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Blue Taxi 

Step Aside (Mudpuppy)

Readers of this publication voted Blue Taxi the best Cleveland-area blues band two years ago in the annual music awards poll. But this is misleading, as "blues" only begins to describe the eclectic Northfield foursome, in which rock and jazz live alongside country, rockabilly, bluegrass, and of course, the blues. Still, Blue Taxi needed to be voted best something. Maybe best bar band would have been more apropos.

Step Aside is Blue Taxi's third and best CD. The album shows how the 10-year-old band's members have blossomed as musicians and, especially, as songwriters. All 12 of the disc's tunes were penned by band members, and they're all keepers. Some, like "Can't Stay Here Anymore" and "Nothing You Can Do," even have commercial radio potential. The blues is well represented by the rawness of the title cut, the topical "Shadow of the Saigon Blues," and "Rory Style," a fine tribute to the late, great Irish blues guitarist Rory Gallagher. Bill Capuano proves conclusively he's one of the better electric guitarists Northeast Ohio has ever heard.

Capuano's playing aside, the most compelling aspect of Step Aside might be the acoustic "Left of Center," written by bassist Kurt England in response to the death of his teenage son, Mitchell. Mournful mandolin and fiddle dance around England's direct guitar playing, creating an atmosphere that evokes both Appalachian isolation and Mississippi Delta spookiness.

For years, Blue Taxi has been one of the region's most reliable bands. Step Aside shows the quartet at the top of its game.

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