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The former is Laughing Hands, by the band of the same name, and it brings together much of what's best about folk and world music on a single slab of plastic. The playing, by brothers Brian and Steve Mullins, Tim Cross, Ed Contreras and Ed Rudman, is impeccable whether the style is an Andean mood piece ("North of Peru") or a slice of the old West ("One Buggy"). There's humor, too, as in the plucky "Gypsy Quickstep"; the description of the tune in the liner notes accurately states, "The mandolin's lack of sustain leaves us with little choice but to play as fast as we can." That they do it so well is what makes this journey worthwhile (available in area record stores). Dead City Radio's new platter, creatively dubbed Dead City Radio, is more of an up-and-down affair. David Desch and Mark Pruisner split songwriting duties, but both stick close to the college-rock rulebook; you'll find few surprises. Sometimes that's okay--"Red Plug In," "She Said" and "Killin' Me" are ultra-listenable in spite of their predictability. More problematic are the lyrics, especially when the tunesmiths attempt to get meaningful. (The nadir is this Paul Anka moment in "Dakota": "I know you are the one/And if you have my son/It will be all right.") Of course, the problem may be me. I'll have to work on my sensitivity (available in area record stores).

The long-timers in the Jealous Saints keep on keeping on with Blue. Strong production values are evident throughout the Saints' stylistic shifts: the Band-like arrangement of "Walk On Back," the Southern rock of "Lidocaine," the environmental do-goodisms of the anthemic "Blue Marble." These are craftsmen capable of effectively shaping their musical presentations, and although that certain something that might lift them to the next level remains elusive, Blue is not without its old-fashioned attributes (available in area record stores). On their latest demo, Big Bad Freakies merge punk funk with the groove politics of 311. Vocalist Leland Smith has a gruff, restless voice that grapples efficiently with the predictable ennui of lyrics from "Warcry," "Colfax Annie" and "Leave," and he receives able support from bassist Justin Sandoval, drummer Jason Baker and guitarist Rob Vialpando. The recording isn't all that fresh, but the Freakies certainly can do the same old modern-rock shit as well as anyone (784-5533).

On Squiggly, the Simpeltones produce more hooks than a coat-hanger factory. James Dalton and his three associates improve on previous recordings by placing their pop melodies in a more focused context. That means that the vocal lines and harmonies are brighter, the song structures are tighter and the tunes are generally more entertaining. There are a few weak tracks on the disc--"Kill Me" dies quietly--but "Rise," "Tattooed Angels," "Gone" and most of Squiggly's other sweet, vapid croonathons will have you coming back for more (available in area record stores). It's mighty hard to capture in the studio what's best about a certain kind of strong live act--and as judged by its debut CD, Sideburns From Hell!, Brethren Fast may be such a band. The hirsute ones kick up plenty of dust in concert, but here the guitar-bass-drums sound is somewhat muted; hence, lead singer Don Messina's Elvis-meets-Jon Spencer warbling seems notably over the top. Which is not to say that Sideburns isn't fun in spite of this drawback: "Madge," "Galaxie 500" and "TV Theme Song" still provide a rockin' good time, relatively speaking. But boys, next time turn those amps up to eleven (available in area record stores).

Nuclear Sex, the latest extended-play cassette from Burning Cedar, is, well, pretty weird. This trio, fronted by Aaron Frederick, doesn't bother with either guitars or drums; a bass, a keyboard, a voice and some handy echo are the primary ingredients. Moreover, the tape doesn't bubble over with melody. Instead, compositions like "What," "Breath" and "Dirty Head" feature Frederick intoning spookily over a thumping, thudding backdrop. The result is rather one-dimensional, but at least it's different from anything else I've heard lately (782-6987). It would be understandable if the members of Baldo Rex were consumed with bitterness and resentment; after all, they've put out loads of swell music, and pretty much their only reward is the occasional positive blurb like this one. I Eat Robots I'm So Sad, on Boulder's sh-mow imprint, is filled with the combo's usual allotment of loopy, engaging madness. Particularly enjoyable are the jaunty "Yer a Genius" ("Yer mind is as clear as your skin, pimple face"), the mock lament "Goddamned Sex Change" ("Now the guy that ya miss and the girl that ya kiss are the same"), the self-explanatory "I Can Fuck" ("I'm a fine cook/I can drive a car/And also I can fuck") and the extraordinarily significant "Infinite Chick" ("If God is a woman, she must be pretty stupid"). In short, it's another wonderful Baldo disc. Buy it, already (available in area record stores).

Bleecker St. is no more, but before folding, this acoustic-blues outfit left behind a nice souvenir: a CD called Tumblin' Down. Produced by Charles Sawtelle, the offering contains a roughly equal number of originals and well-chosen covers from the catalogues of Bukka White, Muddy Waters and others. The two finest performances are conveniently placed back-to-back: Mississippi John Hurt's "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor," featuring a guest appearance by Taj Mahal, and Robert Johnson's "Dead Shrimp Blues" (available in area record stores). The folks behind Scrump tout the act as "Denver's new alternative sound," but the six-song cassette Who Says Ugly Isn't Fun?, on the Dragon Rox label, demonstrates that it's pretty much a straightforward rock band. The musicians manage a couple of decent tracks, including "Feminine Mystique" and "Fall Away," a mid-tempo chestnut with background vocals styled after the Rolling Stones. The rest is okay, but not exactly inspirational (contact Ken Wright, 4780 E. Jewell Avenue, Denver 80222).

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