HOMEGROWN MELODIES

Again, there is obvious talent in this band. It will be interesting to see what happens to that talent if and when it decides to seek an adult audience.

(local CD)

West-siders long have enjoyed country warbler Chelsey and her "Company" of pickers and pounders at B.F.D.'s, the popular Glendale watering hole where the group performs five nights a week. When word spread that Chelsey & Company was set to go whole hog on its first professionally produced CD, denizens of B.F.D.'s, the band's many fans, friends and financial backers prepared for a long-awaited, local-girl-makes-good story.

Although this inaugural disc falls considerably short of its Nashville-or-bust aspirations, there's still much to applaud.

Most of all, Chelsey's Company proves itself as an excellent group of music-makers--particularly Wayne Holland's keyboard work on the quasi-rocker "I Think I've Got a Hold" and the album's best cut, the 'billyesque "I'll Scratch Your Back." Likewise, Benson Riffle not only commands an outstanding Music City/NASCAR name, but his guitar weeps wonderfully on "Loner in Disguise" and the otherwise flavorless ballad "I've Been Waiting for You."

Singer Chelsey--who consistently shines live--turns in a somewhat shaky, nervous-sounding performance. She's quite comfortable with the album's up-tempo tunes--especially those requiring the higher end of her register. Unfortunately, the ballads here will jerk few tears; "Don't 'Cha Know," wherein Chelsey attempts to plumb the lower scale, is particularly ineffective. To be fair, however, the downsides on this ambitious project are not just her doing.

The major culprits here are the songs themselves. Most are merely middlin', but several are downright dismal. "That Ain't No Woman"--about a six-foot-four-inch transvestite who wanders into a redneck honky-tonk, ostensibly lookin' for lovin'--attempts to be a chicken-fried "Lola." Nah . . . not even close. "Is There Anyone Left Like You" redefines "schmaltz," while even local producer extraordinaire Billy Williams and the talented Company can't rescue the banal ballad "Stealing Candy."

In fact, Chelsey & Company seems to have a generally tough time with the written word. Not only are the songs basically bereft of thoughtful lyrics, the liner notes are abysmal. The band's poorly written newsletter indicates that some 15 grand went into the production of this ambitious project. Apparently, none of that considerable amount of cash was spent on even a cursory proofreading of the CD booklet--an important element in a professional production.

Picky? Hardly. They notice that kind of stuff in Nashville.

(Fervor Records)

The "unplugged" craze has gone too far. It's time to cut this musical misnomer down to size. First, "unplugged" is yet another MTV-created marketing gimmick turned musical trend. Are we going to let television (and Madonna) tell us what's cool and what's not? Of course we are, but it still bugs me. Secondly, acoustic music was written for acoustic instruments. On the other side, "Enter Sandman" was written with a wall of Marshalls in mind. Rarely does changing the voltage add much beyond being a novelty to either form. Have folkies been on the cutting edge all these years and not known it? Does unplugging "Back in the U.S.S.R." mean that "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" should be plugged in? No. Besides, a lot of today's "acoustic" instruments are really plugged in, anyway.

As for the notion that unplugged performances expose the quieter, more introspective sides of an otherwise plugged-in performer, I'd rather tip a pint with Sting/Bono (they've become one) or listen to Jon Bon Jovi try to explain how the socio-political-excretive history of New Jersey impacts his "music." And what about Eric Clapton's venture into juiceless performing? Despite the bespectacled video--run ad nauseam on MTV--Layla" still sounds better on the Derek and the Dominos album.

The only real value of unplugged performances is that it helps keep billowing rock egos in check. Seeing Axl Rose sitting calmly in a chair trying to sing can be a genuine thrill.

None of this means that Wild Whirled Studios' Arizona Unplugged is bad. It's not. Hans Olson's "Earthman" and Chuck Hall's slide-guitar-driven "Greasy Love Rag" are both fine, bluesy, guitar-man-on-a-stool performances. Are they electric tunes without the watts? No. Would they sound good with the switch thrown? No.

You have to give Wild Whirled credit for trying. And the talent here includes some of the Valley's best. Diana Lee's gospel entry "Movin' Out Back" is full-bodied enough to raise a fever. Instrumentals like Cliff Sarde's bland "Anyone You Know?" aren't unplugged, they're just instrumentals. Overall, though, a listenable tape with a couple of great moments.

(local tape)

Surprisingly tame considering this band's biological imperative handle. Meandering, undistinguished pop-rock cross that gets edgy and loud in spots. Song with a political message: "Pink Lemonade."

Dale Gibson
Rhymes With Orange
(local tape)

The Tempe singer-songwriter-harmonica player plows through a full set of mostly bluesy originals. His voice: okay. Guitar-playing: better. Harmonica: best. Catch this guy now before the sexist death squads close in and rub him out for romantic lead tune "Stretch Marks, Scars & Tattoos."

Swampcooler
Shaggy
(local tape)

A two-song teaser from one of Tempe's more promising bands. The Swampers continue to improve, displaying a new tortured pop sensibility on "Happy the Hard Way."

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