Craig Chaquico

Midnight Noon

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In 1993, when the former Starship guitarist launched his wildly successful journey into the land of new agey smooth jazz, he traveled an exclusively Acoustic Highway (the title of his first solo disc). He gradually incorporated jazzier ensemble elements, then scored big with the horn-drenched single "Café Carnival," which began on acoustic but evolved into a blistering callback to his heyday as rock guitarist. He travels back to those days even more so this time, playing his explosive electric more than on any other collection and going wild with the production -- to the tune of using 50 different guitars overall. Despite this, there's still a wonderful comfort level for fans who have supported his growth as a solo artist. The feisty Latin jams "El Gato" and "Dia del Zorro" are obvious attempts to follow up "Café Carnival" with similarly tasty exotic excursions. The playful romp "Her Boyfriend's Wedding" starts things off in an optimistic bouncy blues fashion (with the help of keyboardist/partner Ozzie Ahlers' organ), while the confident strut tune "Bobby Sox" finds Chaquico using a fat-bodied guitar from the '50s along with the Hammond B-3 to create a feeling of retro grandeur. The hypnotic "Always With You," featuring a dreamy recurrent vocal title line by April Hendrix, fashions a blend of classical Spanish guitar and cool rock edge, punctuated by Kevin Palladini's punchy sax. For the moody, soulful title track, the guitarist's liner notes urge you to imagine musicians gathering on a stage and jamming cool after hours. Amid the zaniness, it's a thoughtful and welcome oasis. Chaquico's ongoing brilliance at what he does cannot be overestimated. In a genre where so few artists are truly identifiable in one or two notes, he brings freshness, attitude, and an ongoing willingness to dig deeper.

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