I review the songs. The local songs, that is.
There's nothing particularly novel about Keg O' Dynamite, by Chicago Skinny; the CD employs the styles in which nationally known bluesers such as Little Charlie and the Nightcats and Duke Robillard traffic. But these guys clearly do the same old thing very well. The title track is a good-humored throw-down and the deliberately ridiculous "Skipper's Song," which features the inspirational couplet "Gilligan/Don't make me kill again," is bound to put a smile on your mug. Revelations are in short supply here, but that doesn't prevent Dynamite from kicking up some dust (Chicago Skinny, P.O. Box 481402, Denver, CO 80248). The demo tape by decanonizeD blends ringing nighttime guitar with vocals by Talea Harmon that go from an ethereal purr ("dancinG") to Courtney Love-style exhortations ("gamE," "bounD"). The combination may seem bombastic to some, but it's also effective, regularly whipping up the sort of drama that's beyond most bands. If the cassette is any indication, decanonizeD is developing nicely, thank you (303-580-5902).
The Hedges are a Boulder four-piece capable of generating a rather large sound. On The Hedges, an eight-song disc produced by Mark Fuller, guitarists Bart Fletcher and Keith Wren employ the time-tested soft/loud approach: "Brain Damage" and several other numbers start slow and quiet before exploding in a barrage of spirited riffing. Fortunately, the players include melody in the bargain, and this little extra helps make "Honestly Mad" and "Recon Butterfly" worth hearing more than once. A couple of tunes don't make the grade, but the rest of The Hedges represents a tasty slice of power pop (www.thehedges.com). Westword contributor John Jesitus continues to torment me by giving me recordings to review, even though he knows that those demon ethics prevent me from doing anything more than describing them. On Clevo, a demo partially cut in Jesitus's hometown of Cleveland, John and an Ohio band that includes his brother Dave (a pharmacist by trade) offer up "Lifetime for Love," which sports a saxophone, and a pair of acoustic-based numbers, "Steel Town" and "Paint by Numbers." Also on hand are the somber "Worlds Away" and "Jenny Likes Girls," which, like "Steel Town," turned up on a previous Jesitus demo noted in these pages. As for the production, Jesitus admits that it's "brutal," and he's right. The rest you'll have to find out for yourself (303-428-0139).
Just This Moment: Live in Santa Fe, by Steve Walters, makes James Taylor seem like Marilyn Manson by comparison. Okay, I admit I'm exaggerating for effect, but when Walters asks if anybody "wants to rock" seconds before kicking off "Love Is a Mystery," the least he could do is play a rock song instead of a solo acoustic number only moderately less gentle than the rest of the tracks on the recording. The semi-bluesy "Jung's Blues" and "That's My Plan" display a modicum of verve and a sense of humor, but "Just This Moment," "How Far We've Come," "Already Home" and several other monuments to sensitivity will appeal primarily to the type of folks who booed Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival when he plugged in an electric guitar. You know who you are (Ishvara Music, P.O. Box 1804, Boulder, CO 80306). Also on the singer-songwriter tip is Monica Augustine, whose disc, Wildflower, was cut at Wendy Woo's Sky Trail Studios and features Woo and several of her associates in supporting roles. These collaborators ensure that the production and musicianship is first-rate throughout, and Augustine rises to their level. "Wildflower" exhibits a nicely slinky feel and "BaDiDiDiDitDum" has a vocal hook that sounds just like its title. Not all of the material is especially impressive, and some of Augustine's lyrics may make your teeth ache: That's what "Stone child/You're not alone/ Please don't hide/For I will pick you up" did to mine, anyway. But fans of the genre could do worse than to pluck this Wildflower (available in area record stores).
Chupacabra is a comer on the Boulder scene, and a listen to its live demo, a predecessor to its freshly released CD, underlines why. The ten-piece ensemble can sound mighty standard at times (check out the cover of Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster" for proof), but its variation on the ecstatic hippie-shake thang is well-handled on "Rock Steady" and "Montuno Funk," and the Brazilian vibe that hangs over "Corcovado" is appropriately seductive. The new disc should let us know if Chupacabra is more of the same or a cut above (303-215-6833). Kirk Moore, who pounded the skins for the AUTONO, is now drumming for 34 Satellite, an outfit that's dedicated to presenting the unassuming songs of vocalist/ guitarist Marc Benning. On the album Stars, the two (occasionally supplemented by helpers such as Michael Elkerton and Heather Dalton) lean in the alt-country direction without committing themselves to the subgenre entirely--a move that allows them some creative leeway. "Wonderful" has a C&W beat, but the hooks and guitar passages are thoroughly pop rock, and "Stars" is the most understated glam offering imaginable. Warm and inviting stuff (www.34satellite.com).
Without You, by the Sean Owens Band, is a relentlessly average showcase for Owens, an acoustic guitarist and songwriter whose vocals occasionally give off a slightly Southern tinge. He's a decent frontman, and guitarist Doug Norman, bassist Gary Roath and drummer Shawn Smith hold up their end of things. But after listening to the romantic title track, the groove-oriented "Tall Drink" and the big ballad "5 Days in One Night," I found myself unable to come up with anything else to say about the disc. That's never a good sign (Sean Owens Band, P.O. Box 19785, Denver, CO 80219). West Egg, featuring Kirk Wiggers, a Texan who relocated to Colorado in 1998, is responsible for The Cactus Land, an acoustic-rock excursion that goes where plenty of artists have gone before. "Can't Quite Kick the Habit" has a bouncy feel, but it's the exception on an album that otherwise concentrates on subjects like the romantic failure recounted in the mournful "East Coast" ("Stark, empty open wound/A virus, a cancer/Lowest low, a record low today"). Later, on "Letters Never Sent," Wiggers and cohort Mark Cooper (both of whom are relatively young) complain about growing old. It's better than being dead (email@example.com).
The veteran act Sick used to be associated with the out-of-vogue punk-funk genre, but Carpe Diem, its latest CD, largely eschews that style in favor of a more straightforward hard-rock tack. "Seize the Day," which falls somewhere between Metallica and Alice in Chains on the musical continuum, is the most satisfying effort here, but it's hardly the only one that works: "Destructive" tears things up nicely, and "Mask," featuring a distorted vocal by frontman Romero, wears well. In some ways, Sick's current music is no more original than the stuff it previously produced: As if "Pulse" didn't already sound enough like Soundgarden, Romero underlines the influence by singing about "rusty cages." But because Sick is simply better suited to its present style, Carpe Diem comes across as derivative but effective (Sick, c/o Romero, 1450 Skeel Street, Brighton, CO 80601). Winnie's Guitar, by Lynn Patrick, is touted as "acoustic instrumental music to go flying by," and perhaps some listeners will indeed lift off after hearing Patrick and her accomplished accompanists (Joe Scott, Chris Engleman, Lila Sklar and Gordon Burt) pick and strum their way through the gentle airs "California Zephyr," "Happy Pig in Spring," "Passing Through" and "Rosewood." But folks who prefer the more rigorous forays of, say, John Fahey will probably find Patrick's work on the sleepy side. She's clearly a master of her musical domain, and her heart's in the right place (part of the proceeds from the CD are earmarked for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley), but Winnie's Guitar had me fighting for consciousness after about thirty seconds--and I'd gotten a solid eight hours the previous night (Little Karoo Music, P.O. Box 751, Louisville, CO 80027).
Michelle and the Book of Runes is built upon the instrumental talents of several fine players, including drummer Kenny Ortiz and guitarist Tim Edwards. But while the musicianship heard on Volume Won, the act's CD, is first-rate, the material isn't, and singer Michelle Hagelund isn't able to save it. Because of production that's muffled and flat, Hagelund never establishes much of a vocal identity on either torch songs such as "Wake Up" or rockers like "Speed to Green." Standard-issue stuff (Bugs in My Bath Productions, 2940 East Colfax Avenue, Suite 386, Denver, CO 80206). The handle Hot Monkey Love conjures up an image of, well, monkeys making hot love. But it's hard to imagine primates (or people, either) getting too worked up over the disc Sweet Spot. "Wasted" includes a guitar joust that lets you know these guys have listened to their share of the Allman Brothers (or at least Widespread Panic), but it's so laid-back and ineffectual that no sparks are thrown. Ditto for "Way," "Let it Ride" (featuring guest vocals by Sherri Jackson) and "Leap of Faith," which chug along modestly without ever picking up much steam. Chimp breeders should look elsewhere for inspiration (303-543-0305).
The blues jam at the Catacombs in Boulder has won a lot of plaudits since it kicked off in 1996, including a Best of Denver award from this very publication. Bluesman Lionel Young and other jam regulars are set to celebrate its third anniversary on Monday, March 1, in a big way: They'll be recording the session for release on a CD in the near future. Shout really loud and you might just make the final cut.
Unfortunately, it's too late to make a cameo appearance on the discs being introduced by three area acts this week. On Saturday, February 27, Electric Summer salutes its new offering, Love Me Destroyer, at the 15th Street Tavern, and Humble Groove throws a party in honor of Wasted Summer at Herman's Hideaway; and on Sunday, February 28, David & Golashes show off Wading In.
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Don't forget to wear your rubbers. On Thursday, February 25, the Tony Furtado Band gets eclectic at the Bluebird Theater; En Tu Oblivion refuses to turn back at the Mead Street Saloon; and the Future Presidents try to avoid impeachment at Herman's. On Friday, February 26, the Kalamath Brothers (co-starring Frank Hauser Jr. and ex-16 Horsepower bassist Keven Soll) open for the Czars at the Bluebird; Siucra strums at the Acoustic Coffeehouse in Nederland; James Armstrong begins a two-night run at Brendan's; and the Don joins Ptosis Crutch and Fatty J at the Zone in Littleton. On Sunday, February 28, Sunny Day Real Estate returns to the Fox Theatre, and Cheryl Wheeler visits E-Town at the Boulder Theater. On Monday, March 1, DeeJay Punk-Roc and Barry Ashworth of the Dub Pistols venture to Soma. And on Wednesday, March 3, the Aztlan Theatre is the place to get Strung Out--which, in case you didn't know, is the name of a band. Do I have to explain everything?
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com.