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Flesh Blanket, by Zoon Politikon, is not a punk album in the contemporary, major-label sense--meaning that it sounds nothing like Green Day. Instead, the act, as captured by producer Tim Beckman, gives you an idea of what early Eighties X might have sounded like if it had been fronted by Tom Verlaine instead of John Doe. Songs such as "The Weather" are compact--they don't overstay their welcomes--and regularly reward one's attention with brawny choruses, fine rhymes and sturdy performances by Kyle Carstens, Pat Donovan and Carol Lang Kilgore. Good stuff (Zoon Politikon, 3327 Alcott Street, Denver 80211). And now, a couple of items on local boy John P.'s Spit and a Half label. Virgo Snakes is a CD by a Chicago act called (stay with me, now) Virgo Snakes, and it's pretty darned fuzzy and distorted; Bob Schaeffer screams the words to "Sad" in such an angsty manner that it's all you can do to avoid calling Charter Hospital on his behalf. Nonetheless, these heartfelt chunks of alt ultimately win you over. Like a punky variation on Neil Young's Tonight's the Night, the project succeeds because of, rather than in spite of, its rough spots. The split single shared by Ashtray Boy and Clag, a couple of down-under groups that are part of Spit and a Half's Australian Pop Series, is less clamorous but more charming. "Golden Fingers," the Ashtray Boy submission, is rich and moody; "Bike," the first Clag cut, is a snazzy ditty that demands repeated plays (Spit and a Half Records, P.O. Box 18510, Denver 80218).

More exemplars of the vinyl solution. You can always count on Foreskin 500 for extra value, and the 45s "More Than a Feeling"/ "Less Than a Feeling" and "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Noise?" provide it. The former sports a faintly creepy but somehow affectionate rendition of the familiar Boston hit on the A side, backed with a deconstructed fragment of the same thing on the flip. Better yet, the platter is a picture disc featuring a satirical reproduction of the artwork on Boston's debut. Supernatural. As for "Noise," it includes both the loud, dopey title track and a recording of lead singer Diggie Diamond narrating the tale told in a mini-comic book that accompanies the package. The story, decorated with filmstrip boings, is guaranteed to appeal to the very kind of person who would want to buy a Foreskin 500 single in the first place (available in area record stores). Wrong Again, a vinyl EP from Old Bull's Needle, is kicked off by the act's best tune, "23," which ups the melody quotient without sacrificing any of the combo's power. "Wrong Again" and "Crackhead," meanwhile, are more typical punk pileups but still entertaining in their own destructive way (available in area record stores). Come On and Hear!!, a three-songer by the Minders that Cargo has picked up for distribution, oozes with the distinctive sound associated with its label, Elephant 6. Former INK. man Martyn Leaper, joined by Robert Schneider and Hillarie Sidney of the Apples, assembles wonderfully catchy and deceptively chewy pieces of pop. "Build" and "Almost Arms" retain their own identities, while "Chatty Patty" perfectly captures the style established by the Beatles circa Magical Mystery Tour. So old it's new again (available in area record stores).

The sound of Blues Traveler and its ilk rests heavy on the shoulders of the men in the Vermicious Knids. The harmonica of Mike Studeny is a prominent solo instrument and the numbers lope and skitter in the manner of the other John Popper-influenced acts you know so well. Those previously committed to this genre will no doubt deem "Hollow" and the rest scrumptious. Anyone else should run, not walk, in the opposite direction (759-4831). By contrast, Boulder's Anastasia Vye, whose latest cassette is called Lesbian Hot Wheel Barbies, does not sound the slightest bit like Blues Traveler. The brainchild of Robert St. James, the group divides the tape into a "lesbian side" and a "heterosexual side"--but no matter your sexual preference, you'll be beguiled by the bargain-basement pleasures of "In Front of the Liquor Store," "Johnny Flame" and other shaggy perversities. Even if you don't like this, you can bet it won't bore you (Blonde Girlfriend Records, 85 South 35th Street, Boulder 80303). Those ever-popular lesbian themes also crop up on Dancin' With Danger, by the Sharp Chuckies, an engaging throwaway of an act that features Mike from the Christines. "Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston are Lesbian Co-Captains on My Spaceship of Love" is the showiest piece here, but there are laughs aplenty on the other tracks, including "Movin' Guy" ("He forced me to eat ambrosia/Not the band but the food"), "Traveling Song" ("We're sure to find a Furr's Cafeteria/It ain't Ponderosa/ But hey, it ain't half bad") and "Don't Touch My Hair" ("Maybe later I'll send you out for some conditioner if you don't mind"). Sure, it's silly, but everyone needs a little silliness now and then (The Sharp Chuckies, 2531 South Lincoln Street, Denver 80210).

 

Littleton-based Etherean Music received a bonus earlier in 1996 when the album In the Presence of Angels, by local pianist Dik Darnell, was nominated as new-age record of the year by the National Association of Independent Record Distributors and Manufacturers. The disc's title is appropriate: The tracks assembled by Darnell and his accompanists (including flutist Bryan Savage) put me in mind of the music played in shameless tearjerkers when a beloved central character is about to die. Personally, I hope the music playing when I receive my final reward is "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (Etherean Music, 9200 West Cross Drive, Suite 510, Littleton 80123). The folks in TurnSol have that ol' Gin Blossoms/Jars of Clay jones again. In the Sun, the act's new CD, is professional-sounding in every way, thanks to the able assistance of producer Bill Thomas, but the earnest VH1 rock churned out by Jerry Fox and cohorts struck me as way too generic. Hootie lovers may well find the concoction attractive, but more demanding listeners are advised to look elsewhere (available in area record stores).

Larry's Cologne, by singer-songwriter Shari Weissman, has a clunky title and a terrible cover. But don't let these drawbacks stop you from giving it a listen, because this is a better Bonnie Raitt album than Bonnie Raitt has made in ages. Weissman's voice recalls Raitt's in terms of its weight and power, and her material also draws from the wells of folk, country and R&B. But what really make the disc work are strong material (like "This Time") and a sonic approach that's clear and clean, not overproduced and cluttered. First-rate (available in area record stores). Peg Pearl goes the Tori Amos route on her demo. The tunes--three originals and a drastically slowed-down version of Donovan's "Season of the Witch"--are no doubt intended to seem mysterious, but the primitive production values prevent a listener from getting a complete picture of the artist. Loopy and self-conscious at times, though some potential lurks beneath the surface (P.O. Box 1172, Wheat Ridge 80034).

Paul Shellooe's vocals on Dirty Pool's four-song cassette are undeniably (for want of a better term) white. Fortunately, the music--an amalgam of Jimi Hendrix-esque blues and contemporary funk--is more colorful. Shellooe's guitar playing is consistently strong and groove-oriented, and the rhythm section of Dave Bakulski and Aaron Anderson provides him with able assistance. There's nothing revolutionary about Dirty Pool, but "Dancin' Dead" and "Word 'Round Town" are vibrant blues rock of the sort that any bar owner should love (Roundstone Entertainment, 1618 Pennsylvania Street, Suite 200, Denver 80203). Gary Wilson, a collaborator with Tommy Bolin during the late guitarist's Zephyr period, is involved in quite a different thing these days; he's one of the men behind G.Q. and DaHook, which specializes in dance music on the house tip. The cuts on this CD single ("Drive Me Crazy" and "Space Cowboy," presented in "trance" and "radio" mixes) are built out of four-four disco drumming, post-soul melodies and a touch of techno. The result is fairly retro, but odds are good it'll get your butt moving if you're in the right condition (BridgeFire Records, P.O. Box 22980, Denver 80222).

A world away, Colcannon's The Life of Riley's Brother is another gorgeous evocation of the Emerald Isle by vocalist Mick Bolger and his talented support crew. Producer Tim O'Brien gets a pristine sound that suits the band-penned compositions, contemporary covers (Richard Thompson's "How Will I Ever Be Simple Again" receives an emotionally perceptive reading) and lovely traditionals like the practically perfect "Step It Out, Mary." Simply put, Colcannon is as impressive a Celtic group as any in America right now (available in area record stores). Though frequently overshadowed by brother Tim, Mollie O'Brien is a formidable talent in her own right, and Tell It True..., on the Sugar Hill imprint, finds her in good voice. Since Tim is behind the boards, it's understandable that the bluegrass and folk influences are strongly felt; "Northern Cross" is a notably sprightly example. But Mollie belts out the words to "Alaska" like an R&B mama despite the presence of dobro and mandolin, and her sultry version of Terence Trent D'Arby's "Sign Your Name" is evidence that no pigeonhole can contain her for long. Another solid venture from the O'Brien family (available in area record stores).

Pictures is a two-song cassette from Burning Cedar that anticipates a CD set to hit stores at the end of the summer, by which time the combo will have relocated from Denver to scenic Vacaville, California. "Lost Souls" is an eccentric noodler that gives way to "Nothing," which mates droney vocals with a bumpy, oddball backing track. These experiments are not wholly successful--neither cut makes for easy listening--but they are interesting enough to make the upcoming offering something to anticipate, not dread (1-707-448-4788). Sketch, represented by a disc the players have dubbed Splendid, is another act with a California connection; it was formed in the Golden State and split its time between here and there during the first half of 1996. Led by vocalist/bassist Dave Allen, the combo has developed a sound that's rather slick by alternative standards but still edgy enough to get by. The drawback is that almost every song here recalls other bands (the Police, late-period Clash, etc.) before it suggests Sketch. Unquestionably, these guys have fine chops. Now let's see how they are on ideas (available in area record stores).

 

Chuck da Fonk Fishman spends most of his days in Pittsburgh, but he's also a part-time Denverite whose local pals are much in evidence on his latest tape, subtly titled Here's My Demo...I Need a Deal. P-Funk obviously is Chuck's primary inspiration--so much so that at times it's hard to listen without seeing images of George Clinton flashing through your gray matter. But with the help of members of Zuba, Duane Wilson and Neil Landauer of Pepperment and singer Sherri Jackson, "Color Me Fonky," "009's Theme" and the other throwdowns get over the hump (Fonksquish Records, 204 Schenley Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15217). It wouldn't have surprised anyone if the initial album by Slim Cessna's Auto Club had failed to capture the essence of this quirky aggregation. So credit engineer/keyboardist Robert Ferbrache, who cut Slim Cessna's Auto Club in his own sound pad, Le Studio Absenta, with giving the music an eerie feel that cuts the legs right out from underneath arguments that the band is merely a curiosity. "Hold On" and "Blindman," among others, have a desolate, vaguely unsettling air about them that makes the endearing goofiness of Slim, Frank Hauser Jr. and the rest a bit more jittery and dangerous than they might seem at first blush. A keeper (available in area record stores).

Some months ago, Rusty Shears, one of the men behind the Garden Weasels, informed me that Bill Houston (a onetime member of Babihed now involved with New Country Boy and Jake and the Jabbers) had joined his band on a permanent basis. Houston subsequently told me that this announcement wasn't true. Well, last week, Shears phoned again to hype a Thursday, June 6, date at the Bluebird Theater that's serving as a release party for Weasels, an in-concert video, and he swears--swears!--that Houston is now a full-time Weasel. If this proves to be untrue again, boys, I'm putting a one-year moratorium on the publication of any Garden Weasels news that doesn't entail decapitation or a major felony.

You've been warned. On Thursday, June 6, Munly gets blurry at Boulder's Caffe Mars. On Friday, June 7, Tribal Folk beats it to Penny Lane; Martha's Wake, fresh from the studio (where the players have been recording a CD due in July), re-emerge at Cricket on the Hill; the Indulgers, fronted by Damien Promise, begin a two night run at the Sheabeen Pub, 2300 S. Chambers Road in Aurora; and Schleprock, Nimrock 5, Qualm and Random Victim play to the innocent bystan-ders at the Raven. On Saturday, June 8, Acoustic Junction celebrates its new release at the Fox Theatre, with Higher Ground; Dave Potts hosts a bash to promote his new disc, Music in My Soul, at Swallow Hill; Polvo and Sticky Pin 5 sharpen up at CU-Boulder's Club 156; the two-day Nederland Music Festival, featuring artists such as Black Dog, Legba and Steven Ray Liedlich, kicks off at Nederland's Chipita Park; and Hazard, a solo project built around the Samples' Andy Sheldon, joins eitherIgo at the Ogden Theatre. On Sunday, June 9, Plop Squad drops the big one at the Lion's Lair, with UFOFU, and the Girls get together at Ziggie's Saloon. On Tuesday, June 11, the Raven hosts Horace Pinker and NRA. And on Wednesday, June 12, Toenut is stubbed at the Mercury Cafe, with MxPx. Ouch.

--Michael Roberts

Backbeat's e-mail address is Michael_Roberts@ westword.comMichael_Roberts@


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