Home Grown

Spring's sprung, so it's time for our critics to reap and sow the good and not-so-good of local recordings

All music is local to somewhere. Here at New Times Music Central, we've always believed, and tried to express, that music should be judged by its merits, not its geographic point of origin. The recordings reviewed below are examined using the same criteria we'd use for any other release, be it from Sony or somebody's garage. (We do not overly emphasize recording quality during our considerations.) This new format, which we plan to revisit in subsequent editions, allows us to broaden our spotlight on the area's sonic output. Some of these releases are available in local record stores, others are not. Demos (short for "demonstration tapes") are reviewed to provide you an opinion about the bands, which, for the most part, can be enjoyed live at Miami clubs.

Musicians are encouraged to send us their work. Readers are encouraged to sample area music.

THE CHILDREN'S HOUR
The Children's Hour
(cassette demo)

You don't expect to hear a lot of groundbreaking, compelling rock from a band named the Children's Hour, and this demo does not dispel that initial impression. It does, however, have its moments, and hints at the potential for something more substantial.

If inoffensiveness were a crime, Children's Hour would be doing time. They construct introspective songs with upbeat messages that neither antagonize nor excite. Vocalist/guitarist Bill Cruz has a buoyant voice. But his lyrics, while well-meaning and seemingly sincere, are lightweight and occasionally trite, which can be a fatal flaw when the music is as melodic and unobtrusive as it is here. On the plus side, Rick Clark's production is crisp, and Cruz is a wellspring of pleasant, acoustic melodies. If these Children integrate their rhythm section - bass, drums, and percussion - into more of their songs and worry a little less about sounding pretty, they could be a potent band when they grow up.

-- Todd Anthony

KILMO AND THE KILLERS
Fresh from Florida
(independent release)

The large problem with this cassette is the empty space between the songs. It should be much longer. That would give listeners a chance to catch their breath. Like good sex, the Killer sound is exhausting and well worth it.

Driven by Reggie Smith's bang-ya-till-ya-can't-walk drumming and a spirit generally known as "energy," the Killers come closer in overall sound to the Paladins than to, say, Willie Dixon (whom they cover with "Ain't Superstitious"). Being compared to the Paladins is one of the highest compliments this writer can pay.

In tunes such as "(You'll Always Be) The Way You Are," the Dixon remake, and "Gypsy Curse," keyboardist Jim Petullo does everything possible (without being obtrusive) to steal the whole show, but his cohorts - Carl "Kilmo" Pacillo on bass, Midnight Johnny Morana on guitar, along with Smith - maintain, and the whole thing works perfectly. The music itself, most of it penned by Pacillo, is stomp-the-carpet-till-the-dust-flies stuff. Jumping tempo changes in "My Name Used to Be Mud (But Now It's Just Dirt)" and the slow-bluz ooze of "Seen So Many Movies" (a Groove Thangs cover; Pacillo was a member of that outfit at one time) break things up nicely. The latter track also displays a bridge you could cross the Pacific on and deft vocals from Chris D. Long. Listening to it is as good as a trip to Chicago or Texas or the Delta.

Guest James Kidwell's MIDI guitar on "Wishful Thinkin'" should impress major labels, and fits the tune's overt hookiness, but a less polished approach may have been more effective (even the blistering guitar solo sounds a bit constrained, for these guys anyway). The real-deal, can-you-take-it material is stronger, but then again, if the boys think they need a hit, it's "Wishful Thinkin'."

-- Greg Baker

NAKED RHYTHM
Your God Is Dead (demo cassette)

Lest anyone think from the title that the Nakeds are diggin' on the Devil, the "God" they refer to is money, power, greed, and other golden calves. Musically, these guys grow on you faster than mold on leftover fridge relics. The first time I saw them, they elicited an "eh;" the second time I was doing that idiotic "nod your head in rhythm" bit; the third time (hey, what was I doing back a third time?), I was singing along to the fast and swirly "World of Emotion."

They've got a really good duality thang happening with highly melodic harmonies that keep their crunchy riffs from sinking into your standard metal mutha mayhem. On that note, sorry to hear about the departure of rhythm guitarist Kevin James, whose backing vocals contributed to balancing out the Hyde side of the group's streamlined, rapid-fire riffing and fibrillating tempo. But really, you've gotta love a band whose first lyrics to "Gloomy Tuesday" are "Ding dong/The witch is dead!"

-- Suzan Colon

SISTER RED
Sister Red
(Vision Records)

Remember those huge chocolate Easter bunnies you got when you were a kid? All wrapped in that bright, technicolor tin foil, the sheer size of 'em made you think you'd be in chocolate heaven for the rest of your life. Remember the big fat bummer when you bit into it and found, to your kiddie horror, that the sugary rodent was hollow?

Here we have Sister Red, a band so cleverly packaged one would think they had David Geffen's millions behind them. An extremely attractive three-piece with a strong image, a ten-song cassette of superior quality (with sampling, no less) in a five-page foldout J-card, a recent full-page ad in Billboard.... We're talkin' major bucks here, and a lot of brains, too.

However it's music that usually gets bands signed, and here is the flaw in the Sister Red machine. Aimee's thin, breathy vocals rarely explore the range of emotions the rather uncomplicated lyrics would like to imply. Songwriter/guitarist Anthony Winters got off to a few good starts, but the songs lack a necessary catchiness, and are sometimes easily traceable to their inspirations; both the chorus and subject matter of "I Miss You" are nearly identical to "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."

To its credit, the Sister Red organization is wise in the ways of business and marketing, but the outfit would do well to slip passion for a contract back into the music, where it's needed. A slick product, but one should always put something in the box before the ribbon is tied.

-- Suzan Colon

DJ LAZ
DJ Laz
(Pandisc Music)

DJ Laz presents a juicy target. The popular Power 96 DJ and his partner in crime, Danny D, stocked Laz's eponymous Pandisc release with all the lyrical rap-music elements that critics love to lambaste - sexist braggadocio ("Hump All Night," "Back in the Days"), misogyny ("Fatal Attraction"), and violence ("Lookin' for the Payoff"). Round up the usual suspects.

Laz is not as profane as Luke, nor as incendiary as Chuck D, but it's safe to assume that this album will curry little favor with the National Organization for Women or the Police Benevolent Association.

Of course, the only people who really care about rap lyrics are anal-retentive, self-appointed guardians of morality (you know who you are) and music critics who still haven't forgiven Dylan for going electric. This is DJ Laz, after all, not Tracy Chapman. He's aiming for the feet, not the cranium, and he's a damn good shot. The opening cut, "Mami el Negro," positively percolates. Combining expert production, pumping bass, and samples from the Wilfrido Vargas merengue standard of the same name, "Mami" kicks. The cassette also features an amusing pseudo-reggae tune called "Rub Your Belly," and is sprinkled with excerpts from the classic Alvarez Guedes comedy routine offering Spanish lessons for Anglos (Lesson One: ­Come mierda! Lesson Two: No!). That's an example of another important facet of DJ Laz's music: humor. An overriding sense of fun pervades "Mami el Negro," and that has helped push the video into heavy rotation on Video Jukebox and MTV International, and the album onto the Billboard "Black LP" chart.

Yes, it panders to the adolescent Latin males who make up a large percentage of DJ Laz's audience. No, it's not likely to convert Joni Mitchell fans into Power 96 listeners. But it's more infectious than offensive, and boasts some catchy keyboard work from Little Danny B. Sometimes even pompous music critics know a party when they hear it.

-- Todd Anthony

LOOK AROUND
Look Around
(cassette demo)

When they finally run out of reggae bands to play the clubs along Ocean Drive on lazy Sunday afternoons, someone ought to give Look Around a call. Their music is the perfect breezy, mellow, World Beat-meets-New Age tonic with which to kick back and watch the sidewalk Rollerblade ballet.

All the ensemble's members have University of Miami music-school training, but don't hold that against them. Accomplished musicians with geographic and ethnic backgrounds as diverse as the metropolis they call home, Look Around combine Afro-pop, Brazilian jazz, Latin rhythms, and traditional rock styles in an effort to carve out a fresh niche in the original-music scene. The resulting songs are pleasantly polymorphic, easy-listening material that won't fill you up or make you think too hard, sort of like Sade without the smolder.

The downside is that the Lookers might be too disciplined for their own good, to the point of muting some of their quirkier instincts, leaving their recorded material sounding tame. There is little indication here of what these indisputably talented players might come up with if they got adventurous.

-- Todd Anthony

NO ONE'S SON
Dear John,
(demo cassette)

I'm leaving you for another man. I know it's hard to face, but we've just grown apart. I hope you'll understand someday. By the way, I'm taking the car, the dog, and the three-song demo from No One's Son. I figured you wouldn't want it anyway - you were always saying how they weren't breaking any new ground by playing the kind of power-chord driven MTV rock so popular in the late Eighties. And what was it you said about the "Unidentified Flying Sandwich" instrumental? That it was a dual guitar circle jerk?

But I like the melodic, hook-heavy guitar on "Where Will It End." Sure, "Do It for the Money" is your typical Warrant/Poisonesque sleaze grind, but dammit, John, sometimes I don't want to think. I wanna rock.

You and I never did see eye-to-eye on anything. I'm sorry, but this is for the best.

-- Suzan Colon

BIG TALL WISH
Big Tall Wish
(cassette demo)

My big tall wish is that this act would come up with a better name, something more along the lines of their previous moniker, Poetic Injustice.

The new band's focus is similar to the old one's: a big rock sound built around moody, thoughtful lyrics and Kathy Fleischman's powerhouse vocals. Fleischman, one of three former P.I. members, is difficult to pigeonhole. One minute she's barreling through a straight-ahead rocker like "Black Rain," the next she's crooning an ethereal melody like the chorus from the atmospheric "Saturday in Devonshire."

While the tape is promising, there is something oddly lethargic about the band's overall sound. Maybe Fleischman should leaven her lyrics with a bit of humor or old-fashioned sex appeal; maybe her voice pushes the upper registers so frequently that it gets shrill after a while; maybe the songs just need more inspiration. Whatever the reason, it's going to take a little polish to make this Big Tall Wish come true.

Todd Anthony

BLACK JANET
In Many Colors
(independent release)

I've been wailing this baby on-and-off for a few weeks, and I continue to be amazed by how different it sounds - from track to track, as a whole, and from itself. Somehow my cognitive facilities are not adapted to adjusting for the variety; "Mirage" could not possibly be a song by the same band that plays "Masters of Deception." Sometimes Janet sounds like one of those cool, no-wave, underground-but-slick rock bands, sometimes they sound like old-school guitar rockers, other times they sound like something else altogether. I guess I'll get over it.

Common and shared ingredients are a pervasive sense of drama - be it dark tragedy or dark comedy - often set in a gloomy motif (check the smoke-fogged deep blues of "Beware") and the devastating vocal interplay between Jim Wurster and Marsha Lewis throughout. Beyond that are plenty of hooking riffs and touches (e.g., the meaty guitar solos, also from "Beware") and an overall sound so textured you'll never unravel it all. As potent as anything out on the majors right now, and give the Black ones extra points for the groovy cover of the Vesper Sparrow nugget "Don't Give Your Love Away."

-- Greg Baker

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