NEW RELEASES FROM THE DESERT

Arizona's music scene is in an unusual state these days. Here in the Valley, hip-hop knuckleheads Phunk Junkeez and smooth R&B singer Malaika are blossoming into national acts. And speaking of Blossoms, the smashing success of Tempe's Gin Blossoms has grown to the point that divine intervention is the only plausible explanation. The band and its unstoppable album New Miserable Experience have to be on a mission from Gahd. When N.M.E. goes gold, which, according to A&M, could be as soon as next week, Arizona will have its first gold disc by homegrown talent in many years. If this latest batch of CDs and cassettes is any indication, there's a lot more talent waiting and working hard in the wings. Sonya Jason

Tigress
(Discovery)

"Warning: This album contains so much love and magic, it's contagious," saxophonist and former Phoenician Sonya Jason writes in the liner notes of her first national release. "Let the music wrap around you like a warm hug," she coos.

Thanks, Ms. Jason, but that hug feels a bit claustrophobic throughout much of Tigress. The doe-eyed mush of "Touch and Go" and "Easy Love" is undiluted sentimentality, showing that this tigress has earned her stripes in the school of vapidity that's mauling contemporary jazz. Too bad love and magic have to sound so cloying.

Jason has a strong and distinct style of alto-sax playing that needn't be wasted on pandering to the pup-jazz audience. Occasionally, she shows that she can do better than run with the lightweight pack. The title cut and "Exotica" reveal a blossoming tunesmith who needn't recycle the same old, directionless vamps. The enticing creativity that shines through the cracks of "Cartoon Blues" hints at her potential to blow simmering, rather than simpering, jazz. Better yet, her arranging and producing skills are impeccable. The presence of Latin studio percussionist Luis Conte and Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip also helps keep the project on its feet.

How unfortunate, though, that so talented a player would rather pull a larger paycheck from the love crowd than work in a more challenging, bluesy direction. Betcha she could move into the R&B terrain trailblazed by altoist Hank Crawford and put out some killer stuff.

Professional female musicians rightfully resent being typecast as snuggle queens. Yet a gooey disc like Tigress comes close to being an aural centerfold, flashing for the cash. Someday, Jason might want to take the advice of one of her own compositions and choose to "Just Take a Chance."--Dave McElfresh

A Family of Friends
Women's Music Sampler
(Tsunami)

Although this is music by and for lesbians, labels like "women's music" and its companion, "men's music," relegate discs like this to separate, and often too forgiving, musical standards. A comment like "It's good--for lesbian music" obscures what might simply be good music. A varied, at times brilliant, collection of music from gay women from across the nation, A Family of Friends proves that if the quality is there, music will transcend all labels. A Family of Friends opens with a "We Are the World"-style mass sing-along called "A Family of Friends." From there, the singer-songwriters dominate. But there are a few surprises along the way. Diane Lindsay, for example, assumes Bonnie Raitt's sound and attitude on her edgy, electric "All Over Me." The back-up vocals on "All Over Me" are handled by one of the L.A. studio scene's finest talents, longtime Raitt/Jackson Browne bandmate Rosemary Butler. Later in the disc, OneSpirts' world-beat instrumental "Happy Life" is a welcome change of pace. And June and Jean Millington's pop-reggae "Family (World of Love)" gets into a pleasing riddim. Only one cut, Alix Dobkin's "My Kind of Girl," sounds amateurish and out of place.

The stars here are the disc's two closing cuts. Venus Envy's "Myth in Genesis" is a bluesy, four-part-harmony bar ballad whose wonderfully silly delivery belies the lyric's serious intentions. Taking their cue from Texan Marcia Ball, Kentucky natives Yer Girlfriend close this album with their roots-rockin' "Lez-B-Bop."

Lyrically, this collection is predictable. Love songs dominate. Others go to great pains not to mince words. Tucsonan Jamie Anderson, the force behind this collection, contributes "At Karen's House," a tune about discovering her next-door neighbor is gay. Californian Pam Hall adds her sly, funny "Linda," a song extolling a "real womon's womon," who wears "cow-dyke" boots and a "Greta Garbo grin." Overall, a beautifully packaged, professional-sounding compilation that proves "women's music" isn't just for women anymore.--Robert Baird

Nowhere Dreamer
Lifetimes
(local CD)

It's clear from the packaging and sound quality that Nowhere Dreamer spent a fortune making this CD. Lifetimes looks and sounds like label product. This successful Valley act also has savvy to have a personal manager (a band member's mom), assistant manager and publicist.

Unfortunately, N.D. is also a band with a disease. Like the lung-shredding valley fever whose spores live in the soil here, "die-no rock complex" has reached epidemic proportions. Drifting aimlessly on the breeze, it's harmless until it finds a group of unsuspecting musicians on which to prey. Once inhaled, the effect is immediate. Guitarists begin to effect radio-ready guitar riffs. Vocalists begin to wail and writhe like Journey's Steve Perry and the whole band takes on a Top 40, pop-rock glaze.

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)

A few months ago, I wrote a less than glowing review of this tape, mostly because the A side was filled with murky sound effects that I mistook for pretentious artnoise. Turns out what I heard was the sound of a defective cassette. The moral of the story? When you take a tape to be duplicated, buy the best cassettes you can afford. And then always listen to a cassette before you submit it for review.

Turns out that what sounded like artnoise the first time is actually this tape's strongest material. Overall, D.A. falls squarely into the ever-expanding ranks of alternative groups with the volume and often (although not in this case) the attitude of hard-rock bands. The missing link here is a fondness for watered-down, Red Hot Chili Pepper, white-metal funkiness. The opening workout, "Monkey in the Middle," the frenzied title cut and the melodic "Something" are all evidence of life beyond the cheap cassette.--Robert Baird

Primitive ID
Primitive ID
(local cassette)

Strummy, Byrdsian alterno-rock from Mesa, AZ. Lots of Gin Blossomesque moves present here in vocals, guitars and incessant tambourine shaking. Tunes like "Protect the Innocent" could be discarded outtakes from New Miserable Experience sessions--the key word there being "discarded." The trusty chord progression in the tune "Junkyard" shows that there's hope.--Robert Baird

Heavens 2 Betsy!
Girlyhood
(local cassette)

Heavens 2 Betsy! is the kind of band that was a gas to jam with in high school. The type of guys who know how to get high, blow trumpets, bash drums, drink malt liquor, enrage neighbors and generally have one hell of a good time. Problem is, these guys may be stuck at that level. Despite a cool title and a great Diane Arbus photo on the cover, there's not much to listen to here but mediocre fuzz-guitar noise and some of the shrillest, most annoying vocals ever committed to tape.--Robert Baird

The Four Pigs
Livestock Lovin' Politicians
(Vibrarib)

White, punk-funk metal poseurs that choose to open recordings with tunes that steal licks from the Dead and whose lyrics refer to "white, swollen zits" and "heaps of shit" usually don't stand a chance. That, in a nutshell, sums up the Pigs.

Studded with tunes like "Flatulence," "Livestock Cock" and "My Dick" (a succinct summation of where this band's consciousness is centered), the Pigs are a loud, genitalia-obsessed bunch of punks from Tucson's east side whose bad attitudes and even worse guitar noise walk the same angry path as their obvious idols, Suicidal Tendencies. Beavis and Butt-head would approve.--Robert Baird

Breakfast With Idiots
Breakfast With Idiots
(local cassette)

Every so often, a tape comes in over the transom from another galaxy. Breakfast With Idiots is one of those rare gems from the outer limits. With the kind of tin-can-and-a-string sound quality reminiscent of the old The Honeymooners episodes, this tape is a running gag of famous and not-so-famous voice samples, echo-chamber nonsense, screaming, moaning, gibberish, tortured singing and a smorgasbord of musical styles that includes cocktail jazz, Sixties pop and Michael Jackson vocals--all delivered with the panache of a bad joke. Although titles are listed, picking out individual songs here is impossible. The madness runs together.

Fortunately, nothing here gets too loud or overamped. Being weird takes precedence over rocking out. Nearly unlistenable, this sonic stew has ambition to burn. Instead of boring liner notes, these extraterrestrials included supermarket coupons good for 50 cents off all-purpose cleaner. May the force be with you.--Robert Baird

Masterphobia
It's All In Your Mind
(local cassette)

The delicate stirrings of yet another power trio (pretty good, too!) of Rush fanatics working out their frustrations. Like your girlfriend said: "Okay, okay, I give up. Neil Peart is the world's greatest drummer, now can we go home?"--Robert Baird The Drakes

The Drakes
(Monsoon Recordings)

Ex-River Roses guitarist Gene Ruley and former Bullhorn front man Tom Stauffer, the duo at the center of Tucson's Drakes, have become a surprisingly potent songwriting team. Filled with lovely, melodic guitar-band tunes that occasionally rock out, this strong, eight-song debut rockets this new band to the front of the state's alternative scene. Strong lyrics like "It's not about guilt/It's not about control/It's not about leaving/It's just about where to go" add a lot. Not surprisingly, Ruley's guitar solos are the strongest musical element here. Thin in spots, Stauffer's vocals still manage to help more than they hurt.

After quality songwriting and playing, what separates the Drakes from every other guitar band in the state is the lead and rhythm violin of Brett Klay. Following the Tucson tradition of violins in rock bands established by Black Sun Ensemble and violinist Bridgett Keating, Klay's fiddling adds an odd, appealing, chamber-rock feel to this tape and probably the band's live shows, as well. An original new voice in a numbingly overcrowded genre.--Robert Baird

@sub:Demos

@body:Able Cain
Four overlong songs by well-known local hard rockers who successfully spice up their bland, rock-by-rote formula with Doorisms. Guitarist Brian Buzard ain't bad, but vocalist Robert Edgar is the center of attention here, and his roar is a mix of Metallica bellow and Lizard King angst.--Robert Baird

35 Summers
Superb, melodic guitar rock by Chris Holiman, front man of now-defunct Tucson alternative band River Roses. Holiman's nasal voice has always had surprising range and expressive powers. Tunes like "Bestfriend" show his songwriting has also retained the dense lyrics and rising melodies that made the Roses such a great band. Neil Harry's pedal steel guitar is a nice addition.--Robert Baird

Grievous Angels
The first recorded evidence that there actually is a country-rock band with the stomach to try to cover Gram Parsons. Although it's still rough n' ready--and occasionally out of tune--this band's stab at Parsons' "Return of the Grievous Angel" ain't half bad. Good originals like "Going Once, Going Twice" and "Days of Wine, Women and Wrong" also bode well for these honky-tonk angels.--Robert Baird

@hed:New Releases From the Desert
@body:

This is the only Sun Tracks feature for 9/1

Proofer: "real womon's womon" is cq, per Baird.
Thanks, Scott

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