PLAYINT THE SKIN GAME

Liars, Gods & Beggars
eccentricities, idiosyncrasies & indiscretions
(local CD)

In musical terms, everything north of the dog track at Black Canyon City is Arizona's musical wasteland. For some reason, residents of El Norte have a peculiar obsession with elevating musical mediocrity to ridiculous heights. Prescott's Liars, Gods & Beggars (better known as LGB) and Jerome's Major Lingo are both beneficiaries of this blind fever. Both bands have huge followings. Lingo shows tend to devolve into rasta scenes resembling the parking lot at Dead concerts. LGB has made six albums, has become a star in Germany and now has its own publicist, fan club and fanzine.

But after repeated listens to recordings and attendance at more than one live show, I have to say that neither band does a thing for me. Although they differ musically, both groups are overblown, undertalented ensembles with no memorable material to speak of. Because they are the more successful, LGB's appeal is particularly mystifying. While Major Lingo is prone to long, jam-happy sets meant to numb the ache that Dead fans get between gigs, LGB is a plain, vanilla pop-rock band. The idea here is to sound like a rock-heavy Little Feat. And while the six players in the band can play, their material is Seventies rehash. Vocalist Lee Lozowick (listed on the CD as "Mr. Lee"), who pens all the words and music, is to blame. His originals mimic what Head East and a number of other corn-fed rockers were doing 20 years ago.

What finally drags this band down, though, are Lozowick's banal lyrics. There are a few mildly amusing lines: "Today, I got down on my knees/I said, 'Won't you save me, Jesus' . . . /When he spoke, it knocked me out/Threw me for a tizzy/I never thought I'd hear him say/Save yourself, I'm busy'" (from "I'm Busy"). But mostly the lyrics are drivel. Check out this gem of enlightened manhood: "Oh, honey, you got taste to waste/You're almost hipper than God/Oh, baby, can I squeeze you please/Don't worry if you're ready or not" (from "Turn On the Lights"). If this is humor, it ain't funny. After five albums, you'd think this band of budding stars would have more to say. And this from a group so popular that it needs its own personal fanzine? There's truly no accounting for taste.

Brick Chair
Pick the Shiniest Fruit
(Primary)

It's a cheap shot to say that every female vocalist with a penchant for passion is simply working out her Janis Joplin fantasy. In Fearn Smith's case, that gross generalization has to be modified to read Grace Slick instead of Joplin. Smith's strong, rich voice has more than a passing ring of Slick's tone and phrasing in it. On Pick the Shiniest Fruit, Smith applies her Surrealistic Pillow attitude and pipes to mod-rock guitar grodiness. Overall, Brick Chair's sound is somewhere between Seattle grunge and mainstream alt-rock with touches of punk abandon and psychedelic guitar. Honed by lots of local club work, the band obviously knows how to get heavy and rock.

On this CD's four songs, this Tempe band's songwriting pair--guitarist Guy Weigold (music) and Smith (lyrics)--shows it's beginning to work on the finer points, as well. Control of dynamics (soft-loud-soft-loud), for example, is beginning to take root. All the group needs now is something to play. Tunes like "Clean" are an excellent start.

Various Artists
Loud Ugly Pop Compilation
(FATbeat)

If you have any doubts that local punk trio Horace Pinker is becoming a first-rate, in-your-face punk-pop band, give this a listen. The best of the three Valley acts featured on this 12-song CD, the boys in H.P. obviously know their Ramones history and how to use it. Pinker cuts, like the instrumental "Knives" or its pointed "Punker Than G.B.H.," are by far the best cuts here. Look for the band's new album, Powertools (also on FATbeat). These flannel-shirted skatepunks are rapidly approaching the "being signed" stage of their careers.

After that, though, Loud Ugly Pop is a mixed bag. Newcomers Six6 start out strong with the tuneful "All in My Mind," but stumble thereafter. And besides the stupid name, Man Dingo plays loud, bland punk that fails to make a strong impression.

David Grossman
Words & Miles
(Warped)

If David Grossman could sing an octave or two lower, he would have Paul Simon down to a tee. Some artists, those without songs or a voice, could build a career on that kind of accident. But for someone with talent like Grossman, it's an unfortunate coincidence he'll spend his career trying to explain away.

But if Words & Miles is any indication of what he can do, Grossman may have the skills to outrun his Paul Simon doppelg„nger. As a songwriter, Grossman tends toward the quiet, introspective side of the emotional universe. Happiness is the general mood here. Deep in thought is about as close as he comes to darkness. Grossman is also the kind of singer-songwriter who paints detailed miniatures about life and love. Happy originals like "Kaleidoscope Girl," "Smiles in the Morning" and "Junkyard" set up Grossman's way with up, up and away folk ditties. The songs don't have enough edges or ambition to fit in with the Colvin-Gorka-Wilcox neofolk axis. But that doesn't take away from the fact that there are lots of pleasing moments on this CD or that there is real, if lightweight, talent at work here.

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