Tonio K. & N.Y.M. Co.,
Love Songs and War
Dances from Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia,
Dalmatia, Bosnia, Slovenia

(Gadfly, 1999)

Two things about this album caught my attention. First, it has the longest title of any CD I've ever seen. I'm not sure why this amused me so much. Second, I have a connection with Yugoslavia, myself. From the title, I was expecting this to be a collection of traditional music. Something to learn from and listen to.


Tonio K. has a sense of humor. He also has talent, but that's not as obvious at first glance. Turns out that he had a picture from a tourist brochure from Yugoslavia in 1958, and wanted to use it, and the title, for a greatest hits retrospective.

Since there were no other "hits" of his own, it went on this album instead. A collection that really shows both of those qualities.

Sometime after I realized that this was not, in fact, a collection of traditional Yugoslavian music and before I realized that Tonio writes with humor, I was a little taken off-guard by his music. The first track, for example, is entitled "16 Tons of Monkeys," and has a funky groove beat behind words like: "I've been watching the horizon / I've been watching all the girls / I'm a girl watcher." Talk about a quick cringe.

Further along, however, during the track "Conversations/Experiments in Western Courtship: Indians & Aliens Speak Out" (as you can see, he has a predilection for long titles not only in his album titles, but in the song titles, too.), I was hit with a realization. This is hilarious stuff. Just look: "Who are you people? / Let me tell you what we think: / There's a rumor circling deep space / about a planet / about a race / of whackos and losers / weasels and jerks / They say this planet was once called the Earth. / I think we've found it."

At least, I hope he was being funny.

The talent aspect is evident, pretty much from the beginning, really. The fourth track, "Murder My Heart," was written for Tina Turner, but has this rocking, driven beat that reminds you of blues clubs at dusk, when things are starting to heat up. There are others like it -- technically sound pieces, even if the lyrics aren't necessarily as serious as others'.

Tonio doesn't only make CDs of his own, from what I understand. He writes music for other entertainers. If you recall the song "Love Is," performed by Brian McKnight and Vanessa Williams from 1995 -- that's his. That notoriety spread to this album -- six of the songs are collaborated on by Charlie Sexton and his band. The flavor of Sexton is there, as well.

Overall, I'd probably not pay money for this album, if it were left to me. The bright spots were bright, but there were long pauses and failed attempts at humor in between. His music varies from country to softer rock and blues, but doesn't hit on any one of them long enough to make an impression. If it weren't for some of his songwriting, I may not have even listened this long. As it stands, there are a few songs worth repeating over and over again, and many that I could easily take or leave.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]

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