The Home Team

Local artists put out a wealth of good music this year. Step right up and read all about it.

Most Denverites have, at one point, shared buildings with a beginning guitarist, flutist or, worse, a drummer -- poor souls who engender neighborly scorn, as well as mighty calluses, during their early stages of life as a musician. But there are many local artists whom you'd actually wantto have next door, folks who make music that you'd happily listen to on a Saturday morning. In fact, the people in your neighborhood made some great recordings in 2002. Here's a look at some of the best.

Mary Beth Abella
What Happened to the Girls?
(The Abella Kids Records)
Songwriter/guitarist Mary Beth Abella found her sea legs -- and her chops -- on What Happened to the Girls?, surviving endless band-member rotations and a difficult production to produce a bold debut. By turns gutsy and emotional, Abella crafts tunes that move from sensitive and spare (but not sentimental) to hard-driving and dynamic, all the while emphasizing humanness over histrionics. If this recording is any indication, the girls are just fine. -- Laura Bond

Black Lamb
The Low Road
Black Lamb takes oversimplified rock genres like "grunge" and "stoner metal" and simplifies them even more. On The Low Road, the quintet layers thick, dark guitar sludge, like hot tar on asphalt, over gravelly vocals and bedrock drumming. Riffs are wielded like heavy machinery; Satan and weed are equally invoked. What makes Black Lamb stray so far from the hard-rock herd, though, is a deep, whiplash groove intrinsic to all the best bands of its species, from Mountain and Deep Purple to Big Chief and Kyuss. The songs are brutal yet catchy, the production is flawless and the sound is as huge as a woolly mammoth. (See www.blacklambrocks.com.) -- Jason Heller

Catheter
Preamble to Oblivion
(Six Weeks)
Like its namesake, Catheter is an unholy implement of torture shoved into parts of your body where it really shouldn't go. The band plays pure, straight-up grindcore, but with a vicious intelligence: Amid all the blast beats and ligament-snapping riffs, Preamble to Oblivion offers spasms of darkly introspective lyrics, some well-placed samples, and slow, heavy breakdowns that doom more than they grind. There's even some near-harmonizing going on, with three singers puking up puddles of gurgling shrieks and subsonic growls. With groups like the Locust and Fantomas trying to crossbreed grindcore with emo or art rock, Catheter shows that you don't need novelty to sound brutal and relevant. -- Heller

Kelly David
Broken Voyage
(Rocky Mountain Records)
Not only does Kelly David look nothing like the typical envelope-pushing musician, but he earns his living as a lawyer for Qwest, which is unlikely to make the average Blender reader's top-ten list of cool professions. For these reasons and more, Broken Voyage, David's debut, is among the most surprising recordings by a local artist in 2002 -- and one of the finest. The disc, mixed by ambient-music cult figure Steve Roach, is an instrumental excursion into some of the darker realms of the human psyche; tracks such as "Coastwatcher" and "Buka Passage" are as eerie as they are captivating. Thoughtful, provocative and strangely compelling, this CD is also a reminder that great things can be found in unlikely places. -- Michael Roberts

Dead Heaven Cowboys
Conversations in the Flood
(Hapi Skratch)
Slick and raunchy, the Dead Heaven Cowboys' debut disc sometimes feels like a kick to the jaw. Throughout the punishing effort, heavyweight rhythms hunker beneath bawdy guitar riffs laced with spiky vocals and stark, sometimes scary lyrical matter. A dark-rock effort, Conversations in the Floodhas all the allure of a crime scene, and this Denver outfit will entice you with its grisly charms. -- Catalina SolteroDrag the River
Closed
(Owned & Operated)
Fort Collins's Drag the River has delivered a bucolic package of frayed emotion and authentic, road-worn soul that usurps recordings from the vast majority of the band's alt-country peers. A soaring glass of boozy introspection, Closedresonates with the requisite jangle and twang, pedal steel and all, atop a smoky undercurrent of loss and regret. Even rollicking tracks like "Get Drunk" aren't far from the murk. Dejection rarely sounds so fresh. -- Eric Peterson

Endgame
Heart Menders Ministry
(Cloister)
Calling Endgame's music "pop punk" sells it way short. Although catchy, loud and energetic, Heart Menders Ministryfalls far outside the three-chord boundary set by most feeble-minded Blink-182 protegés. The extended progressions of songs like "Lugosi" recall Dear You-era Jawbreaker -- a mature, dynamic sound that bonds sinewy chords to a taut, melodic musculature. On "31 Flavors," chunky verses dissolve into a pensive, soaring chorus that suggests a pipsqueak Foo Fighters. As engaging as the band's music is, though, Endgame's true strength lies in its lyrics; obliquely clever, moody and earnest, lines like "I'm getting better at writing love songs/Like Arlen/Koehler wrote "Stormy Weather"/I'm getting better at writing love songs/I'm no Adonis, but she's astonished" show all the marks of budding pop genius. -- Heller

Tony Furtado
American Gypsy
(What Are Records?)
Tony Furtado made his name among acoustic-music aficionados as a performer with fingers as quick as hummingbird wings and an ability to pay tribute to folk stylings without sounding like a mere impressionist. Since then, he's continued to evolve, mastering additional instruments and refusing to be limited by preconceptions. American Gypsy finds him wandering across the musical map, with stops along the way for strum-along blues ("Oh Berta, Berta"), spirited improvisation ("The Angry Monk") and country rock (the Mike Nesmith-composed "Some of Shelly's Blues"). As a bonus, he offers up "Hartford," an elegiac tribute to the late John Hartford that shows his picking skills to be sharper than ever. Clearly, Furtado hasn't lost a step; rather, he's added several new ones. -- Roberts

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