Steve Oliver: Radiant

Guitarist Steve Oliver’s vocal abilities are apparent to those lucky enough to have seen him live or grooved to his previous three CDs. Although onstag-e he scats energetically, and even occasionally offers a riotously dead-on trumpet impression, his CDs find him more subdued. On his new CD Oliver places even more emphasis on his vocals, which is a smart move. He has a pretty and crisp acoustic-guitar sound, but then so does every other Tom, Dick, Earl (Klugh), Peter (White) and Russ (Freeman) in contemporary instrumental music. The combination of feel-good sounds and inspired vocalese add to Oliver’s unabashed musical positivism, that’s determined to make listeners feel good.

“Feeling Good,” in fact, gets things going and plays to Oliver’s strengths-hummable melody lines, dreamy scat and a driving, deep-in-the-pocket groove. Ditto for “Good to Go,” a percussion-driven, irresistible track with Oliver’s falsetto scatting matching his guitar lead. Oliver slows down the pace with the breezy “Tradewinds” and with “Shadow of the Moon,” a with-it slice of smooth-jazz-meets-downtempo boosted by Steve Madeo’s groovy trumpet solo. Of the pure vocal tracks, “Bend or Break” is the best and would fit in on any adult-contemporary rotation. But Oliver’s first vocal cover song, Buffalo Springfield’s protest anthem “For What it’s Worth,” seems an odd choice, since his original songs are very strong.