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The Sweetest Change

03 NOV 09 JOHN C. BRUENING

By the time the world met "Grandpa" Elliott Small in April 2009 via Playing For Change's two-disc Songs Around The World CD/DVD, he'd already been busking in New Orleans' French Quarter for more than 60 years. Small is now the first artist to sign with Playing For Change Records. Backed by the Playing for Change Band, he stepped off the streets and into the studio earlier this year to record Sugar Sweet, a collection of blues and soul classics delivered courtesy of his soulful baritone vocals and versatile harmonica style.

His stirring version of "Stand By Me" on Songs Around The World became the anchor track for the set that captured him and 36 other little-known but brilliant street musicians from around the world. The track and the accompanying video that went viral on YouTube and elsewhere transformed him into an unlikely global superstar.

Sugar Sweet opens with "Ain't Nothing You Can Do," a Bobby "Blue" Bland hit that -- despite the melancholy subject matter -- sounds unexpectedly upbeat here. "Sugar Is Sweet" derives its international groove from guitarists Jason Tamba and Louis Mhlanga (from the Congo and Zimbabwe, respectively), who set up a rumba beat supported by drummer Peter Bunetta. Other highlights include the emotionally churning "Share Your Love With Me," which Small borrows from an Aretha Franklin recording, and a straightforward take on the Sam Cooke hit "Another Saturday Night."

Despite the melancholy closer, "Please Come Home For Christmas," there's no need for tears. After a long stretch of lean decades, Santa's been good to Elliott Small this year and Grandpa seems more than happy to spread the love.

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