Shooting for the Pop

Tommy Anthony refuses to take the easy way out

"We were kids, really," Anthony laughs. "Sneaking into clubs when we were fifteen or sixteen, not getting paid fairly but that was okay because the payment was really our musical education." After a fruitless decade fronting the Tomboys and the Basics -- "I think I single-handedly put the Maxell kids through college [making demo tapes that accomplished nothing]," the popster ruefully remembers -- Anthony hit the road with Britt and the Beat Poets for nine months before deciding to light out in another direction in late 1990.

"We're probably one of the lone true pop bands down here," the singer-songwriter contends. "I don't mind. It may work to our advantage in the long run."

But for the moment Goza is lonely at the pop. While they never pulled the capacity crowds that fellow bilingual local artist Nil Lara did, Goza drew respectable audiences to their performances at the recently deceased Stephen Talkhouse, which served as a sort of home base for the band. The fact that they were Talkhouse regulars aiming for crossover success with both Anglos and Latins elicited a few superficial comparisons to Lara's band, but to dismiss Tommy Anthony as a poor man's Nil would be like calling an apple a poor man's orange.

"Nil's a great story," Anthony nods. "He's earned every accolade. But now that the Talkhouse is gone the handful of places that offer live music on the Beach are blues, progressive, or alternative. There aren't a plethora of opportunities [in clubs] awaiting us." Thanks largely to the Y-100 exposure, Goza has kept busy supporting its recently released CD, Mondial, on local one-off label Celanova. The group has played in-store concerts at Burdines and Incredible Universe, sat still for an on-air interview and acoustic performance during morning drive time on Y-100, and performed at Calle Ocho in Little Havana and at the March of Dimes Walkathon in Fort Lauderdale. Anthony even sang the national anthem before the Miami Heat-Chicago Bulls basketball game on February 24 at the Miami Arena, and the Marlins have contacted him about reprising that rendition at Joe Robbie Stadium before one of their games. At this rate the Goza headliner may become Tommy Anthem-y.

Now in its third pressing, Mondial has sold more than 3500 copies since its January release. The album sails effortlessly on hook-laden cross-currents of airy melody and Latin spice. But while it floats like a butterfly, it doesn't sting like a bee. The lyrics owe more to Hall and Oates than to Dylan or Costello, and there's no mistaking Anthony's emotionally overwrought pleading for, say, Leonard Cohen's portentous nasal groan. You can understand Goza's appeal to a Top 40 station like Y-100, where fizzleless pop stars like Bolton, Whitney Houston, and Vanessa Williams regularly find airplay. Every Tommy Anthony and Goza song is painstakingly constructed and glossily produced. You cannot imagine any review of the disc that does not incorporate the word "slick."

While Anthony could heat things up by mixing more Latin picante into his salsa, Mondial's eleven songs effectively showcase Goza's accomplished musicianship and Anthony's fluid dexterity as a songwriter. The material is too studiously innocuous to bowl listeners over or to cut too deeply -- we're talking radio-ready soft pop, after all -- but Mondial immediately registers as the polished work of a gifted performer with unlimited commercial potential.

"I don't want to come across as some sorry-ass vanilla guy," Tommy Anthony emphasizes. "But I'd like to think that we might play a part in giving pop a little legitimacy down here. And I really believe it's only a matter of time till we get to the big show."

He may not sound like one when he sings, but Tommy Anthony still talks like a ballplayer. And the smart money is betting with him.

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