Homegrown for Christmas

Packages for the mid-decade wrapped in South Florida

Those who enjoy -- and by extension support -- music made in South Florida by musicians who live in South Florida must constantly deal with naysayers. Stevo, of the Strength of Unity rap-fusion outfit, has a lyric about it in which he imagines all his critics gathered, wearing white robes and hoods. The main complaint: Local music is overrated.

The oldest defense against such thinking: All music is local. Local to somewhere.

Compared to other cities, the argument goes, we're lucky to have Arlan Feiles, Diane Ward, the Goods, Sixo/Milk Can, Raw B Jae and the Liquid Funk, Harry Pussy, Nil Lara, and the rest. A nice little scene, they say, but the work of these and other top local artists doesn't stand up to the national test. It's not that good. And those who maintain that it is are all just a bunch of parochial cheerleaders.

Gloria Estefan is a local artist; Jon Secada, too. Neither of them is talented enough to carry Arlan Feiles's duffle bag. And in the big picture, why shouldn't the Goods be as worshiped as, say, Nirvana, or Stevo ordained as the New Jack? Is anyone willing to go on the record claiming that the Goods are not ten times the band Nirvana ever was or that Stevo and Unity can't bury Snoop Doggy Dog like a bone? We'll see.

And we're speaking musically of course; doubters need only play their Top 10 collection alongside the "local" releases reviewed below to know the truth. A blind test might be even more effective. Probably all the South Florida bands put together never will outsell Nirvana or Snoop or Gloria. That has nothing to do with quality or validation. It merely proves once again the masses are asses. Why fight it? If you've got a good thing, hold it tight and squeeze it and let the rest of the world spin as it sees fit.

Rooster Head
Traditional Cock
(independent CD)

Rooster Head redefines the concept of what a rock band is in the Nineties. Michael Kennedy and Bob Wlos have been at the group's core since its inception and throughout its career, which includes four full-length albums, plus single and EP releases. Other members come and go and come back and switch instruments and generally make it difficult to contemplate this thing called Rooster Head in any standard or traditional context. Those transient members are not hired guns -- they're always given room to shine and permitted a good deal of conceptual input. Occasionally a song not written and sung by Kennedy actually finds its way onto a release.

Even so there's no arguing that Rooster music is the vision of Kennedy (songwriter-singer-guitarist) filtered through L7 studio owner-producer-pedal steel guitarist Wlos.

Kennedy is clearly a student of the Left Bank school of literature (in a skit on a previous release, he invoked the name of Rimbaud in the midst of a psychological breakdown). This background leads him to "expose myself to unspeakable torment where you need the greatest faith," a tenet of the Left Bankers, who believed that self-abuse leads to transcendence. The inclusion of a cover of "Walk Away Renee" is doubly ironic -- not only is Renee the name of Kennedy's girlfriend, but the original version was performed by a baroque-rock band called the Left Banke.

Irony isn't the best reason to include a song; "Renee" is but one of three interruptions in the otherwise gripping flow of diverse and intriguing songs. Two spoken-word-over-sonic-clatter pieces, "Jesus Christ Revisited Pt. 1" and "Jesus Christ Revisited Pt. 3," also get in the way. Then again there's always that handy skip-forward button, and besides, not all of the tunes included on the disc are even listed on the sleeve. Rooster Head simply refuses to do anything the normal way.

There's a song here called "Barnyard Delights." Barnyard Delights was the title of the group's previous album. (You're not supposed to do that, Mr. Kennedy, now go to your room!) Anyway, the song "Barnyard Delights" is a showoff piece with fun lyrics ("I knocked her up/She knocked me down") running at high-speed with the instrumental tracks meticulously separated so the varied riffs and chops never clash or stumble over one another. Like hot spattering fat making cosmic patterns in the pan.

As with the group's earlier material, Kennedy's ability to skip from genre to genre makes for a gratifying listen. On the first track, "Disregard," Kennedy morphs into Robyn Hitchcock (as he sounded back when he mattered), and that voice can be found again in the verses of "Soul Avenue," the album's legitimate closer (followed by the "Jesus Christ" gibberish). But "Soul" ups the stakes by switching out of those verses into a carefully constructed progression of chorus hooks that makes for the perfect soundtrack to your next epiphany, coming in just under the wire of being overwrought. Female backing vocals (by Noreen Downey) mix with postsurgical lyrical tics ("One is blind/One can't see") scalpeled out precisely by Kennedy.

There's also "Tough Old Man," with mourn-inducing pedal-steel cries coda-fying each lyric line and guiding the stately outro. The song itself has Kennedy baring hard emotions in the form of a poignant monologue to the protagonist's father -- the short version: Tell your dad you understand now and you love him, and do it before it's too late.

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