It was a couple months back that a musician flagged us down at a club with his band's new CD in one hand and a list of gripes in the other. Specifically, this aspiring Valley talent was bitching about how we do things here at the Mail or Muse Department. Oddly enough, he didn't object to the occasional mudslinging we engage in; every musician believes that bad reviews are something that rightly happens to someone else. No, what twisted his guitar strap in a knot was the notion that all these local music reviews were being grouped together in a contest format, as if the scene wasn't competitive enough already. "And there's no uniform standard of judgment," he cried. "Every artist stands for something different, a different viewpoint or musical genre, so how can a small elite group of people such as yourselves select one artist as being the best of an entire Valley club scene?"
That's when we set him right about the whole selection process. See, we like to think of the way we compare local bands as a kind of mini-election. And when it comes to picking the right candidate, we're even more thorough than the Palm Beach County canvassing board. We exhaust ourselves listening and re-listening to demos, sometimes as many as eight or nine times. And we don't stop there. Nah, we hold press bios and CD artwork up to the light to make sure we haven't missed any crucial information or failed intentions on the artist's part. Then, after what seems like endless and unnecessary scrutiny, we make our final decision. Admittedly, one artist is sometimes chosen above the others only by the slightest margin. Sure, it's not the most fair way to do things, but if the recently completed presidential contest taught us anything about fairness, it's that there are many varying notions of the concept.
This month we invite you to read and reread our reviews in a brightly fluorescent lit room, hold them up to the light and you too will see that the conclusions we've come up with can stand up to any authority, even the Supreme Court.
But forget all that. Every act that throws its hat into the Mail or Muse ring is already a winner in our eyes, and we invite you to find him or her -- just be real quick about it.
Background: A one-man acoustic band from Phoenix represented by a three-song demo CD titled Embers.
Platform: "Lost tape of the Doors, the brother Chris Isaak never knew he had or just the best poetic pop you've never heard?"
Campaign Slogan: "I'm drunk with you, it's true and nothing left to cure this endless thirst but more of you."
Character: Singer C.T. Reinebold sounds more like a husky Dan Fogelberg than Chris Isaak's long-lost sibling, but we prefer his straightahead love songs to the Lizard King's pedantic prose and nominate "Valentines" as the band's best song since it makes no mention of Cupid or "fire beneath desire's skin." As for any unsavory Morrisonlike behavior, the closest we could come up with is a bit of percussion that's supposed to sound like an ocean's roar but actually resembles someone taking a leak in the studio.
Consensus: A hanging chad with light breakin' on through the perforation.
Background: Miles and Rhonda Lester, a husband-and-wife duo from Phoenix represented by a self-released 12-song eponymous CD.
Platform: "Now that their youngest son is nearly 18, they have more time to focus on something they both love -- music."
Campaign Slogan: "I feel joy serene divine just to know that you are mine." (Editor's note: Name-dropping will get you nowhere in this electoral college!)
Character: It's trad family values all the way with Miles and Rhonda. They're exemplary community helpers -- he's a Valley music teacher and she's a registered nurse. According to their bio, "They have been playing and singing together in stolen moments between work and family, their entire married life." And they've remained happily together for 20 years -- that's as much time as Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks have spent apart! As for the sound, imagine Miles as a subdued Lee Hazlewood and Rhonda as a moderately witchy Rhiannon, less taken by the sky and more likely to put out a cool spread of chips and dips for house guests.
Consensus: A thrice-pregnant chad, with two kids in college.
6 of 9
Background: A groove-metal band from Scottsdale, represented by a five-song, self-titled CD.
Platform: The words "FREE SEX" are plastered all over the band's press bio and are also part of its logo and Internet address. So what do you think its platform is -- medicine for the elderly?
Campaign Slogan: "I wanna be your dad-day-yar! That's what I am and why I'll always be-hee yay-yar." With lyrics like "slash your pretty throat ear to ear" and "whine like the bitch, I'm a king so hail to me," this group can pretty much kiss the female vote goodbye. "Here's another song that won't get me laid tonight," says lead singer Sam Taliesin on the final hidden cut (track 69), a collection of in-between-song banter that's funnier than Having Fun on Stage With Elvis.
Character: A good approximation of Pantera and Soundgarden with an oppressively heavy misogynist message. Even their press photo depicts them outside a cartoon peep show. Still, they receive the heavy-metal endorsement of former Mason Jar owner Franco Gagliano, who calls 6 of 9 "the best performers I've ever seen." Damn, who's gonna break the news to the Beat Angels?
Consensus: One angry, prematurely discharged-up chad.
Background: P-Nut, Adverb and Jimi Numonic -- a three-man electro/hip-hop crew from Phoenix, represented by a four-song self-titled CD.
Platform: What free sex is to 6 of 9, free Ecstasy is to this bunch.
Campaign Slogan: "Ecstasy is our motto. Then I bust a move like Mr. Roboto."
Character: They want so much to become synonymous with the popular rave drug that the disc's promo artwork features the group members drawn onto Ecstasy tablets! They even have a song about the DEA trying to bust their dangerous new trippy sound, but this "electro hip-hop" sounds a lot like old De La Soul, which is fine by us. Despite bragging "I down three sunshines before every show" and trying harder than Robert Downey Jr. to get arrested, they're basically good b-boys. They respect their elders -- hell, they even sampled Satchmo!
Consensus: One phat pregnant chad.
Background: A heavy-metal quartet from Gilbert, represented and misrepresented by a three-song demo CD.
Platform: Initially, the group was trying to expand its fan base beyond friends and relations. More recently, its mission has been expanded to include damage control from its last publicity blitz.
Campaign Slogan: "Do you feel the gods consume you? Hold my hand and don't be scared."
Character: Last summer, the hardworking Cremains pressed up 1,000 copies of this CD with the idea of giving them away to patrons exiting the Valley stop of the Ozzfest tour. However, they did so unaware that a mix-up at the manufacturing plant had put the music of some unnamed R&B band on their CD, causing the throngs of metal fans to curse the Cremains' name.
If you play the repressed CD, you'll hear bass drums that sound like manual typewriters and guitars that lurch and whinny like a possessed mule. While you'd be dumfounded to find a way to shake your booty to the Cremains, two out of the three songs here are a cut above the usual Mason jargon and Big Fish Pub grub.
Consensus: One hanging-in-there chad.
And our special butterfly ballot award goes to . . .
The Paradise Road Band
Background: A west Valley country band coming to you straight from the ravages of substance abuse and into the arms of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, with its CD Spiritual State of Mind.
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Platform: Getting through 12 steps in just 11 songs.
Campaign Slogan: "I found Jesus on the jailhouse floor."
Character: Reborn sober. Basically a concept album, where sinner/songwriter Elliot Ginn alternates between praising Jesus and recounting what a wreck he used to be. You thought the Plastic Ono Band album was personal? Ginn gives you his sobriety date, plus the names of his co-sponsors and their birth and expiration dates, along with details of how the devil had his way with all of them. Case in point: "My Friend Norm," a shit-kicking country ballad about a friend who couldn't kick the shit. As Norm's co-sponsor, Ginn tried to get him to pray, but "Ol' Norm liked to watch TV." Every lyric is a no-nonsense, just-spit-it-out truism ("He shot his last balloon, Tuesday afternoon"). Our only fear is that when Paradise Road performs at a loud bar that serves the devil's brewski, the hard-drinking, snow-snortin' crowd will raise its fists but miss the message found in the hard-rockin', hit-rock-bottom anthem "Jim Beam, Cocaine and Tears."
Think David Allan Coe fronting Skynyrd and then finding Jesus. Amen.