Loco For Local

Crazy 'bout that South Florida scene? Take yourself away with these area mindbenders.

Unfortunately, this is where the arena rockers have a big edge. Andrews's songs, like the Boss's or the Cougar's, are fairly straightforward musical compositions, heavy on the three-chord progressions, but a trifle short on hooks. Springsteen's and Mellencamp's lyrics are a huge part of their success ("Small Town" excepted, of course), striking, as they do, a responsive chord in the gullets of their listeners. Andrews's lyrics, while not bad, are light years away from "The River," or even "Jack and Diane."

Of course, one can learn to write good lyrics. Lungs like Andrews's are essentially a gift. Combined with a mainstream rock sensibility, that gift could chauffeur him all the way to Lucky Town.

Up Snake Creek without A Paddle
(Snake Creek Records)

The credits of this tape include the names of three trumpet players and a saxophonist -- the horn section, as it were. It also states, "All songs written, arranged, performed, and produced by Lucian Williams." At least one reviewer was so overwhelmed, or absent-minded, that he complained about the incompleteness of these credits. Great stuff, the review stated, but who are all these guys? "Performed" is the clue word -- all these guys are Lucian "Lew Willie" Williams, even if you might think Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan, Manhattan Transfer, and a few decent orchestras must've sat in at the sessions.

Big-band swing jazz pop -- that's all one genre here, relaxed but hypermelodic mega-structures, each element interlocking perfectly with the others, not a stumble, bumble, or fumble to be found. The polish, in fact, wipes away any cloying the nostalgia might dust on, leaving a thoroughly modern sonance that'll nonetheless make you feel like it's the middle of an apple-blossom afternoon in 1949. That's entertainment, and surprisingly, despite the Copacabana flashback feel -- as if you were a character in a noir movie visiting a nightclub for a really big show -- Willie tosses in a few sociopolitical curveballs (e.g., some of the lyrics in "Yankee Ingenuity"). But you know that going in: There's a cover sticker that reads, "Warning: This music contains points of view and may cause discomfort to those lacking one." In my view, Up Snake Creek fits the proverbial "one-man tour de force" accolade. And the horn section's real good, too.

Natural Causes
(Demo cassette)
By Greg Baker

If the three songs on this tape are not a hoax, the very first thing you should do right now is get to a club to see this band live. The symptoms of their potential to rule the planet: depthful arrangements, soul splitting guitar leads, solid rhythm foundations, smart songwriting, vocals that travel to more places than George Bush's armed forces -- everything that makes rock and roll worth living for, none of it bogus or forced. Natural. What causes it? Dunno. The effect: Overwhelming. The day the major labels begin releasing rock of this substance and vigor is the day I start shopping at Spec's.

Cell 63
(Demo cassette)

Guitar-driven rock with an edge has found a worthy exponent in Cell 63, a guitar-bass-drums coalition of survivors of the local original rock wars that conjures up ghosts of the Clash and the Replacements.

Composed of former members of the Naughty Puritans and Jobbernowl, among others, Cell 63's experience shows. The band is tight, loud, and fast without yielding to the temptations of too much distortion (apologies to those who feel a band can never use too much distortion), muddy vocals hiding bad lyrics, or lead guitar work that confuses speed and volume with passion. Instead, the tenants of Cell 63 are an intense lot, vocalist Milton Peabody doing a better Paul Westerberg than Westerberg does these days.

Picasso Trigger Is Dead!
(unreleased album)

I caught a comment somewhere recently about how the notion of rock and roll achieving profundity was a major stretch, a ridiculous imbuing of an over-rated diversion with serious and undeserved weight. Unfortunately, plenty of rock musicians themselves readily accept this sucking into the vortex of the MTV generation; buy into it, or, worse really, invest in it. It's only rock and roll, and to suggest it could be something more is pretentious, naive, grossly misguided. Proselytizing poseurs are the only ones foolish enough to make rock and roll that might supposedly matter. Sure, soapbox singing can come off as superficial and overwrought. And this is where a distinction needs to be made.

Crafting tunes that say in certain terms that war kills, oppression sucks, politics smell funny is more often than not an annoying intrusion. Just look at U2. But the same holds true for any art form or media enterprise. Blatancy only works when it's wrapped in something more than a simple, straightforward stating of opinions. Great art doesn't tell anyone anything, it shows them how to tell themselves. And rock and roll can be great art.

In the case of Picasso Trigger, that lofty level is reached by painting widely varied, rhythmically intense, and smartly melded sonic colors onto listenable, enjoyable, even danceable canvasses while also inserting threads that at once tie together and further unravel the band's cosmic vision. (For that cosmic vision thing, you'll have to hear the music yourself.)

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