discs. Or Brandon Fields. Smooth, exciting in spots, romantic in others, but mostly just perfectly amiable, as Villars (with some sporty help by the acoustic guitar of label head Ken Navarro) jets on a quest to forge his own identity, with mixed success. And yet, it's all so undeniably catchy and well-performed and produced, it's hard to resist kicking back one minute, tapping your toes the next. When you do that, just keep in mind, you've heard it all before.

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