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Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo: Melody Magic

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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Great classical themes have frequently attracted musicians from all musical genres because they provide substance, cachet, and robust platforms that allow artists to simultaneously salute and portray the melodies in a different, yet attractive light. Some of these attempts fail miserably, while others succeed admirably. For example, during the height of the 70's disco delirium, a chart-topping hit titled "A Fifth of Beethoven" (Walter Murphy, 1976—Private Stock Records) sold millions.

With Melody Magic, guitarists Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo climb the musical Everests that are the works of the great Masters, and with some pop gems added, offer a fun excursion on them all. It's a trip filled with wondrous music, stellar playing and appropriate respect.

Vignola, one of the most respected and recorded guitarists in the business, and Raniolo, his guitar-playing partner in "theft," do a splendid job of re-tooling and presenting the familiar themes. By surrounding the warhorse melodies with rhythmic grooves that are refreshing and unexpected (i.e., Latinesque takes on "Beethoven's Fifth," Bizet's "Carmen Habanera,"), and by performing them with spirit (Grieg's "Morning"), and superb chops (J.S. Bach's "Violin Partita #2," Mendelssohn's "Violin Concerto"), the result is highly entertaining, if not breakthrough.

The recent "classics" on this date also shine. The Beatles' ("If I Fell," "Here, There and Everywhere") and Sting (a reggae "Walking on the Moon") are presented more straightforwardly, but nonetheless terrifically. Violinist Zach Brock, Vignola and Raniolo burst it open and let their chops fly at light speed with Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" from Rocky III(MGM/UA Entertainment, 1982).

Utilizing an all-stringed instrument presentation plus Julien Labro's fine accordion on selected cuts, Vignola and Raniolo, provide an illusion of a joyous string orchestra. The players' abilities to drive the rhythmic, percussive and harmonic base is most admirable. But, it's certainly the spirit and savvy arranging of Vignola and the superb playing by all that makes this CD a winner.

Melody Magic demonstrates that innovative approaches to classic art can yield both refreshed perspectives and a memorable trip up to Olympus.

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