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CD review: Charles, Magisty remain unconnected

Australian bluesman Michael Charles' new release pairs his guitar playing, writing and singing with hip-hop MC Magisty on a new disc appropriately called "Connected."

Born in Victoria, Australia, but a U.S. resident for more than 20 years, Charles continues in a line of Aussie exports playing soulful music like Dave Hole, Harper and Jeff Lang.

Charles has much of the package: He has the look of an older blues guy, he has the gear, he has the endorsement of blues legend Buddy Guy, he has not one but two record labels (U.S. and Australian), he has the promotional team. ... I just wish he had more of that one ingredient called talent.

On "Connected," Charles tries to "connect" with Magisty (a rapper from the North Side of Chicago with Puerto Rican roots) and the results are lopsided. The typical song schematic is Charles beginning the track with adequate (but not exceptional) guitar and very stiff, very white vocals only to give way to Magisty, who barrels through like an express train late for a pickup. Charles then mincingly provides a few fills, again makes way for Magisty, then takes the tune out. Not much integration, melding or connecting going on here.

On "Long Way to Go 2010" Charles croaks out, "Searchin' is something we all seem to do, to go on and live a better life." Magisty then plows ahead rapping about the long road, the new path and tapping into the new music. There's a solo rap break and some nice tight horn lines that are possibly the best part of the arrangement.

"Let You Dream" is about parenthood, family and responsibility (or the lack thereof). Wailing background vocals underscore Magisty's steady vocal stream of verbiage. I'm not sure how a rapper pulls this off live. Crib notes onstage? Can he actually remember all these non-repeated lines? If yes to the latter, then I am more impressed with his retentive abilities than his gift of rap.

"Mirror Effect" is all Magisty, with Charles strumming an acoustic guitar and offering a few small vocal fills intoning the song title. "Merge" has some truly creepy Charles vocals opening the song, giving way (as usual) to Magisty, who blows smoke up Charles' skirt about his magnificent guitar playing. "Another Time" closes the disc and is kind of a ballad over a fife-and-drum rhythm, the only selection without the hip-hop element. ... I don't know if it's better with or without it.

Charles reportedly has 24 discs to his credit, has done 30 TV shows, and has gotten kudos from well-known bluesmen like the aforementioned Guy. He's billed as a blues guitar player extraordinaire -- but don't believe it, as there are 20 better blues guitar players and 50 better blues singers down in the Twin Cities area alone.

"Connected" is really Magisty using Charles and his band's bluesy, poppy music beds for his own devices on a project that has good intentions but lacks the arranging and performing skills to fully pull it off.

Michael Charles & Magisty / "Connected"

Genre: Contemporary blues/Hip-hop/Pop

Recommended if you like: Common, Ice Cube, the Powder Blues

Website: www.michaelcharles.us

Recorded at: Sammary Studio (Maywood, Ill.)

Label: Moonlight Records

Personnel: Michael Charles (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Magisty (vocals), Ryan Mumby (guitar), Steve Hart (bass), David Hart (drums), Brenda McDougal (vocals)

Upcoming gig: 6-10 p.m. Sunday at HellBurgers, 310 S. Lake Ave., Duluth. (218) 727-1620. No cover.

John Ziegler has worked in the music industry for 36 years as a radio host, interviewer, record producer and professional musician.

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