MUSICAL HORS D'OEUVRES

LOCALLY PRODUCED EPS MAKE IT EASY TO GET JUST A TASTE OF A GROUP'S MUSIC

Have you noticed that the EP, that five-song minialbum once considered a strictly European innovation, has come back into its own after years of disfavor? Why EPs, one of many now-extinct New Wave-inspired phenomena, lost favor in the mid-Eighties remains a mystery. But today they're back with a vengeance, both in CD and cassette.

For a lot of cash-conscious record labels, EPs have become the favored method of testing the waters, seeing if a band has a chance with radio and the critics. A local example is the Gin Blossoms, who began their major-label recording career with the EP Up and Crumbling. Critical response and airplay were good, so A&M Records gave the green light for the 11-cut album scheduled for August. Labels also look at EPs as cost-effective ways of repackaging older material, releasing live cuts, creating excitement around an albumless tour or, most important, keeping something new in the stores while fans wait, sometimes for years, for a new, full-length album.

EPs have also become the new model demo. Not only are they the favored currency of understaffed A&R departments that have too many records to listen to, they can be sold in record stores and from the stage. For musicians, putting five songs on tape costs half of what it takes to make a full-length album. That means you can spend extra money on cover art--or cold beer.

Without further rambling, here is a selection of new local tapes and CDs, most of which are EPs. As always, if something in these reviews strikes your fancy, go out and buy the tape. Better yet, see the band live. Local music--try it, you'll like it. ECHO HOUSE

Living in My World
(local tape)

Here's a band with several styles. On the one hand, it fits squarely into the pop-alternative camp. A tune like this five-song cassette's opener, "Don't Worry," could easily have been on the last Judybats record. But this Tempe quintet is also shaped by a vocalist and two guitarists with a weakness for big voice-big guitar anthems. Back in the late Seventies, when Journey and AOR radio were one, critics everywhere offhandedly dismissed the group as a flash in the pan. Little did anyone realize just how deep radio fodder like "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'" would burrow into our musical psyches. Here, in tunes like "Do You Still Believe," vocalist Neal Williams sounds so much like Steve Perry it's scary. At times such Journeyesque leanings lead Williams and his band into unwise moves. The song "Seagull Cry," with its cry-of-freedom vocals and electric-guitar squeaks imitating a seagull, is an experiment that failed. Its overinflated lyrics--"Living in a perfect world/Never even wonder why/I can see you drifting there/Spread your magic wings towards the sky"--make these guys look and sound a lot more touchy-feely than they are.

In terms of songwriting, the best pieces here are "On the Outside" and "Don't Worry." Both tunes have hooks that show these guys can write when they want to. And in both, Williams and guitarists Sean Seckel and David Searle show praiseworthy restraint; the band works together as a single unit instead of a soloist's showcase. "Living in My World" is the work of a band finding itself and its sound. If Echo House can build its music into something less retro, and play more as a band than individuals, the group can become a force on the local scene.

TERRY POLLOCK Thunderhead North
(Storm Warning)

In the past year or two, singer-songwriters have gone through a renaissance. John Gorka, David Wilcox and Shawn Colvin have all built careers in a remarkably short period of time.

A longtime member of Tucson's music community, Terry Pollock is hoping this CD will do the same for him. A strong solo performer, Pollock has spent much of his career fronting electric-folk bands patterned after the model of Dylan's outfits.

Singer-songwriters need two things to stand out from the crowd: simple, unadorned melodies and something to say. In both cases, Pollock's debut cassette is a mixed bag. Many of the tunes here are uninteresting. Some of his lyrics are self-absorbed and self-indulgent. And Pollock's habit of falling into an offhanded, Dylanesque style of phrasing can get annoying.

But just when you're ready to push the "stop" button on your CD changer, Pollock broadsides you with a gorgeous tune like "Santa Marcella," whose words are equally fine: "Santa Marcella so hard to convince with the truth/She's gamblin' with scoundrels whose faces show no trace of youth/Through the nights on street corners in winter so bitterly tender/Aw, Santa Marcella, it's the truth about you I'll remember." Thunderhead North is the name both of this album and of the band that backs Pollock. Although his voice is the focus of the record, the group plays well. Former Sand Rubies drummer Bruce Halper, also a former member of Thunderhead North, returns for these sessions. Guitar master Rainer adds dobro tracks and well-known Tucson keyboardist Duncan Stitt contributes keys and a drum-machine program.

Comprised of old and new material, Thunderhead North has enough rewarding moments to make it worth seeking out. Given its intelligence, and flashes of musical brilliance, Pollock's next album should be worth waiting for.

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