Spring is upon us, as we can tell from the allergy-induced sneezes of our friends and loved ones. But no matter what the time of year, local artists never stop cranking out recordings. A recent round of releases brings a bouquet of sounds and styles; some will delight the senses, while others might cause a mild rash.
As the title of the CD Ten Lousy Songs I Wrote While I Was in Denver implies, John Baker -- the self-professed "best songwriter in Denver" -- is armed with nothing but an acoustic guitar, friendly-but-flat vocals and a batch of inoffensive, middle-of-the-road melodies. The recording comes to life most on "Market Value Z-E-R-O," where Baker does his best goof on Dylan; "Telluride," with its vocal overdubs and an emotive chorus; and "The Day Bonnie Raitt Almost Sang My Song," a fun, funny narrative about Baker's (presumed) brush with her red-headed highness. Unfortunately, though this kind of music sounds really good when you're sitting around a campfire, it's slightly less engaging when heard through more traditional mediums -- like speakers. It's certainly not lousy, but it's not terribly satisfying, either. (Contact John Baker via firstname.lastname@example.org.)
In the credits to '81 Comeback, the SuperBees thank eight artists, including AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Motörhead and Judas Priest -- adding "Fuck the Rest" as a sweet little postscript, presumably referring to every other band in the rock-and-roll strata. With influences worn so plainly on their sleeves (presumably black, rock-concert-T-shirt sleeves), the SuperBees present their own, only slightly modernized take on the music of their elders. In this, they actually have plenty in common with some of the Rest -- acts like the Melvins, Nebula, Queens of the Stone Age and others that have made an art form of paying homage to the fat riff and the groove, baby. Guitarist/vocalist Fletcher Neeley, though possessing a decidedly unrock-star name, complements the band's hook-laden, power-chord potpourri with a sexy, mid-tenor voice that just kind of rolllllls through each song; it's the kind of voice that once drove girls with big hair and little skirts to fling their panties onto arena stages. Neeley's occasionally joined on the mike by Anike Zappe (rock-star name in full effect this time), whose strong, feminine harmonies are a welcome point of departure from Mr. Osbourne and the rest of the testosterone-inflamed players of yesteryear. Highlights include "The Healing Power of Rock," a mellow rumbler that is somehow therapeutic, and "Steve Shelley Is an Asshole" (though the song's connection to the Sonic Youth drummer is hard to divine). The final two cuts -- "Billy" and "Ain't Ridin' Bitch" -- are fun, furious numbers, the kind that just might find you wishing for a simpler time, when guitar solos were encouraged, drums were hit hard and you could feel the bass humming in your aorta -- and other vital organs. (Contact the SuperBees, 3712 Nielsen Lane, Denver, CO 80210, superbees.com.)
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On One Proud Stance, singer/ songwriter Sharon Docherty proves herself as a confident performer and a skilled player: This CD, her first, has a professional sheen that suggests it's been in the making for quite some time. The finished product is a fine, inoffensive offering -- one that's likely to appeal to listeners who enjoy modern, in-your-face folk music and musings on love, the moon and remembering your spirit. Unfortunately, Docherty doesn't manage to separate herself from the legions of other women players making very similar sounds -- most notably Ani DiFranco. It's probably not Docherty's fault that this comparison is so easily made, considering she's been making music for about ten years on her own -- first as a pianist, then a teacher and now a recording singer/songwriter. But when you perform feminist-leaning, talking poems ("Man on the Moon"), when you make references to Greek mythology ("Me and Agamemnon") and Shakespeare ("Half of It..."), you run the risk of being compared to that notorious female folkie who's the favorite of overeducated, liberal gals from sea to shining sea. It's a comparison Docherty seems to invite: Throughout Stance, she indulges the little verbal affectations -- those back-phrased twists on the ends of words that make them sound just a little bit sassy; "around" becomes "ayrouwnd-uh," for example -- that are DiFranco's vocal trademark. Docherty is a fine player, but without a really developed sense of individuality on this CD, it's hard to tell just what she's standing for. (Contact Firesoul Music, email@example.com, 1-970-532-7282.)
TransHypnotic describes its music as "Zero Gravity Rock 'n' Roll," a phrase that is probably meant to reference its space themes and cosmic kookiness: On the band's Web site, the story of the group's formation is relayed as biblical verse, wherein frontman Brad is sent to earth to assert his dominion over the musical world. It's funny, yes, but an approach that would work better if TransHypnotic's music were truly out of this world. It isn't. The band's self-titled CD is merely clever and creative, with some cool ideas. The band breaks from the standard verse-chorus-verse formula to accommodate interesting, angular interludes with xylophones and wah-wah pedals and strange noises. The funk refrain and rapping in "Hold on Tight" are only two of the styles the band traverses in the song, a genre mix that succeeds through its ambition. "Bye-Bye Bellevue" sounds like a long-lost Oingo Boingo outtake -- and that's a good thing. For the most part, though, the music here feels more irritating than interesting. Possibly, the blame is to be placed on shoddy production: The disc was recorded in a basement, before TransHypnotic really had a buzz as a live band. Overall, this is geek rock amped to eleven -- and that can work. But the songs don't really fall together, the playing is often a little sloppy and after an album full of purposely silly lyrics, you might find yourself wishing for one or two lines that actually say something. TransHypnotic, we know it's fun to play out in space, but come back to Earth so you can more fully realize the potential of your ideas. (Contact TransHypnotic at transhypnotic.com.)
More than a year ago, a CD single crossed my desk, unidentified: The song contained therein -- "Hold the Cocaine, Pass the Cyanide" -- turned out to be the work of one Robert Merrill Armstrong, a UPS truck driver who just happens to have one the most acute cases of funkitis in the area. A vocalist with a baritone that makes the singer from Alabama sound like a choirgirl, Armstrong is easily one of Denver's most curious artists. This fact is well-documented on his first full-length album, Forget Me Not the Funk!, a nine-song affair that Armstrong recorded with his band, the Funkomanation (try saying that five times fast), and friends from the local outfit Uncut. It is one of the strangest recordings I've heard in quite a while -- a puzzling effort that suggests what might have happened had Wesley Willis and Prince gotten together and consumed copious amounts of over-the-counter allergy medicine. That is to say: It is fabulous, a delicious blend that is always a little odd (a sample lyric from "(We Need a) Woman in the White House": "United we stand, united we fall/Please, please give that woman a call...You can Rhumba, you can dance/Please, please give that woman a chance") and sometimes simply confounding (tracks two and three are barely decipherable, sub-auditory noisefests that may well be there by accident). It is also sometimes perfect: "Fear Affair" is a sweet love song with an island vibe and a climbing, spindly guitar (vocals by K.D. Bryant); "Hatching of the Clones" is a busy, sample-heavy beat-driven blast (with a fabulous title). I suspect this album would be enjoyed by those who just like to shake their booties -- Bootsy style -- and also those who have a taste for left-of-center, "outsider" music. (Contact Robert Merrill Armstrong at 303-257-7775.)