Excerpted from the UCLA "Daily Bruin," Tuesday, May 25, 1999:
(Reviewed by Brent Hopkins, Daily Bruin Staff)--"As far as atmosphere goes, Genghis Cohen [Cantina]....is not Carnegie Hall. The advantage of this nontraditional venue is that the simplicity of the location shifts listener's focus from the surroundings to the music being played.
"For Partners in Rhyme's Sunday night performance [May 23, 1999], this was just what the songs called for. A simple, stripped down lineup of four songwriters and their acoustic instruments, Partners in Rhyme offered only emotion and talent to convey its message.
"Comprised of mostly local [Los Angeles] players, the show is the latest in a series that organizer and performer Mark Islam has been putting together since 1993. The concerts have a dual purpose: to spread awareness of the contributing musicians and to raise money for charity. This latest incarnation's proceeds were donated to Children of the Night, a non-profit organization dedicated to keeping children out of prostitution and pornography. This commendable goal is worth mentioning, but the music the foursome provided in the dark room was even more noteworthy.
"Islam, a singer-guitarist with ties to both Los Angeles and Nashville, was joined by fellow guitarists Robin Pearl and Noah Stone, as well as Rick Cunha, making his first Partners in Rhyme appearance. The four sat in a row, sharing the spotlight, listening to one another as each showcased their songs. From the beginning, the mood was light. As they plugged in their instruments and tuned up, they joked and chatted amiably, helping one another prepare for the performance. They sampled different genres, borrowing mostly from folk, but throwing in a healthy dose of country and acoustic rock and roll, along with a touch of jazz. Islam began with a brief introduction, then played a bluesy "You've Come a Long Way Baby." The others sat attentively watching, tapping their feet in time with the song. The evening proceeded in the same fashion. As each artist performed, the others observed, enjoying the tunes just as much as the small audience did.
"Though they didn't directly interact with each other musically too frequently, their interplay between songs was key to keeping things light and enjoyable....For the most part, the linear performance, with each artist playing one song at a time, worked well. The songwriters brought their own strengths with them, making each song distinctive and different. Islam had the most sensitive style, sounding honest and open as he worked through his songs.
"Cunha was more of a storyteller, singing tunes about yo-yos, trains and family members as he plucked at his guitar. Pearl threw herself most whole-heartedly into the material, screwing her eyes shut and belting out lyrics in a breathy, yet powerful, voice....With a style heavily indebted to Bob Dylan...[Stone] was both charismatic and smooth behind his guitar and harmonica....[His] songs were both amusing and forceful....
"If a critique of the show can be offered, it is that the foursome did not directly play with one another as frequently as they should have....[but] the performers were more than competent in their own light. By the time the lights came up. all had proved their worth in their own fashion."