Desert Discs

The promised reviews are here at last

The Slims
Slow Road to Hell
(Mainliner Music)

Slims drummer Scott Seymann sports a "London Calling" tee shirt in this CD's insert photo. That's tres cool, but the Clash is light-years from the Slims' stripped-down, medium-tempo fare, which more easily recalls the Feelies. Greg Simmons' guitar unfurls melodic lines with a kick of distortion, and when he yanks that whammy bar in "Writin' Me a Letter," the gritty riffs float up like camp smoke in a spaghetti Western. The Slims' rhythm section is consistently solid as Joe Vallee's bass bounces along over Seymann's irrepressible snare and crash cymbal. There's a garage angst to the sound, but it never seems like the kids are just beating on trash cans.

Singer/guitarist Connie Maverick has one of those voices people either love or hate; she's a little bit Ricki Lee Jones, a little bit Eddie Vedder on estrogen-replacement therapy. There's no question she's a gutsy lead vocalist, but at times she lays on the theatrical quavering a bit thick. Maverick is more fun (and much more convincing) when she's either unabashedly rocking or dancing around the vocals with campy hick stylings (best used in the introduction to "Sweet Dreams").

The slender ones demonstrate considerable versatility, moving from the countrified stylings and political high voltage of "Nothin' Wrong" into the bluesy title track. And when Simmons isn't proving how tight a lock he has on linear Lou Reedy licks, he's whipping out a chunk of power pop that would make Iggy Pop lacerate himself.

Not to be confused with Richard Simmons' back-up band on "Sweatin' to the Moldies," the Slims are four highly skilled,tightly knit Tempe bar rockers who aren't afraid to let their Southwestern jangle hang out all over this debut disc--a desert treasure chocked with cool surprises.--Matt Golosinski

Idly Rove
Idle Hours
(self-released)

From a self-marketing standpoint, Idly Rove is a monster band. The Phoenix metal outfit's promo pack, printed on a dozen sheets of heavy-bond paper (maybe Kinko's had a special), includes a mission statement, an analysis of Idly Rove's target audience ("16-23-year-old girls and 15-25-year-old boys"), and individual resumes that have the precise number of hours each band member has logged onstage and in the studio. Idly Rove even has a bar light bearing the band's logo in a back corner of the Mason Jar.

Above all the glitter and slogans, however, hovers a question: Are the Rovesters the megaband they claim to be, or just well-funded poseurs? The answer depends largely on the listener's frame of mind. If you're just coming down from the latest Chili Peppers rush, Rove will leave you idle. However, if you've been dredging your secret Eighties pop-metal stash, jonesin' for faux-medieval ballads that burst into roaring guitar orgies, or mundane lyrics like "Gonna do her on the ground" delivered like a Wagnerian aria, then stop rummaging--Idly Rove delivers the goods.

Stealing the show on every cut is lead guitarist Mike Ehmann, whose 120 hours of live performance and 132 hours of studio time have evidently fashioned him into a stalwart metalhead with a heavy, sharp ax to grind.

A few words for Rove's talented vocalist, Chad Ehmann (brother of Mike): If you're going to copy the style of Queensryche's Geoff Tate ("Leading Them On," "Scanner"), either nail it or don't even try. Mimicking Tate is like counterfeiting a Cnote: You can get in deep trouble quick if it's not just right.

Don't worry, Rovesters: Your meaty licks, rippled arms and flowing manes will surely satisfy the heavy-metal fantasy of any "16-23-year-old girl." I'd bet my limited-edition Ratt poster on it.--Leigh Silverman

Flathead
Flathead
(Truxton)

If the sound of "Hot Rod Lincoln" drives you to drinkin', it's a pretty safe bet this trio's self-titled debut was not recorded with you in mind. Flathead packed this sucker bumper to bumper with chugging "rig rock" rhythms. In New York, there are more than a dozen bands churning out similar stuff on the Diesel Only label; but here in the lonesome Valley, Flathead has the genre all to itself.

This album contains three prime trucker anthems, addressing the joys of endangering lives through reckless gear-jamming ("40 acre"), running moonshine ("Alcohaulin") and amnesia as an occupational hazard ("Highway"). Given the monotonous "yahoo, Mountain Dew" harmonies that hallmark every number save the instrumentals, Flathead seems to have a monopoly on hillbilly music too corn-jug for Tempe's other Western swingers, Ned Beatty and the Inbreds.

Singer-songwriter Greg Swanholm and his two cohorts have clearly mastered their musical idioms, but the band rarely ventures outside the limitations of its form. Flathead seems content to stick to its roots, rather than trying to see what can grow out of them--like, say, the Reverend Horton Heat. As a result, the band covers traditional material like "Old 97" and "Tennessee Stud" in the same traditional vein it affords Swanholm's originals.

Surely, within the confines of a recording studio, more liberties could have been taken with Flathead's familiar live sound. The band and producer Dan Nelson capture that sound here with little or no overdubbing, making this debut the ideal audio souvenir for anyone who's packed themselves into Long Wong's to see this band kick into gear. But, apart from the mournful ballad "Red Sky Waltz," this road map of the group's music offers little indication of what lies beyond Mill. Perhaps audio verite looms large in Flathead's future. People who miss the sound of manual turntables will enjoy the seven minutes of run-off groove-surface noise the band generously supplies at the end of this CD.--Serene Dominic

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