Smokey Pete's Cafe

Open for Business

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When a project has a name like Smokey Pete's Cafe, one is inclined to expect something with a greasy, earthy, grits-and-gravy sort of outlook -- perhaps some Chicago blues, perhaps some Southern rock, roots rock or honky tonk. But Open for Business is none of those things. Actually, singer/songwriter Russell Peterson, aka Smokey Pete, favors a sleek, very polished pop/rock-adult contemporary approach -- and quite often, this 2004 release sounds like it could have been recorded in the late '70s or early- to mid-'80s. Most of Peterson's influences are from that era -- influences ranging from Phil Collins, Elton John and Billy Joel to Neil Diamond, Chicago and Sting. Think of Collins belting out "Against All Odds" or Billy Joel telling us about an "Uptown Girl" and some "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant"; that's the sort of vibe that permeates this generally likable CD, which often sounds like the play list of a Top 40 or adult contemporary station during the Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan years. By 2004 standards, Open for Business sounds dated, which -- depending on your point of view -- isn't necessarily a bad thing. If one has a generally favorable opinion of the pop/rock and adult contemporary of the late '70s and early '80s, the fact that Peterson is madly in love with that era isn't a problem. Smokey Pete is obviously good at what he does, and he brings an admirable sense of craftsmanship to "Razor Thin," "Anastasia" and other melodic, unapologetically retro items. Open for Business falls short of exceptional, but it's a decent effort that will please those who never parted with their old Collins, Elton John and Billy Joel albums.

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