By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
No, the Samples aren't breaking up--not officially, anyhow. But drummer MacNichol and keyboardist Laughlin have announced that they are parting company with the band at the conclusion of a six-week tour that ends May 10 in St. Louis. Kelly and Sheldon will continue to work as a team, and the band's manager, Ted Guggenheim, says they will do so under the Samples moniker with a new drummer and keyboardist whom they hope to recruit before the year is out. But just about everything else in the group's universe is up in the air.
The approved line on the split is every bit as cautious as you'd anticipate. According to Guggenheim, who was sacked as the Samples' manager around the time the group signed a contract with MCA Records and then rehired last September, "Jeep and Al wanted to pursue other musical interests that they've been leaning toward for some time." This rings true in MacNichol's case: Last year he put out a solo album (Fist, on the W.A.R.? imprint) that was much tougher and more adventurous than the Samples' typically snoozy approach. As for Laughlin, he was out of the band for much of 1996 because of an addiction problem; during the same period, he made headlines after he was arrested for burglarizing a Boulder apartment building (Feedback, September 19, 1996). He later rejoined the fold, but his upcoming departure quite naturally raises the possibility that the damage had already been done. Whether anyone will actually admit that is another question; aside from stating that Laughlin is clean right now, Guggenheim declines to speculate about his motivations.
The future is just as foggy. The Samples have another guaranteed album on their MCA contract, but the disappearance of half the band may convince the company to start looking for an escape clause. Guggenheim says that's up in the air right now. But if MCA decides to file for divorce, Kelly and Sheldon may be as relieved as anyone at the firm. Their previous experiences with a major label--the Samples released a self-titled platter on Arista in 1990--was unsatisfactory in the extreme, and as judged by the poor commercial showing of Outpost, the group's MCA debut, their current relationship isn't bearing much fruit, either. Although Guggenheim is reluctant to say that MCA is at fault in this situation ("There's plenty of blame to go around," he admits), he does allow that the process of bringing the CD to the public's attention was not a smooth one.
"When the Samples were making that record," he says, "they'd have a meeting with someone at the label, and then a week later that person would be fired, because the company was in such turmoil. That was very disconcerting from the band's point of view. And then, when the record was finally done, there was no keyboard player [Laughlin was 'on hiatus'], and the management situation was crazy. I got fired and they hired somebody else, and then they fired him and hired somebody else--and then they fired him, too, and rehired me. Now, you can imagine how the label dealt with all that. Labels take the path of least resistance; if you create resistance, they put their energy somewhere else. And that's what they did."
Still, Guggenheim tries to put the best spin on the latest chapter of the Samples' soap opera. He insists that the players are getting along famously: "This has been the most enjoyable tour they've had in four years, because the pressure's off. And Sean and Andy are eager to continue in a similar vein to what they've been doing, but with new people collaborating with them." He adds that the original lineup's final tour will be treated no differently from the dozens upon dozens of jaunts that came before it.
"They're not doing a farewell type of show here," Guggenheim points out. "We want to focus on what's coming up, not what's happened in the past. I think what Sean and Andy are going to do down the line will be a lot more exciting than this quote-unquote last show."
Like the original Samples, Monkey Siren will be playing its last show this week. The combo, with Adrian Romero and Love Supreme opening, headlines at Herman's Hideaway on Thursday, March 27. But there's considerably less drama at play here; after all, the four musicians who've been at the heart of Monkey Siren over the past couple of years (bassist Katrina Leigh, guitarist Lexxa Moffitt, multi-instrumentalist Mark Harris and drummer Scott Davies) plan to keep playing together. However, they'll be doing so under a new moniker--Action Sound Superband, a designation borrowed from a Taiwan-based company that makes musical instruments. "It's probably a bad translation of something else," Leigh says. "But we liked it anyway."
According to Leigh, the name change came about because of a feeling among the musicians that the Monkey Siren appellation "is not descriptive of our sound anymore. It's a harbinger of another type of music." To elaborate: When Monkey Siren first hit the Denver club scene in the early Nineties, it was a large ensemble that focused on a cosmopolitan worldbeat approach. By contrast, the current quartet makes what Leigh calls "sonic melting pop" that has little in common with the combo's roots. "We want no association with worldbeat anymore, because we think it doesn't fit us," she points out. "And yet the 'monkey' part of the name made it seem that worldbeat was still something that we do."
Indeed, the nominating committee for last year's Westword Music Awards Showcase put Monkey Siren under the Reggae/Ska/ Worldbeat umbrella, and Westword readers and showcase attendees made the band the top vote-getter in that category--a situation that Leigh and company found simultaneously flattering and frustrating. Still, ditching the Monkey Siren tag wasn't an easy decision to make. "The reason it took us so long to change is because we thought our name recognition was helping us," Leigh admits. "But we have recently decided that it wasn't helping that much. We haven't had a problem outside the state, because people aren't all that familiar with what Monkey Siren used to sound like. But in Denver, we need to let people know that in many ways, this is a whole new band and a whole new sound. Monkey Siren has had a lot of great players in it, and we appreciate all their work over the years. But we've got to go where our heart is now."
Action Sound Superband begins spreading this message on Friday, April 4, at the Mercury Cafe; David Willey's new combo, Hamster Theatre, is also on the bill. Then, this summer, the act will embark on a tour of numerous states, including Texas, Arizona and points west. Leigh is excited at the prospect of this jaunt and of a new beginning--so much so that she's changed her handle, too. She was formerly known as Katrina Sibert, but she's dropped her surname in favor of her middle name, which she feels is easier for people to spell. Why make the switch now? "We're having an identity metamorphosis right now," she says. "And I guess it's spreading."
It's a local recording review-o-rama.
The String Cheese Incident is not your standard bluegrass band: The disc Born on the Wrong Planet finds these lads using finger-picking in a Deadhead manner. The title cut will make all of the neo-hippies among you nostalgic for a time before your births; "Land's End" (written by Tim O'Brien) is transformed into a spacey jam; and "Bigger Isn't Better" grooves in the expected manner. Fortunately, however, there are other sides to the group: "The Remington Ride" is a worthy banjo showcase, while "Elvis' Wild Ride" includes fine didgeridoo-playing by Jamie Janover. Some tunes obey stereotypes; others bust them. Guess which ones I liked best (available in area record stores). The Incident also contributes to More Than Mountains, a two-disc compilation issued by W.A.R.?; it's intended to benefit local conservation efforts. Folks who pick up a lot of local CDs may not be wowed by the selection: Cuts by Acoustic Junction, Sponge Kingdom, Durt, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Karen Capaldi and others are taken from CDs issued under their names. But there are a few rarities, including "Overthrow," a previously unreleased (and very Sting-y) offering by the Samples; "Time and Time," a newly available lite-reggae effort by Sherri Jackson; and a couple of obscurities by the Winebottles. The overall vibe is definitely in the "Summer of Love, Part II" mode, meaning that it represents only a narrow range of Colorado music. For anyone who likes only a narrow range of Colorado music, though, it's a decent sampler (available in area record stores).
The Alleygators have featured many lineups over the years, and like the rest, the one that made Mojo Alley features a single constant: guitarist/ vocalist David Booker. He's the master of ceremonies, keeping everyone happy throughout cuts with titles like "Return of the Swamp Witch," "Cheatin' Wimmen" and "You're Blowin' It." It's all rather silly, but in a good way--and saxophonist Sonny Gunn definitely knows his way around a reed. Enjoy (Indiego Promotions, 355-3132). The latest from Superstar DJ Keoki, who moved to our fair city in mid-1996, is The Transatlantic Move, a compilation released to commemorate a tony dance party thrown in the Bahamas for what a Moonshine Records press release describes as the "creme de la creme of the European dance community." Keoki contributed the final track, some sci-fi beeping and four-on-the-floor pounding called "Magic," and served as mixer for the rest of the album, which includes contributions from Doc Martin, Cirrus, Electric Skychurch and more. The majority of acts operate in the house-music arena, but there's enough variety to keep the project from seeming monotonous. ("Positive Education," a spare, percussive track from Slam, is perhaps the most left-field entry present.) It's better for dancing than listening, so shake it, baby (available in area record stores). On Crazy, his new cassette, D-Bone displays an understanding of funk, but the unbelievably lo-fi production prevents him from capturing its essence. The biggest problem is the singing, which is too self-conscious and uptight. "Cassini's Division" sports a fine groove, and "Pluto" is no dog. Still, for an album called Crazy, the results are overly sane (D-Bone, 430 East Mineral Court, Littleton 80122).
Like a number of other folks who've sent me demos of late, Denver singer-songwriter Jeff Wahl failed to disclose the names of his songs--never a good idea when something's being submitted for review. So pardon me if I sound vague when I say that the opening number exudes a Tim Buckley feel, while the second moves along deliberately on the back of a modest strum. Beyond that, there's not much more I can say. Relieved, aren't you? (Jeff Wahl, 1414 Milwaukee #5, Denver 80206.) Richard Allen is a little less stingy with information: His three-song demo, titled Richard Allen's One-man Band, is chockablock with details. He's a solo performer who's more multi-faceted than most; live, he simultaneously sings, plays guitar, plays bass pedals and operates a drum machine. The results are awfully Gary Numan-esque at times--the tempos of "California," "No One Is on This Road" and "Hanged Man" are a bit samey, as is Allen's delivery. Nonetheless, the performer should be given credit for coming up with a unique way in which to present his work. If he applies the same creativity to his music, perhaps it will improve as well (970-351-0841).
Tribal Tech bassist Gary Willis, who moved to Colorado Springs back in 1993, takes a solo turn on No Sweat, released on the Alchemy label. The style in which Willis prefers to operate is probably closer to jazz fusion than anything else, but what's being fused is more interesting than usual. "Knothead" recalls late-Seventies Miles Davis, "The Everlasting Night" begins with a gorgeous bass solo that brings Jaco Pastorius to mind, and "'Til the Cows Come Home" shifts and shimmers over more than eleven minutes without losing its way. Accompanists Dennis Chambers (drums), Steve Tavaglione (saxophone) and Scott Kinsey (keyboards) make valuable contributions, but it's Willis who really heats up No Sweat (available in area record stores). Four for the Road, by John Baker, consists of--surprise--four songs that share a traveling motif. Baker earnestly strums "Headin' Back to Denver," "Telluride" and the rest, but his gruff, somewhat tuneless delivery and stereotypical themes won't inspire many repeat listens. Adamantly average (available in area record stores).
Rather than allowing you folks out there to call my objectivity into question, I'm going to avoid reviewing the latest demo tape from frequent Westword contributor John Jesitus. Instead, I'll offer you a content analysis. "The Long Ball," "Great Blue," "Hammers + Nails" and "Steel Town" can be classified in the David Wilcox genus; "Jenny Likes Girls" humorously describes a dude's crush on a lesbian; and "Molly With a Gun" blatantly rips off the melody from the Psychedelic Furs' "Pretty in Pink"--but I'm almost certain that Jesitus does it on purpose. Am I right, John? (428-0139.) The self-titled debut by D Mama's Lava will force you to give the treble control on your stereo a counterclockwise twist--meaning that it's pretty damn tinny. But those of you who make it past the squeals and squeaks will discover noisy pop from the Matthew Sweet school. "Bully Rag" mates a treated vocal and the occasional profanity with a catchy hook; "The Courtship of Eddy's Fodder" knits together several agreeably angular riffs; and "TV Themes" percolates nicely. It's familiar stuff, but I've heard far worse (561-2380). Along with a copy of his group's self-titled CD, drummer Mark Trippensee of Longmont's Hearsay sent a letter that read in part, "My band and I fully understand that our kind of melodic rock is not what is usually reviewed or liked a lot by some publications, but we're proud of our work, we have fun at it, and it comes from the heart. Plus, there's no such thing as bad press." With that in mind, let me confirm that much of what Trippensee writes is on the mark. Hearsay cuts like "Tell Me," "Nowhere to Run" and "Guar-antees" are equal parts Bryan Adams and Journey--and that's not a blend that many analysts (including this one) are apt to champion. But the players come by this stuff honestly--and since the people out there who like it never pay attention to critics anyhow, it really doesn't matter much what I say. It's depressing to realize that you're completely powerless, isn't it? (Hearsay, 1130 Francis Street, Box 7004, Longmont 80501.)
A Sick update. The band received some label interest as the result of a 1996 single, "Strength"/"Only," that was cut as part of a production deal with Jerry Dixon (bassist for one of rock's lamest bands, Warrant) and engineer Stephen Neary (his credits include the Judgment Night soundtrack). To capitalize on these feelers, the act will travel to Los Angeles in April to record a full-length CD under the auspices of Dixon and Neary. "We're still writing right now," notes Sick frontman Romero. "We're shooting for ten songs, and we hope they'll be out by June."
Out this week is UnVailed, a snowboard event in Vail to which a couple of notable concerts at the city's Dobson Arena have been tied. On Thursday, March 27, the bill includes Morphine, Rusted Root and Leah Andreone; on Friday, March 28, Dinosaur Jr, the Bloodhound Gang and L7 slide into town. Ticket prices are pretty reasonable ($15 per night, $25 for both), although hotel rates undoubtedly won't be. Call 970-476-7752 for more details.
Closer to home. On Thursday, March 27, W.A.R.? signee 24-7 Spyz, whose new disc is called Heavy Metal Soul by the Pound, sneaks into the Bluebird Theater, and Mrs. Larvae joins Chaos Theory, Gestapo Pussy Ranch and the Hate Fuck Trio at Market 41. On Friday, March 28, Rorshach Test returns to Seven South alongside Spite Boy, and Moot is the living end at Cafe Euphrates. On Saturday, March 29, the AUTONO drives to Cricket on the Hill, and Dick Dale, the king of the surf guitar, battles ho-dads at the Fox Theatre. On Monday, March 31, Denverite-made-good Jill Sobule opens for Duncan Sheik at the Bluebird. And on Wednesday, April 2, Element is surprised at the Mercury, and the Presidents of the United States of America need Redd Kross at the Ogden Theatre. Apparently, their insurance has lapsed.