Eric Shiveley

El Diablo's ep (Lawnmower Records)

Critics, including this one, tend to use terms like "competent," "solid" and "professional" when reviewing albums that fail to hit our sweet spot but aren't so mediocre as to deserve slagging. As a result, it's easy for scribblers to forget that the qualities denoted by these identifiers can be positive, particularly when they're powered by as strong a performer as Eric Shiveley. He's an underappreciated veteran of the local scene, and on El Diablo's ep, a six-song preview of a longer-form project, he makes the mainstream a safe place to visit.

"Ain't It the Truth," which opens the proceedings, doesn't break new ground, since it's built upon a Peter Gunn riff that's worked for everyone from Henry Mancini to Weezer. Yet Shiveley gets more mileage out of it than anyone has a right to expect, thanks to a multi-layered arrangement, a frantic guitar solo and plenty of impassioned shouting. The followup, "Nowhere," performs a similar trick, with Shiveley and guest vocalist Rachel Simring finding a way to guide an obvious Fastball over the plate. As for "The Last Time I Called You Baby" and "Dodge City Blues," they recall the sometimes twangy jingle-jangle that once dominated college rock, but manage to seem far fresher than such a description implies.

In other words, El Diablo's ep is competent, solid and professional -- but in a good way.

 
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