Upon Closer Review

A look at a springtime bouquet of local releases.

Martha Stewart recently introduced her spring line at Kmart. Lovely, it is: full of pastels and flowers and festive little patterns that are meant to invite all kinds of feelings of renewal and meditations on the rebirth of all living things. (Not to mention feelings of inadequacy if the dishtowels don't match the bed liner and the kitty-litter tray.) Poor Martha. Maybe if she listened to a little more music, she wouldn't feel inclined to devote so much time to perfecting the art of the properly scooped melon ball. We found that listening to the latest batch of local releases was, in fact, a better way to usher in the new season.

First up is Running With Sally, a Boulder-based four-piece that includes former members of Vail's semipopular Giant Stonefly. The band describes itself as "homegrown groove rock and psychedelic folk," which should sound some alarm bells for those who aren't wowed by the wah-wah pedal. The band's eleven-song debut, The First Sally, unapologetically lives up to the prior description, through sometimes-listless jams and a penchant for funk that runs throughout. The band, led by guitarist/lead vocalist Trevor Clendenin, is composed of competent players, and the production on this album (recorded at Mountainworks Studio) is professional-sounding. Though the music is likely to appeal to the set that prefers musicians who wear their Phish and Grateful Dead influences like patchwork jeans, Sally has moments that distinguish it from its high-elevation musical peers. The Latin-flavored "Mustachio," with fevered bongo drums and a verse in Spanish, manages to sound daunting and provocative, and with its synchronized vocals, "Something Like That" is a quirky highlight. We can only hope that the dirty-grooving "Porn Star" -- with its fleeting allusion to the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" and chorus of "Welcome to my pants" -- is meant to be funny; if not, it's simply ridiculous. Either way, the song is redeemed by a smooth tenor sax solo from Greg Warren. The band's wayward balladry gets tiresome on tracks like "Lucea" -- where Clendenin seems to be searching for the next note in a too-loose melody -- and there's a lack of cohesion on this album that suggests Running With Sally hasn't decided what kind of band it wants to be. (Released on Fort Collins-based Hapi Skratch Records. Available at area record stores, or through www.RunningWithSally.com. CD-release party April 14 at Quixote's True Blue.)

After listening to Gracias Papa Santo!, the debut CD from local Latin music ensemble Jon Romero y Amanecer, for thirty seconds, it's clear that the album is not an orthodox collection of Latin sounds. "Four Sacred Directions," a traditional Lakota prayer/song offered by Ehanamani (Walks Among) christens the fifteen-track disk, which finds Romero -- who is of Native American, Spanish and Filipino descent -- exploring spicy sounds that are not limited to the currently popular Salsa style. Inspired by Denver's Latin Crossover Band, Romero assembled more than forty musicians to play on Santo! and enlisted local jazz aficionado Freddy Rodriguez Jr. as producer. The result is an eclectic, surprising record that employs an average of ten instruments per cut, with players touching on everything from cha-cha styles to melodic smooth jazz to Tejano and rock. Romero -- who's opened for artists like Tito Puente and Los Hombres Calientes -- is the kind of bandleader you might expect to find at the helm of the orchestra on the Love Boat, his players working their saxes, timbales, congas and bongos as the ship pulls into yet another exotic port. More than seventy minutes long, Santo! is a musically expansive delight. Gracias, Jon. (Released on Jonnie Sage Records. Available at Silver Eagle Music, the Studio Gallery and Rockley Music or by emailing papiray@aol.com, or visit www.minggia.com. Jon Romero y Amanecer will perform at the Ogden Theater on April 13, with Little Joe.)

Local rapper Peeze proclaims that It's Time on his eighteen-track full-length, released on Mile High Records, Aurora's burgeoning hip-hop label. Time, presumably, for Peeze to step up and stake his claim as one of the area's most formidable MCs -- at least that's what he hints at on the album's title cut. Listening to Peeze's rhymes, he may be right: His lyrics are laid over a pretty fat bed of G-Funk grooves, and he exhibits a verbal dexterity that exceeds the recommended vowels-per-second limit adhered to by most humans. Unfortunately for Peeze, though, he's often upstaged by the vocals of the various guest rappers he permits to encroach on his Time: Julox steals the show in the hilarious "No Mo' Weed," as does Big-E on the lyrically less interesting "Shake It." Yet Peeze manages to remain the primary driving force throughout the album. Unfortunately, he's not steering the music into very new or adventurous directions. Thug life, women with big asses to back up and "freakin' all night" are themes that recur like a nasty rash, and there's no indication Peeze is aware that a good DJ can do wonders to liven up a flat sound. Peeze out. (Available at area record stores.)

Cindy Wonderful of Rainbow Sugar seemed a bit miffed recently that the latest compilation from her Wonderground Records, simply titled Denver, hadn't seen a speedier review. "It seems you have decided to eliminate Sugar from your diet," she wrote in a frustrated letter to Westword. Well, there it is, Cindy: your name in bold print. As for the review: Denver is a cacophonous collection of Denver's more conceptual and experimental acts, including the Carbon Dioxide Orchestra (whose track "Carnivore I.V." is an interesting instrumental sound collage) and I.O. (who seem to use a theremin to heighten the eerie feel of their own non-melodic, auditory mix). Rachel Pollard's acoustic diddles and lush, shapeless vocals on "Colorado Quiet," the Trailer Park Cassanovas' rootsy road song "Hard Drive" and even Wonderful's boastful rapping on "Dynamite" (the title is a reference to herself), are among the comp's more traditional fare. On the ingenious "Warning," Bill Pickett's Invitational Rodeo pits lyrical hints of child molestation, incest and '50s mentalities against a snappy backdrop of game-show sounds, feedback and a hip-hop drum loop -- it's one of the comp's most clever offerings. All in all, Denver is an uneven showcase of some of the area's more creative -- and often unpolished -- artists having fun if not musical epiphanies. (Available at area record stores or by writing Wonderground Records, 865 Northridge Road, Highlands Ranch, CO 80216.)

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