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Oakland folk by way of the Midwest: Shareef Ali's 'A Place to Remember the Dead'

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Shareef Ali left his heart in St. Louis (say 'louie' for effect).

Don't let his current Oakland residency fool you - the kid reeks of Midwest folk. He's open about his influences, dropping names of the Midwest's best (i.e. Bob Dylan, Connor Oberst) throughout his heart-on-sleeve, story-telling, lyricism. He's blatant and honest, the way that Paul Westerberg (The Replacements), Bob Mould (Husker Du, Sugar) can be, compelling like Woody Guthrie and unafraid to stretch himself out, stylistically.

His most recent release, "A Place to Remember the Dead," mixes heart-felt longing, unrequited love, and social commentary, all with a hint of mortality.

Ali's main fare is one of traditional folk, told with knee-buckling ardor, akin to "Story of the Soil" era Bright Eyes. Songs like "Stone's Throw," "Tuscon" and soul-jarring "For the Rest of My Life" or "I Want to Kiss Death" are told with emotions all but stripped bare.

But Ali is no one-trick pony, as "Fashion Survivor" has a flair of post-punk, conjuring a likeness to Robyn Hitchcock's Soft Boys. "The Tenderness in Me" (arguably collection's best track) hints at a Bruce Springsteen-esque, working-class love story, while "Ain't Nothing Sweeter" splices a vaudevillian olde time rhythm into a swing-era jazz chart. He closes the collection with the Woody Guthrie style, struggling-relationship wrapped in social-commentary on "Marigny Love Song."

Shareef Ali presents a potent range of styles, which he wistfully commandeers on "A Place to Remember the Dead." Even the seemingly light-hearted tracks are rich with humour and emotion. And that weird chill you get from Shareef Ali can only mean one thing: It's working.

Join Ali for a record release party on Feb. 19th at The Bottom of the Hill. Visit shareefali.com for details, samples and more.

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