A look at three recent releases by local favorites

Local Disc-O-Rama

· ZACHARY J. MECHLEM — SAMEERA: MODERN MUSIC FOR BELLY DANCE

It's hard to imagine an artist more perfectly suited to modernizing belly dance music than Zach Mechlem. In addition to his acclaimed Eastern Fusion trio, Mohenjo Daro, he has made numerous forays into popular music as a composer and multi-instrumentalist, all with impressive results. This musical style is also in his blood, with Romany Gypsy roots and a mother who was herself a belly dancer. It's no wonder then that Sameera is filled with gems that beautifully balance the rhythmic requirements of the dancer with finely crafted nods to prevailing musical taste. Instead of merging a plethora of modern elements as Tribal Dance music does, Mechlem shoots for a more timeless approach, subtly applying Western musical theory and incorporating non-traditional sounds sparingly, such as the drum set on "Bedouins." Mechlem played each of the wide variety of Middle Eastern and Indian percussion and stringed instruments himself, except for several gorgeous flute performances by Johnny Ruzsa. Let's hope that preconceptions of what comprises Belly Dance music won't dissuade prospective listeners. Some might expect a collection of repetitive, trance-inducing tracks, but the disc is never monotonous. Even after repetitive listening, every song has a distinct identity, some very percussive and others graced with rapidly flowing melodies. "The Sand & the Moon" is a standout, a dramatic, plucked lullaby that offers a brief respite at the album's halfway mark.

Running about three or four minutes each, each of the 10 songs offers a climactic journey, making Sameera the perfect aural companion for a visually striking art form. (Ezra Waller) Grade: B+

· KEVIN CARLISLE — ANALOGUE

Kevin Carlisle is a seasoned local songwriter who writes mellow, introspective ditties. His latest release, Analogue, is full of quirky tunes that sound like R.E.M. doing their best impression of The Postal Service. Carlisle, who wrote, produced and performed the entire album, has several apparent strengths. His ability to weave lighthearted and somber moods into the same song is impressive, as is his knack for intertwining musical parts, especially percussion ("Documentary Strings") and guitar layering ("Upside Down"). While he is a talented arranger, some aspects of the writing and production are lacking. For starters, the excessive reverb on the vocals is a constant nuisance. They are stark and echoing, a problem compounded by the fact that the lyrics are not terribly engaging. Also, while individual tracks are creative and well-played, there are just too many like-sounding instruments in the mix competing for the same frequencies. And there are plenty of tasty licks on the album, but practically every song wears out its welcome with lengthy outros. Carlisle probably prides himself on his solitary approach, but a producer convincing him to cut one or two minutes off of each song would have worked wonders. A DVD is also included containing videos, essentially superimposed loops and photo montages. They are nicely done, but suffer from some of the same maladies as the music: overshadowing distractions (such as transcribed lyrics floating over the images) and monotony. Analogue is full of promising ideas, but sophomoric implementation prevents it from making an impression. (EW) Grade: C-

· MOONLIGHT GRAHAM — GONE.CIRCUS

The adage "less is more" gets it proof with Gone.Circus, the latest album from Moonlight Graham. MG has settled as a duo for their second full-length and, given the warm, contagious nature of Circus, it was a wise move. Recorded by MG founder Chris Bailey and relative newcomer Bill Littleford completely on their own, the results are dazzling. The the sinuous structures and the unforgettable melodies are incredibly strong, but the presentation is key. That a singer/songwriter duo made an all-acoustic album is no news flash; what's remarkable is that they've made an all-acoustic album that doesn't continuously remind you that it's all-acoustic. Because of the potency of the writing and arrangements, the musical base (a rootsy blend of acoustic guitar, harmonica, light percussion, harmonies, mandolin and piano) serves as an almost ghostly undercurrent, shifting elegantly like trees dancing with the wind on the ocean's coastline. Vocally, Bailey was clearly born with the Stipe gene, but his quivering delivery is used imaginatively throughout. (Littleford's vocals have a more "Indie Folk" vibe, but are equally potent). Moonlight Graham's graceful touch and transcendent melodic prowess is akin to Damien Rice's, who similarly turns Folk music into something fresh and moving. In an age of auto-tuned vocals and sickening studio gloss, MG managed to make something extremely polished and profoundly satisfying, but the only trick they use is their own talent. What a novel ideal. Moonlight Graham performs Saturday at the Pleasant Perk coffeehouse in Pleasant Ridge. (Mike Breen) Grade: A

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