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The recent death of John Denver seemed to leave Colorado without a pop star whose resume included liquor-related arrests. But as it turns out, someone is already filling the gap: Rick Roberts, lead singer of Firefall.

According to a representative of the Boulder County Sheriff's Department, Roberts--whose Boulder-based group scored six smash singles, including the top-ten success "You Are the Woman," between 1976 and 1981--wound up in the hoosegow for failure to comply with probation imposed after a conviction for driving under the influence. (The department spokesman described him as a "habitual traffic offender.") Roberts is currently a resident of the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center, a Department of Corrections facility where he will stay until being assigned to more long-term digs. But a few months back he was in the Boulder County Jail, where he shared space with J.T. Colfax, an eccentric artist cooling his heels for burning mail belonging to the family of JonBenet Ramsey. In a letter to Westword, Colfax described his encounter with Roberts in the most positive terms. The musician "was allowed to enter the pod I'm in...and bring a guitar with him. He played 'Strange Way,' two new songs and 'Just Remember I Love You' to wild applause from his fellow inmates." Colfax, born James Michael Thompson (like the former John Henry Deutschendorf, he changed his name to honor our town), notes that "some of the younger inmates didn't remember the Firefall hits, but they loved hearing some music. Otherwise the only song we really hear is that wretched 'Titan Up' theme from the insurance commercial." As Colfax tells it, Roberts subsequently told his listeners "to watch out for alcohol." I'm betting that the late Mr. Denver would have seconded that emotion.

For the (local) record.
Tom Sprenkle, a onetime Baldo Rex member, is the leader of aerosol, but the latter combo's nameless cassette sampler is more straightforward than the work of the late, lamented Rex. Low-fidelity tracks like "Take Your Head Off, Girl" and "20th Century Boy" have a Foo Fighters quality about them that's moderately entertaining, though not terribly innovative. Imperfect Thoughts, Imperfect Brain, an aerosol CD, contains both of the aforementioned ditties and ten other tracks with similar characteristics; they're not bad, but they're not all that different from other modern-rock tunes competing for your love and affection. Fortunately, Sprenkle is a good player, and given time, he may come up with something with a little more individuality (Apropos Records, 1630 30th Street #474, Boulder 80301). On its latest tape, a three-song, self-titled model, King Rat goes where it's gone before--directly into the heart of old-school punk. "Casual Dreams, "Fat Like You" and "Breaking Away" paint by numbers first written down in the mid-Seventies, giving them an unavoidably retro scent. But at least they're played hard, fast and rough, as such songs were meant to be rendered (Luke Schmaltz, 758-4855).

Neil Slade, a local composer like no other, has remastered and reissued a slew of his recordings under the umbrella title Beat the Meetles, and their variety provides a well-rounded picture of an idiosyncratic, sometimes difficult talent. Invisible Music, originally issued in 1982, frequently resembles a random rehearsal tape, with tunes stopping and starting and musicians gabbing off-mike; in addition, the drums sound like pots and pans being dropped down a flight of stairs. There are entertaining moments of free invention here--Slade's work on saxophone can be striking--but this is more of a curio than a legitimate album. Piano Impressions From Another Dimension, from the same year, is infinitely more accessible, a smooth and slinky concoction during which Slade generally plays by the rules. As such, there aren't a lot of surprises, but Slade's work on keyboards and reeds is consistently pleasant. Amygdala Brainbites, a CD by one of Slade's groups, the Brain Revolutionaries, that was reviewed by yours truly back in 1994, remains a spiffy pop concoction whose production quality is unimpeachable; it's purely entertaining, without too much intellectual baggage. Tippy, a cassette you might have read about in 1996, continues in this tradition but contains a number of curveballs, including "Concerto for Saxophone, 1st Mov.," an ambitious and largely successful opus. Finally, there's Parallel Universes: The People's Suite for Symphony Orchestra/Mind Music, in which Slade tries his hand at classical music. The piece is undermined to some degree by the absence of an actual orchestra: The work is computer-driven, with Slade the sole instrumentalist. But even with this drawback, it remains a vital statement--sometimes sweeping, sometimes witty, always intelligent. Give Slade credit: He may be a Denver Don Quixote, but he isn't about to let those windmills get the best of him (399-0419).

The name of the band Bernie & the Boomers is an appropriate one, because the music on the CD If You Knew consists of the sort of mellow singer-songwriter fare that you can imagine being made by a cast member of thirtysomething. While "My Brother From Buffalo" and "The Beach" are inoffensive enough, tracks such as "Fool's Gold," "Prettier" and the title cut are so overtly sensitive that they make the prose in Hallmark cards seem like prime Ernest Hemingway by comparison. Do not ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee (Bernie & the Boomers, 1873 South Bellaire Street, Suite 700, Denver 80222). Grace, by Flowers of Aphrodite, is the sort of CD I normally would despise; not only are the title and the band name mondo pretentious, but many of the lyrics consist of unintentionally funny new-age homilies like "I look into the eyes of a wolf/Amber light shines into/My deep brown earthness." So I was caught off-guard by the intriguing music it contains. Leader Rachel Baird may take herself way too seriously, but she's got a throaty voice, a feel for a good hook and a knack for weaving gypsy rhythms and other world-music affectations (see the extended conclusion of "Shake") into Western formats. "See the Light of Mother," the Kate Bush-like "Wish" and "Spider in the Well" snuck up on me, and perhaps they might do the same to you. A good melody makes up for a multitude of sins (Rosebud Records, P.O. Box 4723, Boulder 80306).

A pair of releases from Synergy Records should cheer jazz aficionados. The Russian Dragon Band, led by drummer/pianist Art Lande and featuring contributions by bassist Dwight Kilian, guitarist Khabu Doug Young and reed expert Bruce Williamson, checks in with When Kentucky Was Indiana. The CD incorporates several extended workouts (notably "Montgomery's Bitextural Peppermints," "Lorez" and "Black Ice") that put an eccentric, diverting twist on fusion-era Miles Davis, but even more satisfying are "Twas a Dark and Slormy Nite" and "Tai-Po Encounters Marines," a pair of somber fragments that sport a logic all their own. On Speak Low, the Paul Warburton Quartet pays allegiance to less idiosyncratic jazz traditions: "I Fall in Love Too Easily" and the other four numbers don't attempt to rewrite post-bop history. Rather, Warburton and his impeccable accompanists (Ron Miles, Eric Gunnison and Nat Yarborough) offer up a reminder of how beautiful this music can be if it's made with love by people who know what they're doing. And in this case, they do (Synergy Music, P.O. Box 6213, Denver 80206).

In "Mystery Man," Westword's September 12, 1996, profile of local cult figure Ralph Gean, Denver's Boyd Rice promised that a Gean CD would be forthcoming--and this promise has been kept. A Star Unborn, or What Would Have Been If What Is Hadn't Happened: The Amazing Story of Ralph Gean is the not-very-succinct title of a disc that is everything a Gean fancier could have wished for. The graphics, which feature vintage and contemporary shots of Gean, are first-rate, and the tunes, recorded between 1962 and 1996, are weird and charming in equal measure. Overt novelties like "The Bobbit Song (Lorena, Lorena)" are somewhat disposable, but Gean favorites "Homicidal Me," "Granny's Grave" and "Hard to Be a Killer" are captured in all their glory, and oddball twists like "Planet of the Rain," which features the strangely haunting backup warbling of Dona M. Donohoo, are wonderfully uncategorizable. Gean is too bizarre to have ever been a star in the Fifties or Sixties, but this trait is precisely why he sounds so good in the Nineties (available in area record stores). Jason Sever is a local teenager whose first CD, There Ain't No Stoppin' Me, was produced by singer-songwriter Bob Tyler and features contributions from Celeste Krenz, John Macy, John Magnie and other musical heavyweights. All that talent certainly helps, and Sever's got a solid voice that's capable of surprising you: His octave climb toward the end of the title track is a real jolt. But the disc feels padded. For every sturdy track like the clever "My Baby's Like a Jukebox," there's filler--e.g., unnecessary covers of "Ode to Billie Jo," "That's All Right Mama," "Love Hurts" and "Johnny B. Goode." (Another familiar tune, "The Last Waltz," is better because it's not so played out.) Sever's certainly a promising lad, but it'll be a while before we know just how promising (Classic Records, Box 422, 9815 South Parker Road, Parker 80134).

"The Shining Motor City (on the Hill)," the first song on Trick Six, a fairly strong CD by the Emirs ("All Hail the Emirs," March 20), immediately establishes the quartet's style: punk taken back to its Sixties garage roots. The disc's recording quality is suspect; there are few highs and lows and too much mid-range. But that's hardly a fatal flaw in a genre that's supposed to be grimy. Guitarist/lead vocalist Fletcher Patrick Neeley croons the words to "Rock Must Die," "80's Recap" and the quickly paced "Ballad of Joseph Rodarte" like a particularly dreamy gas-station attendant, and his fellow Emirs (drummer Steven Shiramizu, bassist Christopher Kennedy and lead guitarist Aubry Lavizzo) give him plenty of enjoyable noise off which to bounce (The Emirs, 4021 South Magnolia Way, Denver 80237). Only a Test, a CD by another Westword profile subject, the Emergency Broadcast Players ("Passing the Test," July 17), is unlikely to turn up on a smooth-jazz station anytime soon; its 25 fragmentary tracks are too challenging for that. But for those of you with an interest in the sort of free jazz practiced by the likes of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Test is definitely worth taking. Head man Geoff Cleveland has gathered a slew of the city's finest players, including Jennifer Matsuura, Artie Moore, Ron Miles and Kaveh Rastegar, and set them loose in a musical landscape where anything can happen--and on "We Have a Lizard," "Hip-Hoping," "Humphrey's Bug Garden" and others, it does. This isn't easy listening, which is precisely why it's good (Geoff Cleveland/EBP, P.O. Box 7376, Denver 80207).

Danny Masters's Electric Babylon, released by the Fort Collins-based Hapi Skratch Records, is a guitar-god epic designed with you G-3 types in mind. Vocal tracks such as "The Creeping From the East" are as fresh as the early Eighties, with throat-ripping vocals, roiling riffs and lyrics exemplified by the "Scarlet Heart" lines "Look outside the stain glass window/The sun can dry your eyes." These are juxtaposed with loads o' instrumentals, most of which hail from the more-notes-the-better school of guitar gymnastics. If you're into this subgenre, you'll be impressed by Masters's technique and pleased by the professional production and top-drawer sound quality. As for me, I couldn't even warm up to this sort of wanking when it was new (Hapi Skratch, 2100 West Drake Road, Suite 280, Fort Collins 80526). Basement Demo, by Oz. 4 Oz., isn't a title that was chosen at random; these four songs sound as if they were recorded on a condenser microphone built into a children's tape player. As near as I can tell, vocalist Shannon has an okay voice, and guitarist Jim is an adequate string-scraper. Unfortunately, the rhythm section neither swings nor grooves, and cuts like "Opening" and "Hitchhiker" never transcend the exhausted college-rock category. But don't hold me to that (744-0974).

If you haven't heard by now, the folks at Denver's 360 Twist! Records like rock and roll done fast, loud and fun, and three recent CDs from its catalogue provide all three characteristics in spades. On Here Comes Treble, the Hate Bombs, a Florida four-piece, use the rudiments of the style--Standells-esque guitar riffs, whining organ and a rhythm section that sounds like a runaway coal car--to rip through "Just Make Me Happy," "Shake" and fourteen other R&R statements. None of them will live forever, but you won't realize that until after they're done playing. The now-defunct Element 79 ("In Their Element," August 15, 1996) takes a darker approach on Dig Out!: "The Creeper" is a voodoo instrumental that Link Wray would enjoy, while "Walk On By," "Mystreat Me" and "Every Night" are spare, compact screamers that will cause you to start tossing your hair like the moptops of old. It's too bad these guys are gone, but at least their last effort was their finest. Finally, Everything I Need, by the Hectics ("Getting Pretty Hectic," April 25, 1996), assembles all of the trio's previous releases in one convenient place. "Everything I Need," "Wasted" and the rest sound better than ever--and they don't require you to hook up that old, dusty turntable of yours in order to listen to them. By my reckoning, 360 Twist! has just added quite a few points to its already impressive batting average (360 Twist! Records, P.O. Box 8367, Denver 80208).

Our condolences to the family and friends of Herman Roth, owner of Herman's Hideaway, who died last week at age 91. The world needs more rockin' nonagenarians, not fewer. He will be missed.

In "Harmony, German Style," an article about the Denver Turnverein that appeared in last week's issue, contributing writer Marty Jones made note of a Turnverein benefit featuring the organization's chorus, the Arion Gesangverein. Here are some more details: Festivities kick off at 5 p.m. Saturday, November 29, at the Turnverein headquarters, 1570 Clarkson Street, and the Gesangverein will be sharing the bill with the Damn Shambles, Swingbilly, King Rat, Kingpin, the Ray-Ons, Mean Uncle Mike and others. There'll be loads of door prizes, too--so if you're in need of a door, come on down.

Three other dates this week should put you in a philanthropic mood. On Saturday, November 29, at the Temple Events Center, Swallow Hill sponsors its annual Thanksgiving concert and food drive, this year starring vocalist Maura O'Connell and Colcannon. Attendees are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items to be distributed by the Community Food Share program. On Sunday, November 30, at the University of Denver, Grammy winning pianist Yefim Bronfman tickles the ivories at a fundraiser for DU's Lamont Music Associates; call 778-1399 to get directions and other particulars. And the following Wednesday, December 3, the Bluebird Theater hosts a bash designed to bring in dollars for the proposed Capitol Hill Center for the Arts. Among the acts participating are Ink Etc., a performance poetry group, the goth/punk combo decanonizeD and a handful of better-known local combos: Skull Flux, Brethren Fast, nGoMa and Judge Roughneck. On top of the music, there'll also be a booth offering discount piercings. But beware: When these folks talk about giving you a poke, they don't mean it in the Lonesome Dove sense.

In my book, that last sentence qualifies as a literary reference. On Friday, November 28, Indigo Swing plays for the first of two nights at 9th Avenue West; the Homewreckers begin a two-night run of their own at LoDo's Redfish; the Vermicious Knids help Quixote's True Blue celebrate its first anniversary; Green Day comes back to the Ogden Theatre, with D-Generation; and San Francisco's Sugar King Boys get sweet with the Dalhart Imperials at the 15th Street Tavern. On Saturday, November 29, Jinx Jones and the Tel Rays join Paul Galaxy and the Galactix at Herman's Hideaway; Jim Yelnick, a comic who often opens for the Hate Fuck Trio, throws his own rave at the 15th Street Tavern; and Dressy Bessy is looking fine at Seven South, with the North Americans. On Sunday, November 30, Munly de Dar He pitches a new, self-titled album at the Lion's Lair, with Slim Cessna's Auto Club (the same two bands get together the next night at the Fox Theatre). And on Monday, December 1, Virginia's Fighting Gravity takes to the skies at the Lion's Lair, and Ginger Baker and Alan White co-host a drum clinic at the Bluebird. Give them some skins.

--Michael Roberts

Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com

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