NEW RELEASES FROM THE DESERT

Nowhere Dreamer has got it bad and that ain't good. Musically, the band favors strummed, 12-string guitar intros followed by big, FM-friendly, guitar-pop numbers … la Boston or Styx. The problem is that the heyday of both those bands was in the late Seventies. Today, lyrics like, "There's a sun in the sky dripping light on the shore blazing steel, cuts cold air it kills the last unicorn" (from the title cut, "Lifetimes"), sound like the weary death rattle of Uriah Heep being sucked into the Sedona vortex. And opening and closing songs with the taped sounds of crickets, thunderstorms or rushing water are no longer good ideas.

The fairy-tale lyrics might be forgiven if they weren't warbled in the octave-too-high, arena-rock harmonies of guitarists Joshua Mottley and Pauli DeSimone and drummer Tim Ernst. It's not that these guys can't sing; they can. It's just that the clich‚d setting ruins their efforts.

It's hard to say what the warning printed inside this CD means. It states that the band can't be held responsible for "any feelings of fright" listeners may encounter. About the only fear I experienced while listening was the one I felt for a talented band toiling in an irrelevant genre.--Robert Baird

Jess Hawk Oakenstar
Leave a Little Light Behind
(Hallows)

The only problem with this impressive, electric-folk outing by Valley singer-songwriter Oakenstar is that her voice is deceptively androgynous. I didn't realize Oakenstar was a woman until the incest song "Goodbye Mississippi" made it clear. Of course, androgyny hasn't hurt k.d. lang or Prince.

The sound on this cassette is outstanding--bright with lots of bottom end. And the backing band, which includes some of the Valley's best--guitarist Jeff Dayton, pianist Ron Herndon and harmonica player Hans Olson--is excellent.

The acid test of any singer-songwriter album lies in the songwriting, and Oakenstar passes with flying chords. Best songs: the countrified antiwar number "Blue Mood," and "Midnight Surprise," a moody keyboard song with an appealing Bernie Taupin/Elton John feel. Clearly, this is a big-time talent waiting to happen.--Robert Baird

The Piersons
The Piersons
(local cassette)

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Replacements owe the Piersons a big, wet kiss. A rising star on the Tempe scene, the Piersons seem to specialize in a very passable impression of Hootenanny-era Replacements. Tunes like the opener, "My Red-Head Girl" (close in title and spirit to the Mats' "Red, Red Wine"), ape the Mats' pop-punk style to a T. Despite too many obvious Paul Westerberg cops, vocalist Patrick Pierson flashes miles of potential throughout this nine-song tape. This band is also heavily influenced by a local group: Dead Hot Workshop. That debt is paid in full with "Brent's Blues," a flattering tribute to Dead Hot vocalist Brent Babb. The trick now for the Piersons is for them to develop their own personality. To that end, tunes like "Dirty Clothes" and, especially, "Over My Head" (which is one chorus short of being memorable) spell progress. They show that while these guys can't wipe off their Replacements smirk, they're beginning to see themselves when they look in the mirror.--Robert Baird

Ice Cream Headache
Ice Cream Headache
(local cassette)

Some bands write and play songs. Others simply merchandise. According to the cassette liner, Ice Cream Headache has five different models of tee shirts for sale. For the skate-punk set, there are beanies and wool caps for sale. The band ships UPS. And Arizona residents are admonished not to forget to add 6.5 percent sales tax to all orders. For the sake of context, consider that local heroes Gin Blossoms only have one tee shirt for sale, and most of the time, they're out of stock.

Not surprisingly, the tee shirts show more thought than the band's music, which follows the standard alternative/hard-rock formula: midtempo, heavy guitar tunes and ho-hum vocals. Nothing bad, but nothing outstanding, either. Cool tee shirts, though.--Robert Baird

Peter Storn Project
Peter Storn Project
(local cassette)

Fizzy pop-jazz in the mold of the Yellowjackets and Rippingtons, this "project" should play well on KJZZ. Leader/jam session writer Storn uses his electric guitar to carry the melody while a cadre of local players, including alto saxophonists Cliff Sarde, Terry Anderson and Dan Pinson, noodle along behind. What Al Dimeola's worst nightmares might sound like. Homegrown wussjazz.--Robert Baird

Joe DeCelle
A Few Spare Moments
(local cassette)

This solo project of Winter's Heat vocalist DeCelle has interesting touches, but is marred by muddy sound quality. Swinging back and forth between clich‚ hard rock like "After the Alter" and soft instrumentals--one of which, "Edward's Song," is embarrassingly sweet--this six-song tape has several things going for it. DeCelle's vocals are decent, Billy Wright's harmonica licks are great and the simple cello instrumental, "Blue Waterfall," is a refreshing palette cleanser.

Overall, though, the songwriting here is thin. But no matter. When in doubt, cop a riff from one of the old masters. DeCelle's "Get Me Through Today" effectively recycles Jimmy Page's twisting guitar opening from Led Zep's "Over the Hills & Far Away."--Robert Baird

Deadly Arnaz
Teenage Wonderland
(local cassette)

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