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A Musical Feast

In that spirit of Thanksgiving, here's a cornucopia of reviews of local releases:

On "Denver Radio Talk Show," the first track off his five-song CD, titled, well, Five Song CD, Gregory Ego has got it in for a battery of local radio talk-show hosts. In fact, his thinly veiled indictments of the various disembodied voices that populate the airwaves are so detailed and venomous that one wonders whether Ego might be spending a little more time dialing in than is really good for him. He scores points for working curious British undergarments into a rhyme: "The scent of his Jaguar is up his nose/He calls knickers his favorite clothes." The song's chorus of "Hey-ho, ain't it so/You heard me say it on the Denver radio talk show" is what might have happened had Loudon Wainright III or Weird Al sat in with the Ramones on a particularly goofy day. Listen closely and you can even hear Ego suppressing a laugh. Five Song CD was recorded with the help of John Killough, the original drummer for Slim Cessna's Auto Club, former members of Boulder punk bands Ski Vietnam and Lobotomy Council, and Ego's compatriots from Ham Hoc War Lox, an early-Nineties Denver outfit. Throughout this release, Ego prods listeners for a chortle; in a self-consciously strained voice, he sings about nicotine fits (the roving rockabilly of "Kill for a Cigarette") and psychic phenomenon (the truly humorous, accordion-tinged "Señor Mysterioso"). Yet Ego is best when he doesn't forsake musicality for comedy; in the lovely dual violin parts on "Budapest," provided by Lakewood Symphony Orchestra member Clyde Becker, both elements work nicely together. Becker keeps a straight musical face while Ego attempts a tongue-in-cheek cultural analysis: "On one side is Buddha, on the other is pest/On both sides of the river lies Budapest." And "Cassady" sounds a little like a countrified Lou Reed narrative (you know those songs where Reed tries to sing a little?) about Kerouac muse Neal Cassady as channeled through Nicolas Cage's character in Raising Arizona. This all combines to very pleasant effect, especially with the addition of James Nicholson's detail work on the flute. This is a fun record that, thankfully, refrains from trying to be too fun. (P.O. Box 481262, Denver, CO 80248.)

Funked out speedcore? Metallic funkified crank rock? Music from a bunch of somewhat demonic-looking guys who wear eyeliner? I'm not sure what to call Slam, a six-song release from Cricket on the Hill staple Sick, a band that's done some national touring, gotten some recent radio play in Salt Lake City and is known to entice throngs of fair young maidens to gyrate on stage during live shows. Sabbath, Tool and Alice in Chains are clear influences here, as are Metallica and even Gwar when it comes to the vocal trick that makes a person with normally functioning vocal chords sound like the monster under the bed. "Machine" is a highlight, with an interestingly arranged instrumental interlude wherein a guitar riff repeats like a mantra and the drums answer in almost binary code; "Seize the Day," however, is textbook post-grunge with a radio-readiness that betrays the strains of originality the band displays elsewhere. This is pretty straightforward stuff, not likely to appeal to those who don't like to rock in the grand tradition of the headbanger. Then again, it'll probably thrill those who do. (Sick, c/o Romero, 1450 Skeel Street, Brighton, CO 80601.)

Speaking of bands that wear eyeliner, Assorted is the name of the second CD from Littleton-based electronic dance duo Pure Drama. The photo that accompanied the ten-song disc features frontman, songwriter, programmer, keyboardist and "actor" Ryan Policky sporting said cosmetic, as well as black lipstick, but don't fear: He's not hoping to be the next Marilyn Manson. Rather, Policky and partner Becca Gomez, who perform Sunday nights downstairs at the Church, want to create dance music that combines techno and goth into one piece of electronic theater. For the most part, they succeed: Assorted is a collection of well-written, well-executed dance tracks that are essentially pop constructions; think Soft Cell-era Marc Almond, "Dreaming of Me" Depeche Mode or early New Order colored with newfangled computer effects. Gomez's feminine singing is a nice counterpart to Policky's sometimes droll, I-sound-like-I-think-I'm-British vocals, and the interplay between the two sets up some intriguing contrasts. "Wanting" is a particularly solid track; it's infectious and danceable as hell, and Policky harmonizes with himself on various tracks of the same lilting chorus. Policky and Gomez say they want to take their "saga" worldwide, but they counter potential pretentiousness with pure professionalism. The recording is cleanly produced, and the liner notes have a flawless, artful design. My guess is that Policky took some jabs in high school for being into this kind of stuff. Assorted is a successful jab back. (8074 South Jackson Street, Littleton, CO 80122.)

Saxxon Woods is the kind of band I expected to see more of when I first came to Colorado: a group of talented, professional-sounding minstrels who perform melodic, gentle, well-executed songs about nature, love, beauty and life while harmonizing and reveling in the positivity of it all. There's plenty of that on Here & Now, a hearty, perfect-sounding release that includes the spare and meditative "Leaves of Grass," the pedal-steel-tinged "Love Is a Mystery" and the Celtic-inspired "By the Sycamore Tree." The five singer/songwriters who compose this band play with more strings than a kid with a bowl of spaghetti -- from Gracie Batt's autoharp to Michael Russo's dobro, to the mandolin, an instrument played by three of the five. The music evokes everything from the new-agey spirit of Windham Hill to the earthy collaborations of Crosby, Stills and Nash to the country laments of Lyle Lovett and Chris Isaaks on the Nick Zelinger-sung "So It Goes." Don Batt even manages to sound ever so slightly like -- forgive me, Mr. Batt -- Neil Diamond on the lovely ditty "Holly." The liner notes of this release, which was recorded at Studio Bear Creek in Evergreen, encourage listeners to "celebrate diversity," and indeed, the band does so on Here & Now. A very pleasant recording. (Savingracie Publications, 801 Emerson Street, #1, Denver, CO 80218.)

Funk/groove players occasionally suffer from an over-zealousness that leads them to musically boast their prowess -- demonstrating, for example, how many times they can slap that bass per minute. Happily, the members of Little Hercules exercise a welcome restraint on their self-titled four-song EP. The Vail Valley-based three-piece constructs mellow, subtly funky tunes that marry R&B bass grooves with reggae rhythms. "Upside Down" even features an acrobatic saxophone solo that is easy and understated rather than showy or exhibitionistic; the same goes for the jazzy bass interlude that follows. It's reminiscent of both Cake and Phish's more laid-back, funky meanderings, though without the sarcasm of the former or the self-indulgence of the latter. Little Hercules has played locally with more accomplished acts like the Young Dubliners and singer/songwriter Sherri Jackson, and the good-mood, soul-food music on this disc is a good indicator that they just might become a more common sight on area stages. (1-970-949-2626.)

P.S. Thanks to those who've called with answers to my question about Robert M. Armstrong, creator of the funk curio "Hold the Cocaine, Pass the Cyanide" (Backwash, October 28), but you can stop -- the riddle has been solved. Mr. Armstrong recorded the song, which he likes to call either "Whole Lotta B.S." or "Lookin' Down the Barrel," depending on his mood, at MH2, a Denver-based recording studio and label run by Chuck "da Fonk" Fishman of Fonksquish, among other projects. According to Armstrong, the cut was a onetime thing that resulted from a rare MH2 jam session in which he participated. And asked whether he performs around town or has plans to put any more of his music to digital analog, Armstrong responded thusly: "No. I drive a delivery truck for UPS." Glad we got that cleared up.


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