Yet another Jellyfish offshoot, Imperial Drag sounds like it was shipwrecked on a desert island starting in 1970, and the only things that washed ashore for the next five years were cheesy K-Tel albums. This self-titled debut offers a skewered view of Led Zeppelin and Yes as killer singles bands on a par with other English glam-rock imports like the Sweet, and Gary Glitter. Check out how "Crosseyed" melds "Black Dog" verses with "Roundabout" harmonies. Other songs like "Boy or a Girl" will have you scrambling for the CD booklet to see if this is a Chinn/Chapman production. And Drag keyboardist Roger Manning Jr. has probably scrawled "Billy Preston Is God" in the sand a hundred times, since he seems bent on spearheading a one-man campaign to bring back the Clavinet sound.
The trouble here is, an hour spent wading through songs about favorite astrological pick-up lines ("Zodiac Sign"), groovy but misunderstood space visitors ("Man in the Moon," complete with a Moog solo right outta Doctor Who) and "The Salvation Army Band" (an evil alchemy of Sgt. Pepper meets the Osmonds, circa Crazy Horses), will have you begging for punk to make its entrance. Only "Illucidate"--an extraterrestrial paean with singer Eric Dover pleading in his best Robin Zander voice for a close encounter of any kind--seems to be about anything outside '70s window dressing. But anyone looking for substance in an album that salutes the era that gave us "Junior's Farm" and "Fox on the Run" is barking up the wrong treatment. Like Charlie's Angels, Imperial Drag is a guilty pleasure by design.
In Another World
If reggae got soul, as Toots and the Maytals once decreed, and if ska's kinetic attitude helped inspire punk and new wave, then what to make of calypso, the even-tempered uncle of island rhythms? How do you figure calypso's carefree tempos and casual mindset in music's grand scheme?
Instead, you take a CD like In Another World, by the Phoenix-based Azz Izz, just like the group wants it--as is--in this case as a clear, shallow reef of innocuous island music.
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Azz Izz has been honing its nonchalant vibes around the Valley for years. The band's built and maintained a loyal following, mostly among pina-colada sippers in search of rhythms only slightly more authentic than Jimmy Buffett's. For such a crowd, In Another World delivers. The recording's production is radiant and the performances by the band's nine members are pro caliber, as is immediately evident on the CD's opening cut, "Prove It," a funky slab of smooth island jazz. Throughout the disc, chief songwriter Alan DeQuina stands out as an accomplished singer and lead guitarist, with the rest of the band showing the most confidence during instrumental breaks, especially the horn section (Kurt Finchum, Scott Kisinger and Dave Chapp) with its Tower of Power impulses.
But virtuosity doesn't ensure ingenuity. Indeed, the two traits approach mutual exclusivity in the Azz Izz world, a paradise with all the spontaneity of a weekend at Club Med. "Marsupial Mambo," for example, comes complete with Latin guitar frills, steel drums, horns--everything, short of a little umbrella to stir the mix. And, lyrically, the band hardly breaks a sweat on the cliche-ridden closing cut, "Living Like a Labrador," with such observations as "It's a dog's life"; "It's a doggone shame"; and, the comparatively inspired, "Give me a place to bury my bone and I promise I'll never stray from home." Someone should have put that puppy to sleep.