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Backstage In South Florida: Homegrown Talent Makes Its Mark

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman offers his insights, opinions, and observations about the local scene. This week, three distinct and disparate artists bring South Florida some national glory.

Clearly, South Florida is no stranger to the national music scene. Past graduates of our area that have achieved wider acclaim include such disparate entities as KC and the Sunshine Band, Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, the Mavericks, Marilyn Manson and the Goods, even Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore. But in more recent years, there's been no one who's risen to those heights and really seen wider success beyond these realms. Happily then, a sudden onslaught of releases by present and former locals promises to make up for that deficiency and possibly put us back in the national spotlight. As the following three artists and their albums illustrate, there's continued hope for us hitting the heights.

Anyone familiar with guitarist Albert Castiglia's

searing live performances may come away from a show with the impression that he's

simply a superb showman, adept at stringing together obscure oldies, or

wandering out to the curb while flailing away undeterred. However, his

various recordings reflect a more serious side to his musical persona,

one that demonstrates his unapologetic passion for the blues as his ultimate

musical mantra.

Not surprisingly then, Castiglia's fifth album,

appropriately entitled Living the Dream, shows his commitment to

his work, tearing up his terrain with a frenetic fury that not only

demonstrates his superb musicianship, but also his knack for choosing

material that showcases him in his finest form. As always, he chooses

songs that show him soaking up the spotlight and engaging his

interpretive prowess. Consequently, we get tracks penned by Freddie

King, Paul Butterfield, Mose Allison, Little Richard, and longtime pal

and collaborator Graham Drout of Iko Iko.

But what's even more

impressive is the fact that Castiglia is gaining considerably more

confidence as a songwriter. His "Living the Dream," "Public Enemy #9,"

and "I Want Her For Myself" are easily a match for the cover material,

proof positive that when it comes to making his mark, nobody knows what

suits him more than Albert himself. It may be a bit premature to crown him

America's newest King of the Blues, but there's little doubt that he at

least deserves the title of heir apparent.

Then there's Chris Price, a native Miamian who's now making his home in L.A. and milking those environs as a muse with a debut disc scheduled for release on June 26. The fact that it's titled Homesick may or may not offer a clue as to where his heart really is, but given that he's mining a vast array of obvious influences -- specifically ELO, the Beatles, Beach Boys, and solo McCartney -- it also shows he's most comfortable in pure power pop realms. This is regardless of where he's physically established.

He's further unleashed himself by recording the entire album practically all by himself on his iPhone, using it to bottle the inspiration found in El Lay's more notable settings, places such as the Griffith Park Observatory, the Getty Center, and the Greek Theatre (where he and some buddies hopped over the security fence and trespassed for the apparent thrill of it all). Of course, none of this would matter if the music didn't make its emphatic impression, which, by the way, it does right out of the box. Personally, we're banking on this boy to make it to the big time, based on his sound alone. And then when he does, let's hope he gives us hometown folks a shout out, so we can say in return we knew him when. Even if we really didn't.

On the other hand, we can count Anastasia Barzee as a local only by virtue of the fact that she graduated from the University of Miami's School of Music, a distinction shared by Pat Metheny and Bruce Hornsby. Therefore, it only seems right to lay some claim on her as well.

Her showbiz credentials are mighty impressive -- encompassing the musical stage (Broadway productions of Golden Boy, Irving Berlin's White Christmas: The Musical, Miss Saigon, Urinetown, and Sunset Boulevard) and television (Blue Bloods, Law & Order: SVU, White Collar, and Murder She Wrote) -- while her latest venture into recording is of special note. The album, entitled Dimming of the Day, features her distinctive interpretations of various contemporary standards and cover such songwriters as Richard Thompson (the title track), Paul Simon ("American Tune"), Randy Newman ("Feels Like Home"), Rufus Wainwright ("Dinner at Eight"), Kate Bush ("The Man with the Child in His Eyes"), and Jimmy Webb ("All I Know"), among others.

Ms. Barzee's voice is obviously weaned from her stage experience, making each of these selections appear far more dramatic and theatrical than they did in their original incarnations, but even so, there's no denying that Bush and Wainwright's material in particular adapted to that treatment very well. Plus, the addition of Bob Dylan guitar slinger Larry Campbell gives these tunes that certain edge. Therefore, we can unashamedly welcome Anastasia into that hallowed circle of South Florida expatriates and again ask that as her credits continue to add up, she'll give us an occasional shout-out as well.

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Lee Zimmerman

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