Vicki Taylor, whose most recent platter is Out of the Blue, has a voice that's both smoky and solid, and her songs set it off beautifully. She operates in a blues mode, but that's not to suggest that she's one-dimensional. She's equally adept at rousers like "Before the Night Is Gone," which barrels along on the strength of Dan Clawson's honking saxophone, and solo pieces such as the spooky "Deaf, Dumb and Blind." Among the highlights here are "Dark Side of the Street," a time-capsule piece accented by Taylor's fiddle, and the appropriately somber "Long Black Night" (featuring Johnny Long on harmonica). Thanks to the efforts of Taylor and co-producer Charles Sawtelle, everything on Blue sounds first-rate (Roadhouse Records, P.O. Box 18991, Boulder 80308). Also in the blues mode is The King Sultans, a three-song cassette by--all together now--the King Sultans. Although the instrumental skills of Jeff Jameson, Thomas Bernard, Rick Nilo and Ron Pierce are notable, the singing isn't exactly gripping, and the material is ultra-average: "Baby Got a Brand New Gun" includes a nice horn chart, but "Shady Lane" and "I Would Wait for You" don't get much beyond the bar-band stage occupied by literally thousands of groups worldwide. Not that there's anything wrong with that (World Entertainment and Management Group, 758-5300).
The press materials that accompanied the most recent cassette by the Girls describes the trio of Lisa Zinke, Linda Zinke and Karen Sitoski as "an alternative pop band" whose sound "can go from the ringing melodies of the Indigo Girls to the raw power of L7." Well, based on these five songs, I wouldn't put it quite that way. Because the tape's production accentuates the mid-range and treble sounds to such a degree that I had to gulp down a couple of ibuprofen tablets in the middle of it, neither the singing nor the playing has much oomph. Near as I can tell, the melodies and soloing that distinguish "What I Want From You" (an okay cut) and "I Can Remember" (a big no-no) have a vaguely Meat Puppets feel to them that might be tolerable live. Don't hold me to that, though; I'm only guessing (279-0169). Hit or Miss, by Denver's Mr. Woodman, is a much less trying listen: The CD is professionally produced and mastered. Whether or not there's any innovation on hand is debatable, however. The majority of these thirteen songs are in the Better Than Ezra mode: melodic modern rock that's tuneful but generic. The singing of frontman Tom "Juice" Bottelsen is a touch stilted, but not so much so that it throws a blanket on the party tone of the title cut, "Boom Boom," or the timely pop novelty "Hercules" (the folks at Disney are no doubt readying a lawsuit even as we speak). There's nothing especially noxious about this disc, but that's not the same as a recommendation. Throw a stick and you'll hit a band that sounds just like this one (Mr. Woodman, 2695 South Eudora Street, Denver 80222).
In the world of lousy-sounding demos, the self-titled cassette by Dear Liza, a Fort Collins band that's now located on the East Coast, is worshiped like a god. These nine songs seem to have been recorded with pillows, comforters and several mattresses over the microphones. Not that I minded all that much: "Flintch," "Borrowed Time" and the rest seem to have been hijacked from Dave Matthews's vault, then rendered in the most predictable manner possible. The group's bio notes that Dear Liza has played numerous dates on the H.O.R.D.E. festival. Knock me over with a feather (609-737-8830). The irrepressible Lannie Garrett is back again, this time in the guise of Patsy DeCline, faux-country queen. Her CD Horsin' Around, allegedly cut "Live at the Recliner Lounge," is shtick, pure and simple: Why else would the Lefty Frizzell classic "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time" be juxtaposed with "Good Enough for Now," from the songbook of "Weird" Al Yankovic? Her supporting cast, led by Chuck Lettes and Dan Geisler, are musically reliable, but the show doesn't really translate to CD all that well. If this sort of goof appeals to you, catch it in person (available in area record stores).
As its name implies, Liquid Playground is yet another neo-hippie band--and we sure haven't heard enough of those lately, have we? But this five-piece from Boulder by way of Princeton University is more entertaining than most of its peers because it appreciates Phish's goofy side as well as its instrumental virtuosity. "Spasm Through," "Three Midget Minimum" and "The Ballad of Cardigan the Frog" are extremely jokey at times, but plentiful doses of Zappa-esque adventurism and vaudeville-friendly daffiness prevent the project from sliding headlong into novelty status. The result is consistently entertaining, if more than a touch derivative. If you must jam, jam to this (786-7767). Boulder's Magpie is a conglomeration that includes Bruce Kaufman and Lane D'Crago of My Evil Twin and Hurdy Gurdy veteran Curtis Kipp, as well as drummer Fritz VonValtier--and their cassette, Negative Capability Flood, is a modest charmer. The tunes are melodic rock that's distinguished by gently insinuating hooks and warm, beguiling harmonies. Sometimes, as on "I Thought of You," the band approaches Remingtons-esque preciousness (which is not a good thing, by my way of thinking). But "Captives," "Books" and "Storming Heaven" stay on the right side of the pop continuum. This bird can fly (Magpie, 200 Lashley Lane, Boulder 80303).
The five songs on the tape that shares its name with Tequila Mockingbird, the band that made them, are catchy and brisk in a post-new-wave way. Wendy Clark Hudson is a good hostess who brings a bright voice to material that ranges from the bouncy "Balcony" to the more ominous "Don't Drink the Water." Nothing here will blow you away, but neither will it cause you to blow chunks. That's a compliment, by the way (499-6770). Utah Dream, by Laurie Dameron, is a mixed bag. When the singer-songwriter sticks too closely to the prototypical confessional folk mode, as on "Tommaselli," her work can be a bit of a drag. But "When Will I Ever Forget About You," "Dying of Human Souls" and "They'll Play a Little Samba" (part of a pre-release sampler reviewed in this space last year) strike a better balance between literate lyrics and music that will stick in your head. There's half of a decent album here; it's up to you to find it (Windchime Productions, P.O. Box 475, Niwot 80544-0475).
Element dubs itself "Colorado's Finest Original Rock N' Roll Band," which, after listening to a CD with the same moniker, strikes yours truly as more than a bit hyperbolic. The outfit goes in for a rather standard type of rock drama; the throaty vocals of a singer known only as Garrett are consistently contrasted with the usual fast-slow/soft-loud dynamics. ("No One Lives" is the only one of the seven tracks here that starts out noisy, rather than building toward racket.) "Marching Backwards" and "Spun" have their moments, but the overall effect is too samey to make much of an impact (Element, 9103 Utica Street, Denver 80030). Drop in Time, by Fragile X, is something of a flashback: "No Longer" reminded me of the Moody Blues, "Visions" called to mind Cinderella-like pop metal and "Still" was a power ballad that would do Journey proud--and those were just the first three songs. Since modern-rock radio stations all over the country are attempting to prop up their ratings by programming past hits by acts like those that have obviously inspired these guys, the musicians may simply be reflecting the zeitgeist of the moment. If so, the zeitgeist of the moment is as terrifying as it can be. Like you didn't know that already (Fragile X Enterprises, 10096 East Beechwood Drive, Parker 80134).