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More Sounds from Around Town

More local reviews a go-go.

Singer/guitarist/songwriter Peggy Mann has been playing around these parts for nearly twenty years, which makes the release of her debut CD Tenderness seem slightly overdue. The eleven-song effort touches on all of Mann's well-worn influences: The folksy, melodic lilt of "Undercover" features a chorus reminiscent of Meredith Brooks's annoying "Bitch" ("I'm a loser/I'm a winner/I'm an actress/I'm a sinner"); "Advice" has Latin undertones; the title track is a straightforward ballad that includes some nice harmonizing on the chorus. I can picture hordes of women singing this one in the car at top volume after being reminded by Oprah to "remember their spirit." Mann and her band attempt a more bluesy rock sound on "Keep It Inside You," and the result sounds a little like Heart's "Magic Man." Whether that's a good or bad thing depends wholly on the listener. "If You Were an Angel" is a pop-country ditty, more Faith Hill than Tammy Wynette. It's all pretty predictable -- which is fine, since the music's real function is to provide a framework for Mann's voice. And there's no question that the woman can sing. Fortunately, her vocal calisthenics are impressive but not excessively showy. Mann sounds like Ani DiFranco's kinder, gentler aunt -- playing it safe, keeping it pretty. This is music Ally McBeal would dance around her living room to. (Semi-Mental Productions, P.O. Box 460491, Aurora, CO 80046-0491.)

"TV or Not TV" is the lead track off of Planeterrarium, the third release from Boulder's Rhino2Rhino, and its title and lyrics are a good indicator of things to come. The song seems to assume the perspective of a child television star existentially coming to terms with the medium that birthed him. Of course, that might be a complete misreading, as the lyrics, amusing but cryptic as they are, defy easy interpretation: "Those were the days of wine and roses/I never sat through mass deceiving the masses/Still, you shaped your existence by watching me/Or was it me, learning to be from watching you?" Throughout the release's ten tracks, vocalist/bassist Andy Harrington serves as a kind of master of ceremonies for a lyrical carnival of sounds and styles. With heavy use of three-part vocal harmonies and lots of overdubs, the band plays with everything from dance-hall reggae to a Beach Boys-ish approach to composition. There's an inverse Ben Folds Five quality here. While Folds is known to deliver ironic or matter-of-fact observations against a backdrop of grand music, Rhino2Rhino pairs semi-serious subject matter with easy, back-porch barbecue music. "Dawn's Highway" is the tale of a hitchhiker longing for love in the truck stops of the nation -- but the song never strays from an almost funky, melodic cheer; despite a dark instrumental on "Feels Like Kevin," a song about the fate of a young boy "who slipped... and hit his head," the song's deep jazz groove renders it undeniably sunny. It's a dichotomy the bandmembers are aware of and seem to enjoy; they tinker with the emotional split between how music operates on a listener's body versus what the mind understands through lyrics. Other times, the music is a perfect match for the band's humor, such as on "Yard Sale," a tale of letting go of the past and its mementos, including Chewbacca figurines. "Loaded Down," the final track, begins with a gospel-like a cappella harmony from the three bandmembers (Harrington, guitarist Christopher Smith and drummer Dominic Rivers) and recalls everything from Phish to Queen to a really goofy -- and really entertaining -- fusion of outlaw country and Scottish traditionals. Witty and well-played, Planeterrarium indicates Rhino2Rhino is a band that's happy being hard to pin down. (P.O. Box 4006, Boulder, CO 80306.)

Hell Loose Sin Nation is the name of a four-song EP from the recently reunited Hell Camino, which first started hanging around Denver in 1993 but split in 1997. The five-person outfit is led by singer/lyricist Al Pierson, who despite her manly first name is a statuesque blonde who resembles old pinup photos of Betty Grable -- were Betty Grable a wannabe dominatrix. With the press materials that accompany Nation comes this description of Pierson: "She will entice you, consume you, then spit you out...you'll be crawling on your hands and knees, begging for more." Well, yeah, that might be true if a shoddy imitation of Exene Cervenka with a head cold and trite lyrics gets you hot. "Trick or treat or treat or trick/Come stab me with your stick/If I die before I wake/Do me good for goodness sake," she sings oh-so-enticingly on "Trick or Treat." Things don't fare much better for Hell Camino in the arena of musical moxie, either. The band describes its music as having industrial-rock influences, and formula-wise, at least, it does, along with traces of heavy metal and punk. But that doesn't mean it represents those influences well. "I Could Be Ugly," which I assume is supposed to be spooky and meaningful and Siouxie-esque, instead sounds shapeless and pedestrian. The opening track, "Vibe," which aims for a raw, driving power, is simply irritating -- due in large part to a lackluster recording quality. Heck, what's that maxim? If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all? With that in mind, I'll simply say: "Next." (www.hellcamino.com.)

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