These are the discs of your lives.
"Kitchen of rhythm/Pocket of dreams/ Falling these angels/How desperate it seems": These lyrics, from "Lemon Ceiling," a selection on Sponge Kingdom's self-titled CD, offer an indication of the earnest poetics favored by the sextet. Sponge Kingdom is ultra-tasteful, and Jessica Vanden Hogen's violin lines (on "Balcony," especially) are lovely. But the platter as a whole is perhaps too polite; by the end of these modern almost-rockers, I was desperate for at least one screaming guitar (Sponge Kingdom, P.O. Box 17067, Boulder 80308). And speaking of Balcony, there's a band by the same name (which, as you've probably already figured out, is why the word is in bold print). No More Cartoons, the Balcony CD, is an up-and-down affair: "Peace of Mind" reeks of grand statement, but the title cut, "Rich and Poor" and "We Are Alive" work in a Righteous Brothers way as a result of the brawny harmonies of Mark Ham and Dale Nelson and the orchestra-like keyboard lines of Bill Stephens. It's modest yet occasionally affecting (Balcony, P.O. Box 745701, Arvada 80006-5701).

Even though Chris Daniels has been busy of late with his new duties at the Swallow Hill Music Association, he hasn't left behind his personal musical aspirations. Live Wired!, the latest from Daniels and his band, the Kings, is his first for Evergreen's Flat Canyon Records, but it finds these R&B aficionados in mighty familiar territory. "Roadhouse Music" and "Let Me in This House" are sprightly, while "I Will Not Be Your Fool" and "Can't Cheat the Hangman" are somewhat duskier, but they're still as accessible as can be. A nice souvenir for you true believers (available in area record stores). More blues rock comes your way courtesy of the Pasty White Blues Boys. On Dangerous Times, the Boys come across as less horn-happy than the Kings, and they take their cliches a bit more seriously: When vocalist David Andrews sings "The night's a hustler stealing your dreams" on "Dangerous Times," you can tell he thinks he's being erudite. Effectively presented but pretty routine (available in area record stores).

Because Hazel Miller is at her best on stage, it's appropriate that Live at the Fox was cut at Boulder's Fox Theatre before a paying crowd. Still, the disc captures only a portion of Miller's allure. Her voice seems a bit thinner here than in person, and the absence of her visual physicality is definitely felt. Thus, this collection of oft-recorded covers ("Stand By Me," "I Just Wanna Make Love to You" and more) offers a good time--but the people at the taping probably had a better one (available in area record stores). The sidemen on country vocalist Maree McRae's solo flight, I Won't Settle for Less, are an impressive lot--Jimmy Ibbotson, Bob Carpenter, Tim O'Brien and Kenny Vaughn are among them. But McRae is the central focus, delivering her own songs in a manner that recalls the work of Celeste Krenz (with whom she co-wrote the brash title tune). The numbers are limited somewhat by the resolutely commercial approach, but operating within these boundaries, McRae shows that she's just as able as any of those Nashville headliners. She simply awaits the right break (NorthWind Records, 4536 South Lee Court, Suite 101, Littleton 80127).

If You Could See Where I've Been, by singer-songwriter Maniko, is a fleshed-out folk project; most tracks are accented by MIDI programming or saxophone playing by co-producer Prasanna. Maniko even takes a stab at rollicking on "Relax, Make Love & Let-Go!" But for the most part, the ditties are a bit too precious and middle-of-the-road to connect with anyone not already fond of this musical species (isness records, P.O. Box 4494, Boulder 80306). Connecting isn't a problem for the Hot Tomatoes Dance Orchestra; its new CD, 'S Wonderful, should appeal to practically everyone. The Orchestra honors the compositions of great jazz-age tunesmiths (like George Gershwin and Duke Ellington) by fastidiously reproducing them. Don't expect outrageous reinterpretations of such classics: These guys picked the songs because they like them the way they are--and their fondness is infectious (Hot Tomatoes Dance Orchestra, 2105 Washington Avenue, Golden 80401).

What Happens When I Push This?, from the 'Vengers, is ska of the lightweight sort; although some of the lyrics delve into what I might timorously describe as "issues," the recording is at its best when the goal is mindless fun. "Shape of Things to Come," "Baby in 'a Belly" and the Prince Buster cover "Hard Man Fe' Dead" all keep things moving along swimmingly. This is no I Just Can't Stop It, but it should prompt some pogoing between 'Vengers gigs (available in area record stores). Although guitarist John Bryan Herdt named his CD Rip City, shredding isn't the sole reason for its existence. He can certainly make his guitar squeal, as he does on "Shouldn't Be So Happy." But Herdt is also a singer whose affected vocals are definitely--to put it in a way that invites reading between the lines--an acquired taste. The erratic sound quality is a drawback here, but Herdt's fretwork is usually solid enough to cut through the murk (John Herdt, 753 South Union Boulevard, Denver 80228).

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