It's a local-recording blitzkrieg. Look out below.
Grace is a project built around the songs of longtime Denver scenester Tom Mestnik and his compadre in Moot, bassist Bob Gumbrecht. The band's CD, Music With Knives, feels like an early Genesis album, what with consecutive songs that mention lambs ("Grey" and "The Dog and the Wolf") and subsequent references to hermits, kings and, in the second version of "Dust on the Shelf," the "face of God." Once "Come to Me, My Darkness Sweet" finally gets going (after an interminable intro), it's fairly effective, but all I could think of during "Eat, Drink and Be Merry (The Pirate's Song)" was Jethro Tull--and that's not something I enjoy doing, my friends (Integrated Productions, P.O. Box 84, Winooski, VT 05404). Unravelling Sylvia, by Slow Moving and Black Lines, another Mestnik combo, touches upon many of the same influences, but it's moderately more enjoyable. A lot of the lyrics hammer listeners over the head with their poetical importance (e.g., "Oh, to hacking at the links/With an angel wing" from "Talent, Ejaculation or..."), and when Mestnik is at his flightiest--as he is on "Autumn," a ditty that asks the musical question, "Who's to map my little town of pain?"--the results can make flesh crawl as effectively as a Wes Craven flick. But Mestnik's prominent, energetic guitar playing props up "Her Mistake" and "The Vines (Hey Now)," and Tom Liehe's sax lines and Carrie Beeder's cello make "Ever All Right" worth hearing. Still, anyone with an allergy to pretentiousness will be sneezing by song three (available in area record stores).
Guitarist Mike Serviolo describes the music made by his band, the Perry Weissman 3, as more lounge than jazz--but in truth, the sounds on the act's self-titled disc are too off-kilter to fit neatly into either category. "Snard" is a jaunty strummer that includes elliptical guitar lines and energetic splats courtesy of trombonist Rick Benjamin-Tebelau; "Soft Rock" is postmodern Burt Bacharach; "Ballad of the Lazy Sleepers" slips and slides over a languid seven-plus minutes; and a rendition of Thelonious Monk's "Epistrophy" is just plain screwy--but in a good way. Quirky, clever, infectious (Perry Weissman 3, 4476 Utica Street, Denver, CO 80212). The men of Concentrated Evil informed me that I have twice compared their recordings to Rage Against the Machine--but I'm not going to make that mistake thrice. The most recent Evil release, whose title (spelled out on the cover in Chinese characters) translates roughly to Big Nasty Infected Scar, sports a bit of punk funk, but there's also the Minutemen-like "UR Mine," the moody, deliberate "Scars," the straight metal of "Crayons," a chipper threat called "Pussy" and "The Chair," in which the title object squeaks for a minute or so. A lot of this stuff isn't exactly deathless, and the heavy moments aren't always heavy enough, but the group is more eclectic than I thought. In other words, I didn't once consider describing the disc as "ragin'" (Concentrated Evil, P.O. Box 440034, Aurora, CO 80044).
Kingdom, a two-time winner at the Westword Music Awards Showcase, took the better part of a year to provide me with a copy of his debut CD, I Reign Omnipotent, but I'm glad he finally got around to it, because it's one of the most accomplished hip-hop CDs to come out of these parts. Following "The Coronation," a hilariously pompous intro, Kingdom shows his skills on a range of rap flavors: Wu-Tang nastiness ("Killing Spree"), R&B-inspired hybrids ("Shrimp & Lobster [Smooth Version]"), socially conscious rhyming ("Black Family") and so on. At this point, Kingdom hasn't come up with a style of his own; his songs echo the hits of other artists rather than establish a new blueprint. But Kingdom has a better chance than most of eventually rising to the level of his influences instead of simply being inspired by them (available in area record stores). On Big Red Sun, her latest for the Sugar Hill imprint, Mollie O'Brien is assisted by some mighty fine players, including guitarist Nick Forster and multi-instrumentalist John Magnie; folk favorites Robin and Linda Williams and Peter Rowan contribute vocals as well. But the key to Sun's success is producer Charles Sawtelle, who makes sure that none of the arrangements overwhelm the star of the show. O'Brien rocks the house on "Denver to Dallas" and a nicely singular "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man," but she's most bewitching on the Lucinda Wiliams-penned "Big Red Sun Blues" and the gorgeous "No Ash Will Burn," which she caresses ever so tenderly. It's her best album (available in area record stores).
After the end of Zestfinger, participants Ash Kirby and Chris Wright went on to form Curbside, whose disc, Storytown, practically screams "Boulder!" Kirby's voice and guitar playing are robust, and "Storytown," "Lifeboat" and "Dirty Little Secret" will hit home with people who can't understand why the Spin Doctors came and went so quickly. The studio sessioneers (including percussionist Gary Sosias and, of all people, jazz pianist Joe Bonner) also make noteworthy contributions, and the CD's production values are unimpeachable. In fact, listeners with a taste for college rock sans even the merest hint of a surprise are advised to belly up to the bar. Others, though, will probably regard Storytown as a generic entry in an overcrowded field (Plug Management, 1085 14th Street, #1408, Boulder, CO 80302).
Reggae on the Rocks: Live & Direct, the second Reggae on the Rocks compilation assembled by Boulder's W.A.R.? imprint, is an admirable sampler of work by several roots-reggae favorites. Pato Banton's cover of the Rascals' "Groovin'" is as weak as weak can be, but he redeems himself with the keyboard-heavy "Don't Sniff Coke." Also strong are the live versions of Michael Rose's evocative "General Penitentiary" and Toots and the Maytals' "Pressure Drop." There are no revelations here, but as an introduction to some still-strong talent, Live & Direct hits the mark (available in area record stores). Another collection, Skratch Trax 1 1/2, brings together tunes by a slew of artists associated with Hapi Skratch Records, an ambitious Fort Collins label that signed distribution deals with firms in Kansas and Florida in 1998. Like all of Hapi Skratch's efforts, the disc (produced by Morris Beegle and Dave Beegle) sports an extremely professional sheen that puts the focus clearly on its artists, most of whom seem to be seeking the Adult Album Alternative audience. (Among the exceptions to this rule are Fourth Estate and Danny Masters, who play hard rock the way the readers of Guitar magazine like it.) I was most impressed by "Everything," a pop-friendly effort by Martha's Wake, and Beth Quist's impassioned "Crazy"; the rest don't get much beyond competent (Hapi Skratch Records, 2100 West Drake, Suite 280, Fort Collins, CO 80526).
Next up: a pair of discs on Denver's B.H.P. Records. Mashek's Who Tha Best is low-budget hip-hop, complete with ultra-simple beats and music provided mainly by synthesizers with an extremely limited number of tones; the faux-bass sounds that bubble through "Keep Your Head Up" recall the early days of SoulSonic Force. Moreover, the material is nothing new, either, as even a casual listen to the hardcore posturing of "Creepin & Crime" makes clear. Mashek has a flow as strong as her personality, but she could do with some fresher rhymes. The situation is much the same on B.H.P.'s Eastbound. Chief rapper Alex Cowans is blessed with a forceful delivery, but the synthesized rhythms are creaky, and the gangsterisms of "The Block," "Valley of Death" and "Street Life" are tired. In hip-hop, as in anything else, originality is a nice thing (Black Hole Posse Productions, P.O. Box 7123, Denver 80207).
E-Town Live, a CD associated with the popular National Public Radio program taped regularly at the Boulder Theater, has been out for a while (quite a while, actually), but it's a worthy collection. Personally, I'd rather have my eyebrows trimmed with a weed whacker than listen to James Taylor, so the presence of Sweet Baby James's "Copperline" at the beginning of the disc didn't fill me with glee. But E-Town Live also features fine performances by Lyle Lovett ("L.A. County"), Richard Thompson ("1952 Vincent Black Lightning"), Ani DiFranco ("Cradle and All"), Steve Earle ("Ellis Unit One"), the late Ted Hawkins ("Strange Conversation") and more, more, more. An enjoyable collection--once you get past the first song, that is (available in area record stores). Big Jim Slade's self-titled CD sports four songs' worth of rock with a Southern tinge: Slaus Brown-Paul's throaty vocals on "Empathy," "Wrong" and the power ballad "My Turn" draw equally from Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts. "Homegrown," by contrast, is harder stuff, built atop a chugging guitar riff that could have been plucked from the nearest Soundgarden. The production is clean and the playing is straightforward, resulting in an effective but minor variation on an overworked genre (Doghouse Productions, 3494 South Grape Street, Denver, CO 80222).
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Lyric may feature former Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine, who's now an Evergreen resident, but Chocolate Soup, the act's debut on National Records, has little in common with Seraphine's best-known group. The disc is built around the polished pop soul of handsome, Seal-slick vocalists Vince Johnson Jr. and Orlando Poole, who croon pleasantly innocuous words over purposefully unobtrusive backdrops. (The rocking guitar that kicks off "My Brother" skitters out of the way as soon as the singers enter.) Typical is "Would I Lie," which made the adult-contemporary charts earlier this year: It's thoroughly professional, but that's about it (available in area record stores). Seraphim Shock has undergone lineup changes since the release of Red Silk Vow, but the disc remains an accurate representation of the obsessions harbored by one Charles Edward. Take "After Dark," which mates a nagging synth line, a percolating rhythm and goth-friendly lyrics ("Death, it comes soon, my love/Demons play, dressed in candlelight") with two distinct vocal styles--one an erudite, mock-British tenor, the other a Cookie Monster growl. It's all terribly retro and more than a bit silly at times, but the sound quality is first-rate, and Edward has a knack for this sort of melodrama, which he puts across with unquestioned sincerity. I know I left my black lipstick around here somewhere (available in area record stores).
Picking some dates. On Thursday, November 12, the Minders leave their new Oregon home long enough to join Von Hemmling at the 15th Street Tavern. On Friday, November 13, Samite of Uganda commutes to the Swallow Hill Music Hall, and Sally Taylor and Zuba introduce the world to their new albums at the Fox Theatre (the acts repeat the procedure the next night at Herman's Hideaway). On Saturday, November 14, Space Team Electra and Crushed Velvet provide the mood music for "Andy Warhol's Soup Extravaganza," a rich-and-creamy art exhibit at the Mercury Cafe; Built to Spill tips over at the Fox; the Wise Monkey Orchestra displays its brainpower at Quixote's True Blue; and Sand drifts at Seven South. On Sunday, November 15, super-percussionist Terry Bozzio (in association with Rupp's Drums) hosts a drum clinic at the Bluebird Theater, and Serendipity hosts the one-year anniversary of the open stage at Susie's Bar and Grill, 17999 West Colfax in Golden. And on Tuesday, November 17, Brendan's is where you'll be able to see Guitar Shorty. If you look closely, that is.
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com.