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A Ton of Music (and Frustration) at www.mp3unsigned.com

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The jazz section alone has at least several hundred songs...
It's this close to being a near-perfect source of free music downloads. But one problem is so critical it's like saying Halle Berry is the perfect date - if she weren't missing her head.

The site www.mp3unsigned.com offers, as its name indicates, songs from musicians lacking big label contracts. Selection is vast and varied, many of the artists are first-rate, and there's a huge amount of information and feedback for most of them. But obtaining files is so difficult and inconsistent many surfers aren't likely to sample more than a couple of acts before abandoning the process for less frustrating sites.

The jazz section alone has at least several hundred songs through the site and its links, plus many more in closely related genres. An artist may offer a single song or several albums' worth. Some admittedly are miscast for the category, being more pop-rock than jazz, but mostly it's an admirable collection heavy on modern and global influences.

The obscurity of many musicians are evident in their narratives. Canadian guitarist Scott MacGregor, who possess a soothing Joe Pass quality in his three solo compositions, notes "songs from (my) CD are receiving FM radio airplay in Canada, as well as the Ukraine." Smooth jazz artist Sven Golden is billed as "an experienced composer and musician, recently playing solo jazz in hotels." Others feature better-known players, such as Insout, an Italian Spyro Gyra-like fusion group with more accomplished piano and Wes Montgomery-style guitar work, whose members include Pat Metheny Group percussionist Paul Wertico.

Among the highlights: Trumpeter Nick Drozdoff possesses a definite modern Miles Davis fusion tone and approach on 14 songs. Polish-born Beata Pater's deep and husky vocals, plus some excellent support from pianist Mark Little, are consistently enjoyable on about 20 songs here and at her own site ("September In The Rain" is an excellent starting point). Emmerson is one of the better ambient groups, with synth-heavy soundtrack-like tracks consistently evolving for reasons involving compositional logic instead of novelty or shock value. Those into mainstream electric guitar fusion (think Scofield, not Satriani) will likely enjoy Jon Robert Quinn's nine-track Live 05 album available free through links to his Web site. The British duo Lazy Days has an interesting variety of compositions, including modern classical with alternate tunings.

Among the acts that don't inspire are A Mighty Miracle, whose experimental trance is more noise than music, made worse by uneven mixing of leads lines that are too loud and rhythm sections too quiet. Guitarist bobbywayne (yes, that's his stage name) offers smooth fusion too tepid for anything more than Starbucks. Code Monkey is misplaced altogether, performing typical a-ha-style European rock.

Then there's 'tweeners like Alexis Van Eeckhout, a "self-made" multiinstrumentalist from Belgium whose home-recorded compositions include accomplished modern straight-ahead and rambling ambient beats. Youth_UK is mostly unremarkable urban funk, but "Epitaph For Topaz" proves to be a surprisingly accomplished modern classical score. Greg Roberts has some interesting world "tribal punk" and spoken word songs among his 15 contributions, but also some inane experimental.

One consistency is the artists generally provide excellent narratives about their bands and the individual songs posted. Most also have links to their Web sites, although finding additional songs there is a hit-and-miss affair. Reviews for nearly all songs are also posted, but take them with a grain of salt - nearly all seem to score at least eight on a scale of 10.

Now for the worst part: 1) Navigating to each song is a unnecessarily long chore and 2) there is little consistency in song format and availability. It took me three full days to download the jazz songs, which I never would have completed if I weren't writing this review.

Choosing a genre brings up a list of songs by title and band, plus a handful of other details. Clicking on a song title brings up a page with all of the band's songs—so far, so good. But things immediately fall apart. Some songs autostart using an audio player built into the browser, others don't use it at all. Sometimes there's a "download" button for songs, but other times there's no apparent option for playing it at all. And sometimes the only option is a "download via artist" link that may or may not have a playable version (or requires you to purchase it).

Most of the time the download button brings up a separate window that loads and plays the file—and the user can only save it after loading is complete. Being able to simply click on each song title and do a "save link as" would save literally hours of frustration. One last thing is file formats aren't consistent; some are MP3s, some are Windows Media Audio and some are streaming-only formats.


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