What makes a scene? No one knows for sure. In Austin it's the mystique. In New York and L.A., it's the mass of population. In Chicago and New Orleans, it's the history.
In this town, we're still figuring that equation out. Sometimes it works and sometimes, well . . . One thing that is working is the Valley's recording industry. Bands and solo musicians continue to crank out tapes, records and CDs. For the third time since the beginning of the year, Sun Tracks presents a review of what's new on the local recorded music scene.
As always, we didn't get to everyone, but never fear, the next local roundup is already in the works. Everything reviewed here should be for sale at local record stores. If not, ask about it. If you or your band has a tape, record or CD, send it to us and we'll include it in the next roundup.
FISH KARMA teddy in the sky with magnets
Neither animal, nor vegetable, nor mineral, nor scaly, gill-sucking thing that goes bump in the night, Fish Karma has teamed up with the only other person on the planet who can understand him, Mojo Nixon, to record what Fish's many fans (eleven, not counting family) are classifying as an album.
A longtime societal prognosticator, stalker of fads, evil-eyed editorializer and all around smart ass, the Tucson-based Fish is Pete Seeger's evil twin. His guitar is deliberately out of tune, he talks instead of sings, and if you're a sacred cow, particularly an artistic one, look out. When it comes to drawing telling portraits and whipping out the wicked blade of satire, Fish doesn't miss.
In "An Artist's Lament," for instance, he scores a direct hit on the 1991 tortured artiste mindset, "I think I'll put on my black clothing and go downtown and sit in a dimly lit, overpriced cafe and scribble in my notepad."
And then there's the opener, "Swap Meet Woman."
Combing the swap meet for some bargain "lovin'," Fish spies her: "There's one now, Lord/She's vicious and she's mean/Sittin' under a Confederate flag/And swiggin' Jim Beam." A Mary Kay cosmetics saleswoman who uses Tater Tots and Summit wine to get her through the winter nights, Fish's beauty comes at a price. Turns out that he has to share his prize: "She dances topless out at Elmer's Pub on I-10/Her cellulite and press-on nails draw lust in the hearts of men/She shimmies and shakes to her favorite Bob Seger tune/Catches cigarettes from all the alcoholics in the room."
Although it's a little localized--how many people in Connecticut will get the joke?--this one's an all-Fish classic.
Some of the other highlights contained in this slim but powerful jewel box are "Baby, Let's Be Methodists Tonight," "She Is the Mammal" (a love song), and "Die Like a Dog." Mojo and Tucson pal Al Perry lend able instrumental assistance, but it's Fish's deranged vision that makes this a cracked classic.--Robert Baird
(Sound Designs of Arizona)
Guitarist Stephen Paul, or Esteban, as he claims he was nicknamed by Andres Segovia, mixes new-age leanings with classical-guitar music. The latter influence wins every time and becomes the measure of what is either dull or outstanding on Duende.
Both the title cut and a number called "River of Man" are feather-light portions of decaf flamenco music that leave the listener frustrated--Esteban's command of the guitar guarantees he could present the real thing if he wanted. Without the strong melodies and complexities of genuine Spanish classical music, both cuts become merely directionless chord thrashing.
Esteban rectifies the problem when he includes Bach's Preludio in D and Lauro's Valse Criollo. The pieces not only supply what's been missing melodically, but also prove what a great guitarist Esteban can be when wrestling with heavyweight material.
Esteban's sandwiching of classical selections between his own writing invites harsh comparisons. But the contrast also shows how Esteban's knowledge of great music sometimes assists him in turning out potent new-age sounds like his composition "Mesopotamia." Here the guitarist interweaves his flamenco flash with a distinct melody and fitting instrumental support from labelmates Mirage. Serious music fans will appreciate how the song's greater intricacies resemble standard classical-guitar writing.
With its mix of gems and clinkers, Duende makes for an interesting lesson on new-age music's major weakness. On one disc, the listener can hear Esteban showcase the appreciable difference between songs with direction and rambling mood music.--Dave McElfresh
Jim DeBlois is to world-beat what UB40 is to reggae: a tame, speciously ethnic alternative to the real thing.
The world-beat lite offered up by DeBlois--an inarguably talented singer and guitarist--isn't unlistenable. The Jamaican riddims on "Jimbawe" and "Meanwhile in St. George" may be ersatz, but they're still reasonably alluring. You can imagine these tunes being played at a yuppie's Caribbean-theme barbeque. Something to listen to while nibbling on jerked shrimp.