Combo Westside: Full Bloom (Tortuga)

It's hard to imagine a place where elements of Latin, reggae, ska and smooth jazz peacefully coexist with covers of "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Bang Bang" (Cher), but that's exactly what Combo Westside has managed to pull off on its debut CD. Throw in some revisionist disco, and you'll find yourself asking: Who are these guys?

From Aaron Graham's guitar strums and Phil Anderson's fat bass lines on opener "It Takes Time," you'd think this was some kind of funky mid-'70s retro project. But it's not long before vocalist Sara Gascho and the band take a sharp left turn, transforming this stylish original into something else altogether.

While the recognizable covers are fun—especially when "Bang Bang" moves from torch-song standard into a heavy Latin groove—the strengths of this record are in the mood-setting originals "Waiting for the Rain" and "Full Bloom." While Gascho shows an ability to extend her range, she's at her best in more-sultry and controlled lower registers, especially when harmonizing with herself.

Recorded by Duncan Hudson, this album sounds great, especially in the tone of the guitar. Graham, who is neither a virtuoso nor an overtly busy rhythm player, has nonetheless managed to create a guitar-based record that's not guitar-heavy. Percussionist Carolina Reisenman and the versatile Jonathan Crowe on drums fill out the sound and are essential parts of Full Bloom's rhythmic spice.

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