Lucius Parr
We Got a Problem

Lucius Parr's name often gets unfairly overlooked when the Valley's premier blues artists are listed, but anyone who's caught his tight combo knows that his talent is undeniable. Parr has first-rate credentials. He and his brother Lamar absorbed the blues as young kids in Texas, and took particular inspiration from their cousin, the late, legendary Albert Collins.

Parr's sound falls into the cracks between standard 12-bar blues and vintage soul music. It's a horn-driven uptown blues that shares much with the work of Robert Cray. On We Got a Problem, Parr's third CD, the guitarist-vocalist seems to find the perfect balance between his various influences.

The album opener, "Don't Talk to Me," is a funky, Stax-inspired dance tune that's a dead ringer for mid-'80s Cray. Parr's intuitive command of the form helps him avoid the slickness that sucks the life out of so many similar records. His snaky, single-note leads are always economical, serving the songs rather than overtaking them. His melodic runs on the ballad "You Put a Spell on Me" are particularly gorgeous.

The album's most infectious tune is the propulsive "You Ain't All That," a rave-up with a verse melody strongly reminiscent of the Marvin Gaye classic "Hitch Hike." Like many of the songs on the album, "You Ain't All That" is a musical wake-up call to a deceitful woman who's trying to take Lucius for a ride. Playing the man done wrong allows Parr, like Cray before him, to find a modern context for the blues, without falling back on the kind of sexual boasting that inevitably sounds anachronistic on the eve of the 21st century.

We Got a Problem is a well-crafted example of Parr's effortless eclecticism, which shows equal influence from Sam Cooke, Sam & Dave, and the great urban blues masters.

--Gilbert Garcia

Phil & The Frantics
Phil & The Frantics
(Dionysus Records)

A few years back, during an interview segment for a history of rock 'n' roll TV series, Tom Petty offered his theory on what makes his chosen genre special: "It's rock 'n' roll. It's not supposed to be really good." It's a notion eloquently expressed many times by the late Lester Bangs, who could convince you that the unenlightened trashiness of a band like the Count Five was somehow more satisfying than the work of rock's big-name artists.

It's a debatable viewpoint, but one that's given credence by collections like the wonderful garage-punk series Nuggets. What comes through on Nuggets is not only the innocence of primitive one-shot kids, but also a certain time-capsule purity that the major artists tend to transcend. The garage bands tend to pick up all the prevailing trends of the time and combine them in a way that makes you zero in on the year it was recorded, while icons like Bob Dylan or The Beatles were so distinctive, in a way they are less useful ambassadors for an era.

Phil & The Frantics never even made a sufficient national splash to earn a place on Nuggets, but this 16-track compilation argues that the Phoenix band was a better-than-average pop group during a time period (1964-66) when pop was going through some of its most exciting changes.

It would be a stretch to claim that the band was particularly original. With their spooky organ (played by 14-year-old Rick Rose), they were almost unavoidably indebted to the Zombies. In fact, the band's closest brush with national success, the single "I Must Run," is a virtual rewrite of the Zombies' "I Must Move," right down to its somber mood and lugubrious tempo. "Till You Get What You Want" is fairly similar, albeit with a melody akin to The Beatles' as-yet-unreleased "It's Only Love."

The weakest part of the collection comes with the band's attempts at covers. Lead singer Phil Kelsey is able to get pretty gritty on a cover of Gary U.S. Bonds' "New Orleans," but the band's attempt at the Rolling Stones' "The Last Time" is hopelessly rinky-dink next to the Stones' original. A stab at Buck Owens' "Act Naturally" finds the band out of its element, with predictably tepid results.

Unlike many of the bands of that period, who didn't have a clue about how to adjust to pop's new demands for self-contained bands who wrote their own songs, Phil & The Frantics were actually most successful--artistically and otherwise--with their own material. "What's Happening" is a roughhewn country stomp with the obligatory Dylanesque harmonica. The moody "Say What You Will" takes Rose's Zombies organ sound and pushes it into a punky, uniquely American realm. Most impressive is "Till You Get What You Want," which--as the informative sleeve notes by local music historian John Dixon point out--shoots for the expansiveness of Phil Spector, and applies an irresistible Farfisa touch that strongly resembles, but actually predates, ? and the Mysterians' monumental single "96 Tears."

Not even Phil & The Frantics' most loyal fans could make a case for them as one of rock's major bands, but they're a huge piece of the puzzle that is Phoenix's music history, and further proof that the true story of rock resides in the cut-out bins.

--Gilbert Garcia


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