The local recording blitzkrieg continues.
Maceo Parker, whose saxophone put a lot of the juice into James Brown's cold-sweat workouts, is now on Boulder's W.A.R.? imprint, and Funk Overload, his debut recording for the company, gets off on a good foot. While some of Parker's previous albums have attempted to move him into the jazz arena, this one is straight-up party funk highlighted by festive sax blowing and vocals by Maceo that are more than serviceable. The material won't surprise you--Sly and the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder are covered--and neither will the arrangements. But anyone who's ever had a great time at one of Parker's entertaining live shows will view this as a helluva souvenir (available in area record stores). On Shootelectric, Dirty Pool provides a showcase for Paul Shellooe. As a vocalist, he's merely adequate, but he's an old-school monster on guitar. When he's aping Stevie Ray Vaughan, he's not very interesting (which, by the way, is true of just about everyone), but he captivates when he and his rhythm section (bassist Dave Bakulski and drummer Aaron Anderson) make like a power trio from the days of yore. "Falling From the Sky" is compact and powerful, "Stay" brings back the voodoo instrumental with all of its moodiness intact, and "Shelter" finds these white boys playing the blues the funky way. A pretty decent flashback (available in area record stores).
Places, by Khani Cole, put out by Denver's Fahrenheit Jazz imprint, is being marketed as smooth jazz, but a couple of years ago it would have been pushed to radio programmers working the adult-contemporary field. "You've Made Me So Very Happy," which includes a sax solo by Denverite Nelson Rangell, made me so very unhappy, in part because Cole's sultry declaration that she needed to "slow it down" seemed less like a promise than a threat. This sort of stuff is supposed to serve as background music for sex, but if any of you dudes out there can maintain an erection while it's on, you're a better man than I (available in area record stores). For something completely different, turn to The Cricket or the Rain, by L.S. Diesel. This is hard rock in the Tool mode, but on "Paper Pain" and "Singletree," bargain-basement production and a shortage of fresh riffs prevent the Diesel threesome from transcending the blueprint. Average stuff from what appears to be an average band (L.S. Diesel, 1630 30th Street, Boulder, CO 80304).
Martha Brown's Sing for Me tries to knit an aural tapestry à la Carole King via piano-driven airs like "These Things About You," "I Haven't Always Been True to You" and "Vincent," by Don McLean (misidentified on the disc as "Don McClean," who I always thought was the spokes-character for a floor-wax solvent). Some of this stuff might work in a piano bar, but on disc, Brown always seems to be narrowly missing notes--a problem even lovers of lounge shlock may find difficult to overlook (Lunar Tunes Music, P.O. Box 983, Denver, CO 80201-0983). Staring Sideways, by Young Goodman Brown (no relation to Martha), is an all-too-typical local recording: The drums are weak, the vocals are disembodied, the levels shift all over the place, and the songs are derivative. A good example is "Who I Am," which starts out with a close approximation of the chords that kick off the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane," then boldly uses them all the way through the tune. These guys are clearly sincere, but "Fool Come Down," "Gypsy Soul" and "These Days" are simply too hackneyed and amateurish to make it over the hump (RifRafRec Chords, P.O. Box 413, Salida, CO 81201).
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Guitarist Scott Willhite has a quirky side: His solo cassette, Willy, is a rough-hewn, sort-of country collection that overflows with personality. But the songs he writes for his main band, Turnsol, are considerably more, um, normal. The band's self-titled CD is very well-produced (by Bill Thomas), but the names of ditties such as "Back Forty," "Texas Breakfast" and "Dry Heat" are twangier than the songs themselves. Vocalist Fred Gilmore has distinctive pipes and the playing is accomplished, but the music so closely conforms to the stereotypical adult-album-alternative approach that you'd swear the musicians worked for KBCO. That's a long-winded way of saying they sound like Hootie and the Blowfish; sorry for taking so long to get to my point (available in area record stores). Brethren Fast has a popular live act that its latest CD, What in the Hell?, doesn't come close to capturing. The production, by Jeremy Lawton and the band, is much too slick and tidy, frequently reducing the sloppy good time brothers Don and Mik Messina produce on stage to a relatively tepid approximation of same. Furthermore, attempts to stretch such as "Wash the Blood" run out of gas before they can even get up to the starting line. If you want to know what Brethren Fast is all about, catch the group at a club--because What in the Hell? will have you asking just that (available in area record stores).
Riddlehouse's Rhubarb Dreams should be stocked in the apple-doesn't-fall-far-from-the-tree department. The band, anchored by drummer Kofi Baker, gives off a decidedly late-Sixties/early-Seventies proto-metal vibe that recalls the glory days of Kofi's papa, Cream timekeeper Ginger Baker. The warbling of lead singer Jeffrey Leonetti sometimes suggests Bono and Michael Hutchence, but he seems most comfortable when offering up Robert Plant screeches. Likewise, the heavy riffing that pops up on "Freezin," "Drinking Free," "Zarg" and elsewhere seems to have been transported to 1999 from an earlier time. (The same can be said of "William the Honker," a four-minute percussion duel between Kofi and Ginger that may prompt old-timers to start flicking their Bics.) Although this is supposed to be the first act of a three-part rock opera, I couldn't make heads or tails of the plot--another link to the past. Anybody got some extra blotter acid? (available in area record stores). A press release I received in regard to the Millionaire Freaks describes the act as "the edgy rock band with funk!" Judging by the Freaks' two-song demo, that's not wholly inaccurate, but it's misleading: "Goil" recalls the Red Hot Chili Peppers during a few instances, but not many, and "War" is essentially a mid-tempo rock number, period. The playing and singing (by folks like Michael Armory, who works for the Denver District Attorney's Office) are solid, but there's not much to differentiate the combo from countless others across this great country of ours. Long may it wave (303-388-2938).
Boogie addicts and fans of vintage cock rock are the target audience for Dancin' With the Monkey, by the Heat. Lead vocalist T.R. Angel yowls and growls like the codpiece-wearers of old on blues-rock numbers such as "Can't Be Late," "Dancin' With the Monkey" and "Spin Off on a Tangent," all of which are listenable in their own silly way. But the scorchers are accompanied by "Spell on Me," which pledges a bit too much allegiance to Foreigner, and "Picture on the Floor," a power ballad every bit as chic as feathered hair. Eighties fever: Catch it (The Heat, P.O. Box 480072, Denver, CO 80248). Combo Amazo, by Mary Stribling, is early-morning music. Stribling specializes in jazzy little vocal lines that move from place to place in unexpected ways, and her best compositions support her with melodies that swing gracefully. "One More Minute" and "Mister Komodo" are flat-out charming; "Glass of the Blues" is smoky and beguiling; and "The Lie" suggests a one-woman Roches. A few of Stribling's compositions feel a bit forced, and I would have preferred it if Harry Grainger had left his flute and his piccolo in their respective cases and concentrated instead on coaxing notes from his clarinet and saxophone. But while Combo Amazo won't leave you slack-jawed, it'll probably prompt a smile or two--and that's a good thing (Mondo Blondo Records, P.O. Box 102221, Denver, CO 80250).
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com.