Music News


This installment in New Times' occasional review of local music product could be called "The Young and the Restless." Along with a couple of debut tapes by young bands, we also take a look at a tape and a single by the recently split Cryptics, led by Valley music veteran Bruce Connole. Just for spice we've also thrown in a worthy jazz offering. All these albums are available for sale at Valley record stores. Check this music out. The local scene needs your support. THE CRYPTICS

Kill Me
(Spot Records)

"Darker Side of You"
(45 single, Epiphany)

The debate over whether Bruce Connole's new direction--more Sabbath, less strumming--was worth it has become moot. Connole's band, the Cryptics, has broken up and Connole has left the Valley again for L.A. Just as the band was splintering, a full-length cassette and a brand-new single were seeing the light of day. The single is also the first disc to come from Epiphany, the new local label launched by Zia Record Exchange owner Brad Singer. Given time, Epiphany has the potential to become a major force in taking local music to a national level. There is no doubting Connole's talent. The guy can play guitar. Beyond that, he isn't a bad singer or songwriter, either. And he's got the necessary attitude and poise to lead a band.

But it's equally true that focus was never Bruce Connole's strong suit. Were the Cryptics a juiced-up alternative band in metallic clothing, or a metal band aware of how trendy and bankable alternative is these days?

If these posthumous vinyl products are any indication, the answer lies somewhere in between. The band had lots of muscle--power rather than finesse was its object. When the group played this stuff live, volume was the main concern. On these recordings, Connole's dominating guitar is heavy throughout, and the voice-of-doom vocals by Jason Huff and Connole are straight outta the Ozzie handbook of advanced scream-talking. This bludgeon-you-to-death theory is also applied to the band's lyrics. The song titles say it all--"Kill Me," "Blood on the Floor" and "I Don't Care."

Many fans of the Strand and other past Connole projects felt since the beginning that the Cryptics were a waste of Connole's talent--just something he had to get out of his system. He's been in a lot of different bands, playing a lot of different kinds of music over the years. However, most of his projects, like the Cryptics, went down when he lost interest. Many remain convinced that the Cryptics' proto-metal sound was a bizarre detour into what Connole describes in "Darker Side of You," the "A" side of the Epiphany single. On the other side of the coin, genuine metal fans and players felt he was merely aping that genre's moves and that, because of his name, the band was able to unfairly overshadow real dues-paying metal-hard rock groups.

Either way, Connole was at the center of yet another storm. And for inciting that much controversy in this music scene, he deserves respect. Musically, the Cryptics were a proficient hard rock-metal band at best. Knowing Connole's restless talents, though, who knows what the group would have become had he hung in longer? Judging from this tape and single, the Cryptics might have been a contender.

(local tape)

Is it fair to compare local bands to national acts just because they share the same trendy boy-girl-girl gender mix? In this case, yes. Tempe's Adulterous Woman has many of the same strengths that have made the Blake Babies and Throwing Muses national acts--decent, strummy, midtempo guitar tales, a good mix of male-female voices and a talent for writing dreamy, oblique lyrics. When all these attributes are working, as they are here on the song "Buffalo Days," Heather Jensen, Todd Osborn and Natalie Wood sound a lot like Beantown's Blake Babies. Wood, in particular, has a high, wavery voice that's very similar to B.B. leader Juliana Hatfield. The only drawback here is that like its spiritual kin, Adulterous Woman rarely digs in and rocks, preferring a loftier, ethereal kind of feel. One thing's for sure--no one else in the Valley is doing anything like this. And that alone makes this four-song tape a refreshing change.

TOM ERVIN I'll Be Around
(Canyon Music)

Tom Ervin is a jazz underdog. His instrument, the trombone, has been the redheaded stepchild of jazz for nearly 50 years. When the roadrunner pace of Forties bebop proved to be too physically demanding for most players, the lunging plunger of the brass family slipped into the shadows. These days, what little trombone jazz there is veers either toward pre-bop big band swing or the off-kilter goof funk of such slide growlers as Craig Harris or Joseph Bowie.

Ervin has chosen the former, becoming a nostalgic proponent of the straightahead soloing trombonists once showcased in the Ellington and Dorsey bands. That means there's not a groundbreaking note or risky phrase on any of I'll Be Around. "After You've Gone" sounds like a cut right off your grandfather's tube radio. The conservative, midtempo sashaying of Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring" is about as perky and adventurous as this disc gets.

That's bad news if you're hungering to hear this old dog of the brass section take on new tricks, but good news if you're curious how the trombone came up through the ranks of jazz. Ervin's back-up trio of piano, bass and drums mostly provides moral support, letting the UofA music prof demonstrate how the trombone grew into a solo instrument once it was freed from its near-invisible role in the first New Orleans jazz bands.

I'll Be Around slides through blues, ballads and swing, sometimes faking a bit more contemporary swagger, as on "Concerto for Jazz Band and Orchestra." Check out the most recent releases by Steve Turre or Ray Anderson if you want a true Nineties slant on this distant, disowned cousin of the trumpet. But I'll Be Around stands quite well as a photo album of the instrument's more popular days. Congratulations to the efforts of players like Ervin, who won't let jazz bury the 'bone.

(local tape)

The Mums are a male-female trio fronted by Linda Cushma, formerly of Major Lingo and Brides of Science. The Mums work in an edgy, alternative vein. The sound on the dub the group provided, however, was muddy and the drums were so far forward in the mix they overshadowed everything else. In the band's defense, the tape did have "re-recorded" written on it. Hopefully, this means that the ones for sale at Zia, Tower and Stinkweeds will be first-generation copies with better sound. Another oversight that should be rectified is the lack of credits or even names of the band members on the tape slip.

Fortunately, though, neither of these problems detracts from the quality of the music on this tape. Despite the muffled sound, the Mums have lots of promise. Cushma's talky vocals are strong and the tunes have small but catchy hooks sprinkled throughout. Tasty guitar fills from Frank D'Angelo appear in nearly every song. The lyrics have their moments; my favorite lines were from this four-song tape's best tune, "Better Psychotic Than Sorry"--"Good thing I'm not a reptile/I would have to shed my skin/I already have enough trouble/Staying in the skin I'm in."

Keep an eye on these posies; they're going to bloom.


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Robert Baird
Dave McElfresh