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Brandon Rice
The Middle Man
The Mirage Records

Brandon Rice’s clean, soulful voice and casual mastery of the six-string go a long, beguiling way. Songs are short and sweet, just a man and his guitar practically skating across the airwaves without leaving a single ripple. The easy, congenial melodies create an atmosphere forgiving of Rice’s lyrical handicap, guiding the listener through territory so uncomplicated it renders critique or scrutiny futile.

Highlights include album opener “Tied Up In You,” a fun, bluesy little ditty about love, and title track “The Middle Man,” in which Rice seems to lay out his innocuous personal manifesto. “Love and Peace,” with similarly unadorned lyrical charm, addresses the eternal subject of our troubled times, while “Summertime” (no relation to the immortal Gershwin aria) celebrates sunshine, hot chicks and hormones with even simpler, completely unaffected flair.

Based on his frequent use of jazzy seventh chords and matching vocal inflections, it would be a pleasure to hear Rice bust out some standards someday, but for now this batch of original material goes down smooth as apple juice, breezy as an April afternoon.

Favorite Track: Track 6, “Summertime”

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Steve Gunn is a hard-boiled suburban New Yorker with a PhD in rockology and the propensity to point with full-throttle moxie up to his ears and unflinchingly declare, “Hey! These things ain’t garbage cans, y’know!”

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