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Xe La 

Xe La Kü Schtik (CRG Records)

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Alex "Xe La" Alvarez doesn't just work hard -- the guy works often, hosting three open-mic nights and occasionally rocking out with new-wave art-rock band 3io. Even on a good night -- like the one captured here -- it's hard to get a full dose of him in one sitting.

Every bit as insightful as it was funny, 2001's Cartoonopolis was a painstakingly sample-dense pastiche of soundbites, blues, jazz, rock, hip-hop, and anything else that crossed the graphics artist's mind. Xe La's latest -- released in conjunction with Cuyahoga County Community College's Recording Arts and Technology Program and enhanced with five live clips from a taping of the college's Crooked River Groove TV show -- is a sparse production by comparison. Backed by Nick Gaudette's upright bass, Xe La plays new and old songs, whistling, singing, and trying to figure out how, when he tries to reach for it, all the love around him vanishes like so much smoke. The bare numbers echo from one speaker to the next like they're bouncing around a near-empty bar, but it's easy to see why the people come back, week after week.

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