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Local Licks

This week we review French Cassettes, Mark Levine, Ghost and the City, and Damn Handsome and the Birthday Suits.

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French Cassettes, Summer Darling EP

They're not French. But there's something Frenchy about this indie-pop quartet, if only by virtue of the fact that keyboardist Mackenzie Bunch and bassist Daniel Carrico were both wearing scarves during a recent photo shoot. The warm melodies and surf-rock rhythms add an extra layer of rouge to Scott Huerta's adorably boyish vocals. "Mouth Drum" and "Secrets Make Sounds" are fetching. (self-released)

Mark Levine, New Music From NY

This week's Jazzschool Records pick features pianist Mark Levine yet again, this time with a six-piece combo recorded live in 1990. Which means the tunes aren't new — they pretty much predate cell phones. Nonetheless, the list of New York composers includes such icons as Kenny Garrett and pianist Mulgrew Miller, and that alone makes this album worth checking out. Not to mention the rhythm section really swings, if only because of the easy dialogue between drummer Kenny Wolleson and bassist John Wiitala. (Jazzschool Records)

Ghost & the City, Sazerac

It's hard to fathom why this ten-piece garage band bills itself as a "jazz hybrid," aside from its horn section. Otherwise, it's just rock 'n' roll — and a rather parched form of rock at that. Even the occasional sax solo doesn't offer much in the way of fanciness. As garage, though, it's passable. Singer Ash Maynor does a fine imitation of a grizzled, growly male rock vocalist — good enough, in fact, to make his female back-up seem like window dressing. (self-released)

Damn Handsome and the Birthday Suits, Decapitate the People for the Government.

This up-tempo punk rock (or punk-ish) album definitely wins the prize for best cover art, courtesy of cartoonist Zach Feador. Damn Handsome (aka singer Rob Barrett) and his Birthday Suits (bassist Jack Dunham and drummer Steve Bowman) appear as superhero characters, trapezoidal muscles and all. Barrett has one of those gargly voices that fits well in the punkabilly template, even if his songs are dorky. (Fog City Music)

Correction: The lead singer of Ghost & the City is Ash Maynor, not Dean Collins, as we previously stated.

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