Café Noir

Waltz King

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With The Waltz King the Texas quintet Café Noir fully realizes their musical goal of a sophisticated modern romanticism informed by styles of the past. The same mixture of classical, jazz and Gypsy elements are present, as they are on earlier albums, but here with a hint of Latin guitar work and more than a touch of French cabaret style; all the elements are perfectly used and fused into a seamless whole. Credit for the French cabaret sound goes mostly to vocalist (and national-champion yodeler) Randy Erwin-Skalicky. Erwin-Skalicky has a voice that has been described as a cross between Maurice Chevalier and Mel Tormé, both rich and quirky. In songs like "L'Image" he can evoke tearful melancholy and dazzle the listener with his extended vibrato. Most of the vocal numbers are a bit sad, although "The Great William L." tells the kind of whimsical story that Erwin-Skalicky likes to write. The instrumentals are more of a mixture of moods. A couple of them are by classical composers, such as the initially thoughtful then goofy "Andante and Galop" by Stravinsky. Several of the original instrumentals are dashing and dramatic, like "Helena" or "Café Madrid" by bass player Lyles West. Violinist Gale Hess and guitarist/violist Norbert Gerl, who seem to have been the artistic leaders of the group for its entire history, provide a few of the songs, but more importantly perhaps, they do superb arranging. The last member of the group, Jason Bucklin, doesn't write but his work on guitar and mandolin are at virtuoso level. Drama, sophistication, nostalgia, wit - if these are the values the listener seeks in a collection, then The Waltz King may be destined to become a most favored album, and a sleeper classic of our time.

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