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A block of local reviews that's totally solid.
The Damn Shambles, recently profiled in these pages ("Bar Bands of the World, Unite," February 19), have a lengthy pedigree: Kurt Jones was in the Tremblers, former drummer Jerry Lee hails from Wanker, and the bassist currently known as Pete was part of the Agents. The 24 tracks on their self-titled CD range from loud and fast to loud and fast, but that's all right: Variety would only drag down these sloppy fun-seekers. "Jackie the Burger Boy," "Gonna Wanna Wonder" and "Lock, Stock and Barrel" are highlights, but even the lesser tunes should get you locomoting. Which is probably the point (Stamper Records, 2274 Pinto Trail, Elizabeth, CO 80107). Jim Stricklan doesn't live here anymore (he's set up housekeeping in Austin), but when he was a Denverite, he earned fans and a 1987 Best of Denver award for his picking, singing and DJing on KBRQ radio. Universal Sigh, a new disc, finds him applying his jaunty baritone to a series of Western-style ditties that seesaw in terms of quality. To me, his most upbeat and good-humored selections, like "The Cure," "To Whom It May Concern" and "Jazz for Jesus," are infinitely finer than the title cut and other overtly serious efforts. But everything here exudes an air of authenticity--and in this age of conformity, that's nothing to sneeze at (Front Room Music, 5203 Creekline Drive, Austin, TX 78745).

On Rhapsody in Red, White & Blue, the Denver Brass surveys a dozen efforts by American composers. The sound quality of the recording, which was cut at Bethany Lutheran Church in June 1996, is clean but a bit erratic; if you turn up the volume to hear the quieter moments, you'll be blasted out of your shorts by the showy passages. But the arrangements of warhorses like "Rhapsody in Blue" and "I Got Rhythm" are pleasant, and the playing is generally strong. An okay introduction to the group (Denver Brass, 2253 Downing Street, Denver, CO 80205). Don't Buy the Man Another Drink, the latest from Boulder's Skin, has a strong jazz-fusion underpinning: Drummer Dave Watts favors ultra-busy beats, while Edwin Hurwitz makes his bass burble like a percolator run amok. Over this musical bed are sprayed Maya Dorn's slightly flighty vocals, her wordy, overly self-conscious lyrics (such as "I like to feel my lungs expand/With the wind that runs through my body's land," from "Body's Land") and a variety of exotic sounds courtesy of samplers and various percussion devices. But because the compositions themselves are so flimsy, Another Drink winds up sounding like a beautifully wrapped package that contains nothing but air. Instrumentally accomplished but overly precious (Double Dig Productions, P.O. Box 981, Boulder, CO 80306). Pinhead Circus avoids such traps on Detailed Instructions for the Self-Involved, the trio's latest disc for Los Angeles-based BYO Records. No one could claim that Pinhead's Scooter, Trelvis and Otis take punk rock to new and exciting places; these fourteen ditties, including "Petty Motivation," "Too Bad She Won't Live" and "Just Fuckin' Wonderful," aren't the most innovative offerings to come down the pike. But the boys play rough and hard, and they have a sure sense of both melody and humor, two important commodities. Folks who never understood what was so great about punk in the first place won't be converted, but true beievers will find a lot to like in these Instructions (available in area record stores).

Carolyn's Mother will likewise never knock you flat with its originality: The players like radio smashes and do their damnedest to make music in their images. This formula is followed to the letter on Thirty Pieces of Silver, the combo's latest album, but because the musicians' skills have risen over the years, the results are better than before. Rhett Lee's Anglophilic vocals spur "Into the Arms of Nothing" and the extremely Cure-like "Hit Me, Hit Me, Hit Me," while the efforts of Drew Hodgson, Colin Burke and Jeff Gust fit together nicely. You know that side-to-side head shake that fans of Brit pop offer to demonstrate their approval? They'll do it to this, too (available in area record stores). On its new disc, cleverly titled Zuba Demo, Boulder's Zuba shows off two new members: bassist Mike Cykoski, of Sponge Kingdom renown, and Ben Senterfit, a fine saxophonist and vocalist from the late, lamented group Chitlin. Their efforts help matters, but more important is the decision of the Zubans to back off from the funk approach that they always executed so lamely. This time around the vibe is gentler, thereby allowing vocalist "Lega" Liza to float above the music rather than feign getting down. "Groovin' W/You" crashes into many of the same obstacles that made the collective's previous disc, The New Cruelty, such a pain, but "Speed Queen" is a modest rewrite of "I Want Candy"; "Schmuck" has a discreet reggae underpinning; "Sunrise on the Road" offers a nice horn chart and a penetrating beat; and "I Like the Feeling" is a casual, summery track that is superficial but impossible to dislike. In my view, Demo represents a vast improvement for Zuba. Then again, maybe I've simply gone off the deep end (Ariel Publicity, 443-0083).

An offering from Denver's Elephant 6 imprint, Handsome Western States by San Francisco's Beulah (referenced in the Elf Power profile on page 74), relies mainly on the rudiments of guitars, bass, drums and peppy vocals, all captured on an eight-track recorder. It can be a bit cutesy at times (e.g., "I Love John, She Loves Paul"), and it's not as distinctive as the work of some of Beulah's labelmates. But the long-player also rocks in a way that doesn't feel at all cliched--and it's catchy as all get out (Elephant 6 Recording Co., P.O. Box 18326, Denver, CO 80218). By contrast, the two-song demo by Denver's Atom Nave has a distinctly Eighties quality about it. On "Solamente" and "Warp Drive," Zac Coletti's singing put me in mind of Steve Perry; on "Don't Dat Purdy," he made me think of Bono. I confess that I was frightened for a few hours afterward, but after talking with my therapist and my minister, I feel better. Thanks for your concern (754-9296).

On April 6, I bought some new 45s for my home jukebox--and among them was "Stand by Your Man" by Tammy Wynette. I gave this indelible tune a spin or two that evening, then sat down to watch the late news, which revealed that Wynette had just died. So I'm taking suggestions about whose single I should purchase next. Right now, Michael Bolton and Kenny G are in the lead.

Mike Jourgensen of Abdomen--whose fine new CD, Weird to See, should be in stores next month--thinks it's a shame that no local publication has noted the passing of Dinosaur Jr, which broke up a few weeks back. So allow me to do the honors. Although J Mascis gave me the single worst interview of my Westword career ("Dino's Sore," June 5, 1991), I always liked his band, and I'm sad to see it go. But at least I'm not reporting about a local group breaking up for a change.

As far as I know, the following acts are still together. On Thursday, April 16, Cosmic Pond celebrates the release of its new, self-titled CD at Herman's Hideaway; Wade Nelson hosts an open-mike night at CU-Boulder's Club 156; the Nashville Bluegrass Band picks at the Boulder Theater; the Emergency Broadcast Players tone up at the Vesta Dipping Grill, 1822 Blake Street; and Leaving the Trees searches for the forest at Cricket on the Hill, with the Nod and Electrohead. On Friday, April 17, Pete Wernick's Live Five plays for the first of two nights at the Left Hand Grange Hall in Niwot, and Turnsol plays Dirty Pool at the Market Street Lounge. On Saturday, April 18, Adrian Sherwood's Dub Syndicate engages in bass behavior at the Fox Theatre; Ksenia Nosikova and George Humphrey play art songs at the Jefferson Unitarian Church, 14350 West 32nd Avenue in Golden; the 8-Bucks Experiment leads to a scientific breakthrough at the 15th Street Tavern, with Family Man; the Hate Fuck Trio spreads love at the Bluebird Theater; and Hamster Theatre spins its wheels at the Acoma City Center. And on Tuesday, April 21, the Suicide Machines get Limp at the Bluebird. Makes sense to me.

--Michael Roberts

Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com