Time & Place
(Soft Shoulder)

The owners of Soft Shoulder Music, Connie Mableson and Ted Bulger, say they are guided by the idea that there's an identifiable "desert," or "Southwestern," sound to the alternative scene here. It's a sound they want to document with their new record label. It's an idea driven by the notion that somewhere, somehow, there's just got to be another "Seattle Scene" waiting to happen. Not.

Many have tried to prove that the magic amalgam of heat, sand and succulents can influence white guitar rock. But as romantic as a desert subgenre sounds, it just doesn't exist. And if there was such a sound, no self-respecting band would emulate it. Ask the Gin Blossoms how they feel about being purveyors of "desert rock" and they'll gag. Like "America's Team," or the term "alternative" itself, labels are limiting. Besides, Arizona bands such as genepool, Gin Blossoms and Sand Rubies don't get their inspiration from the desert sand. They get it from the same place R.E.M. does--the Byrds.

The only possible exception to this is the sloppy, twangy cow-punk typified by Tucson's Green on Red and Giant Sand. But even that had as much to do with the Flying Burrito Brothers as it did with cholla and dry heat. As soon as those two now widely influential acts began hearing terms like "desert rock" applied to them, they split for L.A. All of which brings us to genepool. This is sweet pop. If the band had a regional musical connection, it might be to Great Britain's Manchester scene. The arrangements here are a cut above the usual alternative strum-and-hum monotony. Most of the tunes are good, too. And Ted Bulger's studio expertise--he also manages Wild Whirled Recording--shows throughout. This is one of the cleanest, best-produced local cassettes I've ever heard. The sound quality is extraordinary.

As bands go, this trio manages to put out a big, full-bodied sound--so big it makes you wonder if the group is able to reproduce it outside the studio. Still, this is the strongest, most listenable debut to come from the local scene this year.

Various artists
Freedom of Choice Compilation
(local cassette)

This eight-song compilation was timed to coincide with an abortion-rights benefit a few weeks ago at Silver Dollar Club. Musically, what this cassette lacks in finesse, it makes up for in heart. None of the bands here--Dr. Divine, Think Feed, Generiks and Man Dingo--is particularly accomplished. But none stinks, either.

If this tape has a problem, it's that the overall sound between bands doesn't vary much. All four stick to grungy guitar-slogging. In Dr. Divine's "Black Sex Kitten," a little funk is detectable. And in the appropriately titled "Fetis," Generiks go for a full-blown speed-metal rush. But mostly the tape just rocks the same.

Hans Olson
Where's the Grey?
(Blond Sun)

There are two solo performers in Arizona whose times have come. One is Tucson's talented guitar master Rainer. The other is Hans Olson.

This excellent tape and Olson's recent tour opening for Michelle Shocked ring like shots across the bow, serving notice that his career may be heading for a faster track. Where's the Grey? is an effective, entertaining showcase for Olson's musical range. On side one, for example, "Who's Trying to Run My Life?", a snaky, John Hiattesque rock number whose kick comes from guitarist Chuck Hall's blurry leads, sits next to "My Gina," a Tex-Mex-flavored ode to Olson's wife. And the cut-by-cut variety goes on. There's some great material, but this album also hits because of the guest list. Other guests besides Hall are vocalist Francine Reed and Dead Hot Workshop singer Brent Babb and guitarist Steve Larson, with both of the latter contributing mightily to the rockin' "Gods of Hardball." For those who think of Olson as a guy on a stool playing quiet tunes, "Gods" will be a shock. It gets down and jams hard. Old fans shouldn't give up, though. For those who love his blues, Olson has included his own traditional, "50 Ups & 50 Downs."

As usual, Olson's vocals and guitar work shine throughout. Most impressive, though, is his harmonica playing. The title tune, for example, is full of absolutely steamin' harp licks.

While Where's the Grey? isn't label-ready, it should prove to be a killer demo. Between this cassette and his connections to Shocked, Hans Olson should turn a few record-label eyes his way.

Cut to the Chase
(Art & Commerce)

Mark Manley is a bass player with a lot to say. Over a bed of samples and drum machine-driven dance thumps, Manley lays out his lyrical visions of what's wrong and what to do about it. Along the way, we hear about "cocaine-heads-of-state," "fat cats," "L.A. burning in the fires of change" and "proud virgins and boys who don't cry." When it all works, the stuff does move.

The flaw in Manley's approach is that as he loses himself in his words, he forgets to vary the beat. It often gets annoyingly repetitive. A singer of limited range, he also has a tendency to speak rather than sing. This heightens the preachy tone of his lyrics. As solo projects go, however, Hard has its admirable qualities. Manley obviously put a lot of work into this. But if he'd spent more time programming the drum machine and less time preaching, Hard might be easier to swallow.

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