During the '90s, when he played bass for the edgy combo Iz and fronted a group pointedly dubbed Love Supreme, Adrian Romero established himself as one of Denver's most complicated musicians -- a performer eager for popular success, but not at the expense of artistic accomplishment. If Shirts Against Skins, his latest CD, is any indication, his subsequent move to New York City has done little to impose peace upon his often-clashing impulses. At times, such contradictions enhance his work; at others, they overwhelm it.
Examples? Romero follows "Thank You," an accessible opener that seems to have been given a dose of Morphine, with "Studio 54," a tricky, oddly structured ditty described in the liner notes as an "elegy for the souls of John Lee Hooker and a 5,000 year old man." Later, he places the fairly straightforward pop-folk charmer "And You Do" alongside "Crave," a composition that blends world-music-inspired guitar picking, Western emoting and plenty more. Influences upon the tune cited by Romero include Battuvshin and Sayan Zhambalov -- both associated with the sounds of Mongolia -- as well as Charles Mingus and Art Garfunkel. That'd make for an interesting dinner party.
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At their best, as in the lovely ballad "You Keep Waiting," the sonic juxtapositions on display are intriguing, too. The disc is never less than smart, and Romero's playing is consistently strong -- but a cohesive piece of work it is not. Those shirts and skins might be better off playing on the same team (www.adrianromero.com).