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NY Rock Street Beat: Reviews of Unsigned, Newly Signed and Independent Label Bands
 
August 1, 2002, by Bill Ribas

August 2002 CD Reviews:
David Jacobs-Strain, Stuck on the Way Back
The JW-Jones Blues Band, Bogart's Bounce
Roman Candle, Says Pop
Michal the Girl, Tongue Tied
Down for Low, Down for Low
The Temporaries, Growing Up Slowly
Jack Ingram, Electric
Edith's Bunker, Pawns in the Game
Haven, Between the Senses
Charnel House, From Birth to Burial
Silvercrush, Stand
Pyramid Tongue, Confusion Rains
Kristin Hoffmann, Divided Heart
Sixer, Beautiful Trash
TrustCompany, The Lonely Position of Neutral
Brendan Benson, Lapalco
New Invisible Joy, Pale Blue Day


David Jacobs-Strain, Stuck on the Way Back (© 2002 Northern Blues)

For some reason, guitar prodigies appear a lot in the blues arena, and Jacobs-Strain can hop on that bandwagon. But far from being a Stevie Ray Vaughn clone, he instead chose the Delta route, using a National guitar and slide. Though it's a tough road to walk on, he seems not only to know the route well, but to carve a few side roads as well. His fingers fly, so much so that some listeners will shut their axes in the closet after listening, and shake their heads. And while not purely ensconced in the Delta and playing the requisite canon, Jacobs-Strain fires off his own numbers, which swirl and rage in a new blues way that is reminiscent of Otis Taylor. Thus, it's no surprise Taylor is a label mate, and contributed a song and lyrics to the disc. Overall, the sound is haunting and uplifting, as blues songs tend to be once you get to know them. A spellbinding effort. www.davidjacobs-strain.com


The JW-Jones Blues Band, Bogart's Bounce (© 2002 Northern Blues)

Another blues axeman, this time from Canada, playing swing-based blues with a liberal dose of fiery guitar licks. It's not all flashy stuff, since that's not the blues style, as Jones cuts his way through the 14 numbers. Early on, his tone is fat and crunchy, the kind of sound you get when you crank a low-wattage tube amp. Yet he can also play cleanly, like T-Bone Walker, and bounce around the strings. Guest appearances from the Fabulous Thunderbirds Kim Wilson and Gene Taylor indicate that the kid's no slouch (unless they just needed the cash), young Roxanne Potvin (19 years old) adds vocals, and Tortoise Blue rips a B-3 organ on a few tracks. Clearly though, it's the playing of Jones that drives the disc, and if there's a fault to be found it's with Jones' vocals, which sound like a tired Brian Setzer, and lack the punch to match his guitar work. But, I'll cut him some slack. He's still a teenager. www.jw-jones.com


Roman Candle, Says Pop (© 2002 Outlook Music)

Take a pair of brothers from North Carolina, a defensive tackle from Denver, and what do you get? This disc, silly. Trevor Pryce of the Broncos has a side gig as the head of an indie label, and Skip and Logan Matheny represent his first offering. Recorded in the basement of their parent's house, the disc is a refreshing blend of pop that draws on many influences. As with most Chapel Hill outfits, it's immediately likeable, since there's a happiness that just pervades. Sure, some of the stuff may sound too familiar, as the opening chords of "Baby's Got It in the Genes" resemble "Across the Universe," but as the songs mix and gel, you let that stuff slide. The production is, well, quite good for a basement effort, though sometimes levels are uneven and there are spots where a bit of polish could have eased the ears. Yet, for the most part, there are no complaints. Could the pair be America's response to Oasis? Details at 6, film at 11. www.romancandlemusic.com


Michal the Girl, Tongue Tied (© 2001 MTG)

As if the pictures on the disc or the high-pitched vocals weren't enough to convince you, Michal Friedman reassures you with "The Girl" tacked onto her first name that she is in fact a gal. Ah, it's a goofy little thing, but enough to nag at my senses. The same thing hits me about her voice. For the most part, it's solid, sultry, vicious if needed, but there are spots where she sounds flat, and I just can't get over that hump. Her music is fun stuff, a new-wave jambalaya. It sounds like Elastica, the Breeders, and the good ol' days of the '80s, as she navigates her way along the tracks. The title cut is an up-tempo, jangly, punkish number, and seems better suited for her voice. I do give her credit for using "cumin" in a pop song (the spice, not something else). The disc is peppy, and though the vocals get to me, y'all might like it. Check her out at www.michalthegirl.com


Down for Low, Down for Low (© Down for Low)

First off, I had to guess at the disc's title, since there was nothing in the band's press kit indicating it, and the CD had just a generic label with a link to the website, where, alas, no easy news to be found. A few clicks later, down through the store and I find the title and track listing (via CD Baby). A minor issue, but enough of a problem to influence a review. Yet, I'll be fair, and say the boys pound out rock and roll with a modern sound and do it well (big guitars, emotional and solid vocals, songs hooky enough). And while they gel, and play admirably, there's nothing remarkable about their sound, namely rock-fueled pyrotechnics with a grunge undercurrent. This is the kind of music that pops onto FM stations, runs in rotation for a while, and then disappears. And in that sense, it's hard to review, since, though it's likable, and the guys work hard at their craft, the sound is just too generic to endorse wholeheartedly. I don't want to knock them, and doubtless many fans will latch on, but it just lays flat for me. www.downforlow.com


The Temporaries, Growing Up Slowly (© 2001 The Temporaries)

After just two songs, I'm having a good time with this outfit from Nebraska. There's a cheeky sense of humor at work here, as the second cut, "Popular Song," begins with the vocals, "Sing like a girl for me baby," in a falsetto. The music is light and plucky, and later, when the lyrics shift to "Sing like a guy," the gruff voice is aided by the electric heaviness as the band shifts gears. Though the band shares a quirkiness found in acts like the Violent Femmes or They Might Be Giants, the production and overall quality is more on the amateurish side; but don't think of that as a bad thing, as it only adds to the fun. This is a band that gives you hope, as they forgo the pretentiousness of being rock stars, and simply write songs that are fun to listen to, and brighten up your day. Sure, maybe the vocals aren't in tune, or the songs speed up and slow down, but you just don't care. Keep up the good work. www.thetemporariesrock.com


Jack Ingram, Electric (© 2002 Sony Music)

There's country music today, the gentrified pop where image precedes talent, and then there's the outside fringe, call it outlaw, call it honky tonk, call it whatever, but it's that latter group where you find the real songwriters and musicians, ones that work forever, and may never get the acclaim or airplay their bleached-teeth lap-dancing cousins get. Ingram is one of the outlaws as it were, and it's strange that he didn't take up guitar playing until college, and took it from there. His songs are a mix of swamp-like boogie ("Keep On Keepin' On"), pulsing rock and roll ("One Thing"), honky tonk ("We're All in This Together"), and the occasional ballad ("Goodnight Moon"). There's some kick-ass playing. Production is tight, and when I got done listening, I felt like watching a NASCAR race. Well, that last part may not be true, but Ingram takes you on a hell of a ride, again reminding you there's good music out there, just waiting for you. www.jackingram.net


Edith's Bunker, Pawns in the Game (© 2002 Edith's Bunker)

From Long Island we visit with a trio that plays, well, original rock is what they call it. My take is it's more of a progressive/fusion thing, more rock than jazz, with more fills than hooks. Though the first 58-second cut made it seem we'd be heading down the electronic avenue via keyboard, the music is more guitar centered. The song "Fountain Head" leans toward the early Styx sound, guitars and harmonies and all, yet the following cut ventures into funk, rap, and hip-hop territory. And when bands are stylistically all over the road like this, it makes me uneasy. Why? Well, usually it smacks of an identity crisis, a band still looking to find itself, and thinking that a scattershot approach works best. And though there are a few highlights here and there, it's that randomness that gives me pause when I listen. Where are they going, I wonder, and am still wondering.


Haven, Between the Senses (© 2002 Virgin Records)

This English outfit has their debut produced by Smith's guitarist Johnny Marr, and yeah, the guitars are up front, but what really shimmers is the vocals of Gary Briggs, an emotional powerhouse that'll have young girls weeping around the world. On "Say Something," a moderate-paced ballad, his pleading pipes beseech the listener, and absent is that whining that so often accompanies rock singers when they try ballads. Though the material may remind you of early Radiohead with the sweeping chords and soaring leads, their sound is fresh. And while a lot of the tunes are weepy numbers, like songs that you remember where you were when you first heard them, there's also a happy undercurrent that keeps the disc from being a drag. The band has a Brit sound, but a lot of the numbers feel rootless, well, no scratch that; there are influences, but they're shaded enough that you don't recognize them. This is a sound that could have come from, say, Minnesota or Boston. See for yourself at www.haven-online.com


Charnel House, From Birth to Burial (© 2001 Independent Records)

This disc sounds like a death-metal offering by a major-label act, prior to the barrage of effects and overproduction that masks errors, corrects bad vocals and timing, along with myriad other things. Given that I've already been through many of those overproduced discs, this one sounds, at least to my ears, like a decent demo. Oh sure, the guitars thrash, the drums pound out the machine-gun beats, and the vocals are gruff enough, but there's no endless delay, no sonic explosions, no wall of sound. Yet as I think about it, I have to give the boys credit for going the no-frills route. Were they to go into a big studio, this would be another offering from a series of nameless bands. And they would blend into the metal scenery. Without all the bells and whistles, I find I listen a little more, and have a better appreciation for the genre. Oh sure, I could nitpick, and they haven't scored a perfect ten, but it's a decent disc. www.mp3.com/acharnelhouse


Silvercrush, Stand (© 2002 Redline Entertainment)

The last thing I can remember liking about Salt Lake City was that movie SLC Punk (which, if you haven't seen it, is a lot of fun), yet now here comes Silvercrush (not to be confused with Silverchair form Australia). Their music is a brand of rock and roll that's hard to classify. It's not heavy hardcore stuff. There are bits that remind me of old Southern rock, bands like Blue Oyster Cult, and there are moments where they lean toward newer bands like Train. Short story though is that it's emotional, melodic rock that's easy on the ears, a delight to listen to, and the boys aren't scared to get heavy. Well, heavy in a relative sense; they use dynamics well. The two guitars aren't always playing the same thing; they complement each other. The keyboards fill without being oppressive, and frontman Steel Croswhite has a voice nicely suited for the material. www.redline-entertainment.com/silvercrush/


Pyramid Tongue, Confusion Rains (© Pyramid Tongue)

The press photo is an inkjet number, and the three lads have painted parts of their faces black, like a bad kabuki play. And I'm thinking, ah, another head-banging outfit. But as always, I am surprised to find a heavy pop sound, and further investigation reveals the lads are from South Africa. Vocalist/guitarist Chris Volbrecht has a voice more suited for indie type stuff along the lines of the Violent Femmes or They Might Be Giants, but on a number like "Sheep On Drugs" he manages a journey into the guttural country. And suddenly I'm thinking, hey, these guys show they're more versatile than I thought. And though the first few numbers on the disc are moderately light, by the time "Affliction" rolls around, they pull into more familiar heavy-rock territory, with the pounding drums, repetitive riff on the guitar and bass, and vocals that veer from rapping to screeching. I suppose it's the variety that intrigues me. That, and the interpretation of genres from bands far away from the source. In any event, well worth checking out. www.pyramidtongue.co.za


Kristin Hoffmann, Divided Heart (© 2002 Kristin Hoffmann)

You know, here's another instance of a misleading picture. Hoffman is somewhat diminutive in stature (and no knock there, she looks young and kind of short), but when she opens her mouth, hoo boy, it's like an angel singing. A big angel. Her voice is emotive, and she knows how to wrap it around words, ranging from raspy to sweet, and though you may be tempted to think of, say, Tori Amos or others, Hoffmann is captivating enough on her own to push aside thoughts of comparisons. Her years of classical training show through in the numbers, which are often ballads or slow-paced tunes with a lot of interesting musical movement. The real kicker is she's only 23, and I mention that because the music seems so polished, and the emotions so authentic, that it sounds like she's been through the wringer for years. I like surprises, and this one cheered me up big. www.kristinhoffmann.com


Sixer, Beautiful Trash (© 2002 BYO Records)

Okay, let's play a word game. Whiskey, cowboy, guitars, the Clash, Social Distortion, sweat, the Dictators, beer, cigarette smoke. Got a picture in your head? Good. Now meet Sixer, a band that pretty much equates to the picture in your head (unless you cheated or something). The songs are propelled by the guitars, the scratchy vocals are like icing on the cake, and the rhythm section holds it together. Top it off with songs that, while leaning toward punk of yore still maintain a good dose of melodic hooks in the choruses. Simply put, it's like having your cake and eating it too. These lads out of Virginia put together 10 songs that come and go and leave you smiling, and though the production could have been a bit cleaner, the rawness pervades. My guess is live they speed things up a bit (hey, doesn't everyone?), and the songs would be even more fun. At any speed though, Sixer are all right in my book. www.sixersixer.com


TrustCompany, The Lonely Position of Neutral (© 2002 Geffen Records)

This one sounds like a band on the verge, and it's not just because they're on Geffen or recently receiving FM-radio airplay. The production is just too good, with that current flawless FM sound you've grown accustomed to in the last few years. They're young; their sound is somewhere between Puddle of Mudd and Linkin Park, though there's a sweeter edge to their metal-ness. Oh yeah, there's the obligatory screaming, but it's less frequent than other bands, and the boys here seem to have realized that you can play heavy and melodically. That it's not selling out, and you'll probably garner a larger fan base. That said, they have what it takes to make it, probably land a song or two on a soundtrack, and then who knows. The only downside to this new metal agenda is the danger of sameness from song to song – with each number played to the limit, what's the difference between all the cuts? Meditate on that, grasshopper. www.trustcompanymusic.com


Brendan Benson, Lapalco (© 2002 Startime International)

As the first song takes off, it sounds like a collision between the Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man" and a Gary Numan song. Then the vocals enter in, and the sound is Dave Edmunds or Tommy James, and the music shifts into Abba or ELO for the chorus, as vocal harmonies swirl around. Sound odd? I'd use the "f" word here to say how much I like it, but let's keep it clean. The second cut, "Metarie," has that Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" vibe to it, where you know you like the song by the second strum of the guitar. As it moves on, additional instruments give it a Beatles-like sheen. The question is, who is this guy and where has he been? Suffice it to say that this is a pop gem, one of those discs that you usually hear about from somebody who heard from somebody and so on. This one definitely makes the end of the year list. No question. Please check him out at www.brendanbenson.com


New Invisible Joy, Pale Blue Day (© 1999 Goldwish Records)

You know, even though this disc is a few years old, it sounds great. There's a pervasive feel of a Valium buzz throughout, a grooviness that maintains from start to finish. And nothing wrong with that, just a laid-back cool vibe. While the boys hail from Pennsylvania, they have more of an across-the-pond sound to them, be it a Radiohead lilt, Coldplay, or any band in that vein that plays big swoopy, moody music. And though Pittsburgh may not be your idea of a music Mecca, apparently there's something in the water that affected these guys, and in a good way. Vocalist John Schisler has a good range, from the tear-inducing weepy stuff, through the falsetto range, and into angst and angry territory. And the sound they get from bass, drums, and just one guitar is big indeed (oh, keys are there, but not in the lineup). Makes me wonder how they sound live. A check on their website reveals a live video, but the disc has more to it; hopefully a new disc is in the works. www.newinvisiblejoy.com


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