Musically speaking, Anne Arundel County is a very small pond, amply stocked with some pretty big fish.
Three of the larger fish -- jazz singer Sue Matthews, the rock band Edge City and the traditional folk trio known as Ceoltoiri (pronounced "kyultory") have released new albums that are wonderful examples of the top-notch, widely varied music available in the area.
The Edge City album is called "Great Expectations," an indicationthat the band still hopes for the Break after years of plugging awayin the region's bars and clubs.
It is good, basic, unadorned rock'n' roll, without any art rock pretensions, metal mutant excess or Top 40 fluff. Just the thing for the recovering '90s, as we try to work through this endless recession.
The music shows a definite blue-collar attitude, with tales of frustrated expectations, like "Promised Land," which at nearly eight minutes duration will never make the Top 40; bitter resignation, like "One More Lie," counterpointed by with the glimmers of stubborn hope expressed in "No Reason."
But while none of it really stands out musically or lyrically, the overall effect is very workable. This is a darn good bar band to kick back withat the end of the day, or to slip into the DJ's play list to liven up the party.
Jim Patton is Edge City's writer and lead guitarist. Patton, lead singer Sherry Brokus and their cohorts are authentic voices of feelings and ideas of the average working stiff. Patton and Brokus are ably backed by a band that includes area rockers Lew Morris,Rob Martin, Jeff Vreeland, Scott Evans, Jon Patton, Bill Shewbridge,Steve Carr and Derrick Hsu. They use their various guitars, keyboards, drums, and back-up vocals to good effect.
Another kind of stylish music, from a very different perspective, is created by Ceoltoiri,which means musician in Irish Gaelic. Newcomers from the Washington area, they are the first group to sign with Maggie's Music, the labelof Annapolitan Maggie Sansone, which is famous among devotees of ancient and ethnic music.
The three musicians in this group are Constance McKenna, vocals and guitar; Sue Richards, Celtic harp (also signed with Maggie's Music as a solo artist); and Karen Ashbrook, hammered dulcimer, penny whistle and boxwood flute. All three are superb, highly accomplished performers who know their music inside and out.
But at the same time, the album might have profited from a little less reverential treatment of the songs and a little more energy. After all, this may be old music, and entitled to respect, but it's not going to break, either.
One selection, however, that does work well at a slower tempo is the "Song of Wandering Aengus" from the poem by William Butler Yeats. Beautifully arranged and hauntingly sung by McKenna, it portrays the mystic sides of the music as it tells the story of a man bewitched and left to wander.
Then there's the group's sly sense of humor that sneaks up on the listener. It is shown to good effect in traditional songs like "Rocking the Cradle," in which it isthe man who must mind the baby while the wife is out having a life.
"Love Dances," recorded on the Sir label, is Sue Matthews' debut album of some of the best jazz standards ever penned; songs like "Where or When," by Rogers and Hart, Gershwin's "Our Love is Here to Stay"and Cole Porter's "Easy to Love."
These and others are wonderfully performed by Matthews, certainly the best singer in Anne Arundel County, if not the region.
And since signing with Columbia-based Positive Records, it's only a matter of time before she becomes known nationally.
Matthews is supported by some of the East Coast's best jazz musicians. They include bass player Keeter Betts, pianist Stef Scaggiari, guitarist Steve Abshire and drummer Mike Smith.
With thatlineup, Matthews begins the album with what should be her signature number, "Love Dances." And she keeps the high ground with each successive number, a string of No. 1 hits, each one a celebration of her own considerable artistry.
To find out more about these performers, check local record stores, especially Oceans II in Annapolis, which maintains a local artists rack. Or contact the following:
EdgeCity, Red Wheelbarrow Records, 8 East 39th Street, Baltimore, 21218,(410) 235-6627; Sue Matthews, SIR Records, P.O. Box 924, Annapolis, 21404-0924; Ceoltoiri, Maggie's Music Inc. P.O. Box 4144, Annapolis, 21404, or call (410) 268-3394.