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I made this gentleman's acquaintance at the delightful début of the Winterfolk Fest in Toronto (Jan./Feb. 2003), specifically at the legendary Silver Dollar on Spadina Avenue.  While each performer's set was restricted to a half an hour or so, it was enough to catch my interest in this charming entertainer and a few of his backing musicians.  Among other songs, they performed "The Checkout Girl", included on this CD, a catchy little rumba that sets the overall Tex-Mex flavour of the recording.

The second and third tracks, "Lyin' in My Dreams" and "Queen of the Ball", are violin-drenched ballads with a waltz beat, albeit with cool Spanish guitar interludes, that were a bit too dreary for me personally.

The fourth track, "The Beginning of the End", made me sit up and take notice, mainly for its Ry Cooder-like mellow jazz-blues flavour, this time utilizing the violin as a blues instrument (played by Fats Kaplin, who is currently touring with Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits!).  Mr. Kaplin also plays mandolin and accordion on the CD.

The cello is played by chamber and band musician George Meanwell (Royal Winnipeg Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, Music Plus, Thira, Short Turn, etc.) and the jazzy guitar licks were provided either by producer Rusty McCarthy (Paul Grady), who is also this CD's recording engineer, or Don Rooke.

"Henry Morgan The Pirate" was composed in the manner of a traditional Celtic march that brought to mind my favourite band of that genre, Newfoundland's Figgy Duff, but it's still a fairly slow tempo, relatively speaking.

"Come Along Carmelita" is exactly what it sounds like - an airy Spanish ballad beautifully orchestrated with violin and Spanish guitar accompaniment.   This wistful track compares favourably with a Willie Nelson composition.

"Just For a Thrill" has an early rhythm & blues feel to it but is distinguished by Mr. Cuddy's vocals, which are more Jerry Garcia in nature than Sam Cooke.  It reminded me oddly of the Rolling Stones' "Girl with the Faraway Eyes", although the vocal twang is less pronounced.

"What If Frankie Doesn't Like It?" features more violin, beginning in a classic concerto mode and then transforming into a very melancholy Spanish ballad - truly weird - and it's about a gangster
capo.

The CD also features all-stars Don Rooke (The Henrys) on acoustic and resophonic guitar, renowned jazz bassist Victor Bateman (Paul Zurin Band, Mose Scarlett, Brian Blain Band) on string bass, and session drummer Al Cross (Doug Webster, Jane Siberry, Big Sugar, Great Big Sea, Ian Tyson, Molly Johnson, Sara Harmer, etc., etc.).

It's a very moody but soothing album that nevertheless captures the dramatic essence of the Wild West (or East) with a strong Gypsy overtone.  Cris Cuddy's dark whispery vocals are best enjoyed on the slower tracks, especially the CD closer, "Two of a Kind", one of the best tracks.

For more information on Cris Cuddy, including his musical background with Bacon Fat, an 8-piece country-rock fusion band, and its various reincarnations (Heavenly Jukebox, Pure Pork, Uncle Bobby's Aerial Ballet, and the roots-rock, r & b and reggae band, Max Mouse and the Gorillas).   In addition, to at least three relatively current solo CDs, Chris also released LPs under the names "Jeremy Dormouse" and "The Rejects", as well as an EP entitled
The Entire Castle Illusion in the psychedelic era (late '60s/early '70s), which are considered collector's items.  They are all slated to be re-released in the near future.

Interestingly, touring versions of Max Mouse included guitar master Tony Quarrington (Joe Hall & The Continental Drift and Brian Gladstone), drummer Alan Black (Ray Bonneville), electric guitarist Buzz "Mr. Soul" Thompson (Ronnie Hawkins), bassist Hugh MacMillan (Spirit of the West), "Pineapple" Frank Barth (Sylvia Tyson), harmonica player Roly Platt (Matt Minglewood, Dutch Mason).  Recording musicians included Dennis Delorme (Prairie Oyster) on pedal steel and banjo, Zeke Mazurek (Sneezy Waters) on fiddle, and JP Hovercraft on bass.

Cris Cuddy is also part of a Whitby/Oshawa gathering of musicians called Bushel Basket, which includes Terry Glecoff, Dennis Delorme, Ian Tamblyn and Paul Grady.  They recently recorded the Bushel Basket Reunion, which took place November 2, 2002.

Chris Cuddy and various musical friends will be performing on April 10/03 at The Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Québec (a childhood locale of my own - the town, not the club!), and on April 17/03 at Hugh's Room in Toronto.  For maximum entertainment value, check it out!
COME ALONG CARMELITA

- CRIS CUDDY
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