Local Color

Backbeat writers weigh in on local CDs

Statewide drought be damned, releases from Colorado musicians continue to flow into local retail bins -- and the mailboxes of Backbeat writers. In the first installment of a two-part batch of reviews, we focus on artists whose names fall into the first half of the alphabet; see next week's issue for those in the N-Z camp.


Kelly Aspen
Kelly Aspen

Kelly Aspen is the kind of performer who bolsters the burgeoning theory that talented, musically savvy female singer-songwriters will soon buck Britney and her well-toned teen peers. More a country songbird than an aspiring American Idol, the post-collegiate Aspen sings in pure, nasal-tinged soprano tones that recall Miss Parton herself. Sometimes layered with warbling steel guitars and brush-drum accompaniment, Aspen's music is so gosh-darn squeaky-clean, you might not realize she's exploring themes of desire ("I Want More (of You)," "I Wanna Feel") and coming into womanhood. Hear her roar...er, chirp. (Contact P.O. Box 154, Johnston, CO 80534, www.kellyaspen.com.) -- Laura Bond


DJ Bedz
Mile High Anthem
DJ Bedz (born Cassidy Bednark) survived the mean streets of Boulder before earning a degree in music composition from Occidental College (the setting for Beverly Hills 90210). His collaborative single with local luminaries Kingdom and Don Blas, up-and-comer Bingo and scratch master DJ Chonz blends inventive rhythms and aggressive posturing for amusing results. Cowtown ain't Compton, but, hey -- it's a no coast thang. (Contact White Shadow Productions, 7540 East Harvard Avenue, #104, Denver, CO 80231, www.djbedz.com.) -- John La Briola


Lisa Bell
Dare to Be
After a ten-year hiatus, jazz vocalist Lisa Bell cut her first CD, a collection of popular selections from the Big Book of Jazz Standards. Bell reportedly wrote five originals during the recording process, only one of which made its way onto the disc. That's a pity: "What Can I Do," her co-write with keyboardist Jon Glazer, features a cameo by sax player Nelson Rangell and is one of the album's highlights. And while there's nothing in Bell's readings of traditional tunes to blaspheme their originators, you've got to wonder if the world really needs another reading of, say, "They Can't Take That Away." Still, Bell is stylish, confident, capable and likable enough to pull it off. Lannie, look out. (Released by HapiSkratch Records; contact Lisa Bell, P.O. Box 11224, Boulder, CO 80301, www.lisabellmusic.com.) -- Bond


Black Airr
Black Airr
More than three years after the biggest high school shooting in American history, along comes another musical "tribute" to Littleton's own day of infamy: "Voices: A Tribute to Columbine" is the centerpiece of this six-song effort from MC and house DJ Black Airr. Although he's a charismatic rapper with a natural sense of timing, Black Airr's subject matter feels as tired as some of his couplets (at one point, he rhymes "over" with "my dog Rover"). The rest of the recording is similarly ho-hum, a collection of remixes, bouncing beats and lifeless loops. (Released by Black Trilogy Records, 720-540-5681.) -- Bond


Cedars of Lebanon
Archive
Take the rhythm section from local hardcore heroes Planes Mistaken for Stars, toss in a crazy Lebanese dude who's into dead birds and unicorn masks, and add an array of ambient sounds, vocal samples and North African hand percussion. What do you have? Cedars of Lebanon's Archive. This double disc, mostly recorded in abandoned nuclear-missile silos, ebbs with the otherworldly beauty of Muslimgauze or Dead Can Dance: It's neurotic, hypnotic and consuming. (Released by Limited Warfare Laboratories, www.headqrtrs.com.) -- Jason Heller


Contender
Away With Words
Negative Progression
Although this style of clear-eyed, earnest, emo-inflected hardcore was already done to death ten years ago (see Avail, Greyhouse, Friction, et al.), Contender has the spunk and spirit to transcend the cliches. One big reason is the lyrics, which are literate, evocative and oh-so-clever in that Jawbreaker sort of way. While the screamed/ sung vocals sound more played out than powerful, the sinewy melodies and solid production more than pick up the slack. (Contact contenderrock@hotmail.com.) -- Heller


DeNunzio
Auditory Crash Course
When Acrobat Down fell off the tightrope last year, three-fifths of the revered local indie-rock group reformed as DeNunzio. This disc was recorded just weeks after the band's inception, and it shows: The vocals, shared by all three members, sometimes sound more like demos in progress than fully formed ideas. But there's no denying the assured songwriting and pervasive, Built to Spill-inspired melodies that made Acrobat Down so beloved in the first place. By its next release, the on-disc DeNunzio will surely be as compelling as its live counterpart. (Released by Hej Music; see www.denunzio.net.) -- Heller


The Dinnermints
Love Letters to Our Future Selves
You'd need a very large dust broom to clear all of the fuzz out of this recording -- not that you'd want to. In its first full-length effort, the unabashedly scrappy trio lays down a ten-song tribute to trash pop and white-noise discordia. Vocalist/guitarist Sara Mesmer sing-songs her way through deliciously unadorned ditties about amusement parks, being pretty and a mysterious entity called "Starpats." Though a little same-samey in spots, Love Letters is ultimately a satisfying guilty pleasure. (Released by SpeckRECORDS, 2015 NW Kearney #209, Portland, OR 97209; see thedinnermints.com.) -- Bond

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