Your Friends and Neighbors

The best twenty recordings to come out of Colorado in 1998.

Last week Westword published a mammoth roster of 1998's top national CDs--but locals have put out some impressive recordings during that same period as well. Below you'll find an alphabetical list of my twenty favorite discs and cassettes issued by Colorado-based acts and recent graduates of the scene over the past twelve months. The variety and quality of these long-players is yet another argument against taking the musicians in your own backyard for granted.

BlastOff Heads
Making H Sounds
(Greazy Chicken Records)

According to most indie-rock fans, too much production is a bad thing--and usually, they're right. Nonetheless, getting a clean, crisp sound that stops well short of slickness is important, as renowned Denver dial-twister Bob Ferbrache knows. On Making H Sounds, he keeps the focus on the BlastOff Heads' guitars and beats, and by doing so, he ensures that songs like "Toetapper" will actually cause toes to tap. Entertaining, energetic, and straight to the point.

Boulder Creative Music Ensemble
Between the Lines: The Complete Studio Recordings

A reissue of a vinyl release from 1989 that's supplemented with a handful of bonus tracks from the same period, Between the Lines spotlights the challenging interplay of performers such as saxophonists Fred Hess and Glenn Nitta, trumpeter Ron Miles and trombonist Wade Sander. The selections are wide-ranging: The opener, an exuberant orgy of contrasting colors called "Harmonic Convergence," leads directly into a daunting drone, "Circular Runes," which is followed by "Dead Man Blues," a sprightly Dixieland march that would earn Lester Bowie's stamp of approval. The music was made almost a decade ago, but it sounds as fresh as tomorrow.

Saint Bartholomew's Feast
(Oxford Road Records)

A lot of U.S. performers who work in the world-music arena sound like tourists, but the recordings by this veteran Celtic-folk act seem as authentic as anything coming out of Ireland. Saint Bartholomew's Feast is no exception: Under the studio supervision of Charles Sawtelle, frontman Mick Bolger and his accomplished crew (Brian Mullins, Mike Fitzmaurice, Rod Garnett and Jean Harrison) combine deeply felt renditions of traditionals with original compositions that do them justice. Bring your appetite, because Feast offers a delectable spread.

(Careful Productions)

This cassette is the work of three of the more intriguing electronic-music experts in the state: Communique brainiacs Justin Hardison and Dave Sota and producer Jim Stout, a guiding force behind Nebula 9. The music here is of a comparatively restrained stripe, but the participants manage to infuse their drum-and-bass techniques with a warmth that the form often lacks when it falls into less skilled hands. On "The Fifth Level of Lofi," the lead track, a disembodied voice repeats the phrase, "Happy blastoff"; the rest of Kinetic goes on to provide one.

Hamster Theatre
Siege on Hamburger City
(Cricetus Records)

When this Theatre first opened, David Willey, a veteran of the Denver Gentlemen, was just about the only man in the company; he played virtually every note on 1996's Songs From the Hamster Theatre, the act's striking debut. Since then, Willey has assembled a fabulous lineup of performers to help him realize his vision--and what an exotic vision it is. If Eastern European folk music and jazz are the primary influences, they're hardly the only ones. The album is so abundant with invention that it yields fresh surprises with every spin.

Hillbilly Hellcats
Our Brand
(Rockin' Cat Records)

Chuck Hughes, the guitarist and vocalist at the heart of the Hellcats, could probably make a nice living playing rockin' versions of Fifties staples. Instead, he writes songs that share the spirit of the rockabilly classics he loves without making them seem like fodder for the time capsule. Our Brand is a generous serving of twenty tunes from Hughes's pen, played with wit and ferocity by the main man and the brawny rhythm section of bassist Lance Bakemeyer and drummer Taz Bentley. Rock lives--as long as these guys are cranking it out.

I Reign Omnipotent
(3 Da Hardway Records)

Too much Colorado hip-hop remains several leaps behind the cutting edge: If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, a lot of local rappers have left their inspirations feeling mighty good about themselves. But there's no need to grade I Reign Omnipotent on the curve. Kingdom is not beyond borrowing from those who came before him, but his rhymes are better than most, his vocal presence is thoroughly captivating, and the disc's production is consistently clever and funky. Kingdom has upped the standard for local rap; now it's time for him and others to match or exceed it.

Celeste Krenz
(EMR Records)

Coloradans already know what a national audience is likely to discover soon--that Krenz is a talented artist whose stylings appeal equally to aficionados of country and folk. With the help of singer-songwriter/producer Bob Tyler and two former Subdudes, John Magnie and Steve Amedee, Krenz lends her gentle pipes to an array of tunes that are touching and uplifting. Wishin' is a subtle offering, but it lingers like a pleasant daydream.

Art Lande & Mark Miller
World Without Cars

Saxophonist/flutist Miller and pianist Lande share indisputable skill and a passion for exploration. On World Without Cars, they treat some pieces with the utmost delicacy and hammer away at others. But throughout, they prove that the best way to honor the jazz artists who came before them is to try to extend the boundaries of the genre rather than be content to remain within them.

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