Ben Sowton

Bargrooves: Al Fresco

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The first entry into the Bargrooves subseries themed "spaces in special places," Al Fresco isn't particularly different from any of the others -- it's still well-spun deep house, through and through -- yet it's certainly one of the better inclusions in the series. Seamless Recordings mainman Ben Sowton mixes the first disc and invites fellow Londoner Justin Ballard along to mix the second, and the two make a great pair. Both spin the sort of sophisticated deep house that Bargrooves has made its stock-in-trade, and they both mix similarly, letting the tracks play out for seven minutes or so before easing into the next track, which generally isn't a far departure from its predecessor. Moreover, they each tend to drop vocal tracks every third or forth go-round, which makes the mix move along at a steady yet leisurely pace. This sense of ease will bore to death anyone who has a short attention span or anyone who favors bombast over subtlety. Yet that's all fine and well because the Bargrooves series has a very definite target market, and those people know who they are -- the sort of postclub-generation minglers who favor fashionable late-night establishments where ample cozy, intimate seating is to be had, cocktails are a'flowin', and music is grooving yet socially nonintrusive. So in a sense, this is background music -- background music for drinking, socializing, and romancing. It's the sort of music you play when you want to set a mood that's fashionable and sexy yet still laid-back and congenial. It helps, of course, that Sowton and Ballard spin top-shelf deep house records and mix them expertly, and it's an added bonus that the album's packaging is aesthetically appealing. Much like Naked Music's Nude Dimensions series, these Bargrooves mixes are for the most part interchangeable, but Al Fresco is certainly one of the best in terms of track selection, making it an ideal entry point for curious house heads.

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