Skip Heller is a musician with many personae: soul-jazz revivalist; film-score composer; Latin dance-band leader; producer of albums; and singer-songwriter practicing bluegrass, alt-country, rockabilly and Bakersfield-style honky tonk. Because of his voracious appetite for making music of all kinds, he's been compared to Sun Ra, John Zorn and Frank Zappa.
That sort of genre-hopping may be creatively appealing, but it might also confuse fans with minds that are less open. Heller isn't unaware of this, slyly titling a best-of collection Career Suicide: The Essential Skip Heller 1994-2001.
While Heller has another excellent and relatively new album of charming country and jazz tunes (The Long Way Home) available in stores, his latest release is this remarkable CD full of his exotica compositions. With Lua-O-Milo, Heller demonstrates his love of the style, nodding to pioneers such as Esquivel and Martin Denny while giving exotica his unique twist.
The translation of the Hawaiian title is "isle of darkness," which is appropriate, because the tunes are experiments in drowsy late-night moods (listen to "Watch Us Burn" and "Alice Through a Twilight Zone Episode"). Heck, there's even a tune called "El Tiradito" (inspired, presumably, by the shrine in Tucson). Accordions, flutes, strings and vibes (guests include Robert Drasnin and DJ Bonebrake) add to the dark-night-of-the-soul beauty.