Bring On Da Folk

Even Webb's old tunes have staying power that mark her as a fine songwriter. Written in the Eighties after a wild night in Texas's Gilley's Bar, "You Can't Kiss Me" humorously details a cocky cowboy coming on to a woman who is certainly not impressed. Also composed in the early Eighties when she was struggling for stardom in Los Angeles, "Flat in West L.A." could be the theme song for anyone who regrets taking a seemingly impossible risk. With Songweaver Webb has surpassed ordinary storytelling and mastered the art of mesmerizing. (Zebra Productions, P.O. Box 660131, Miami Springs, FL 33266)

On June 21, 1998, Father's Day, more than a dozen singers from Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties gathered at West Palm Beach's Kravis Center for a concert to raise money for the Connor Moran Children's Cancer Center. The resulting live album, Songwriters' Solstice: A Celebration of South Florida Songwriters, provides a smorgasbord of songs by folkies Jim Collier, Marie Nofsinger, Ron & Bari, James London, Legacy, Rod MacDonald, as well as some jazzy types such as Human Beings and rockers Box Elder.

Live albums are often tricky when it comes to production and this one is no different. Some songs sparkle, others sound as if they were recorded in a tunnel. Highlights include Jim Collier's moving love song "Step by Step," Rod MacDonald's rumination on the hurricane season, "Days of Rain," and Grant Livingston's sweet "Two of Hearts." One gets the impression that the tunes were retooled in a recording studio, until the audience's applause jolts at the songs' ends. Ron & Bari's compelling tale of one man versus a crackhouse ("The Lion's Den") seems too tame, and Amy Carol Webb's always-powerful vocals are faraway, almost muffled, on "With You Without You." Marianne Flemming's funky "Skating Figure 8's" also sounds distant. Uneven sound quality aside, Songwriters' Solstice still boasts the varied talents of some of South Florida's most appealing local musicians. (Solstice Records & Productions, Box 2152, Delray Beach, FL 33447)

Winner of the awards for best overall and best upbeat song, Clemson, South Carolina's Carla Ulbrich offers an eponymous four-song cassette that modestly showcases her skillful strumming, nimble fingerpicking, girlish voice, and sardonic songs of love gone awry. "Love Connection" presents a woman who watches and revels in the misery of a conceited cad she once dated as he is humiliated on the nationally syndicated show. "What If Your Girlfriend Was Gone," the bouncy tune that garnered Ulbrich the best upbeat song prize, suggests a twisted folk take on Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know." The female narrator muses about how her former flame would react if "something should happen accidentally or medically" to his current girlfriend: "But if I were around and I could appease ya/And she was suddenly struck with amnesia/And never again would be able to please ya/ Would you still wanna be her man?"

Nestled among the vitriol: A dexterous fingerpicking rendition of the classic "Zippity-do-dah" and "It Reminds Me of You," a melancholy ballad that recalls a painful personal attachment while it details struggles with addictions to everything from television to overeating. (Carla Ulbrich, 106 Highland Dr, Clemson, SC 29631)

Detroit, Michigan's eclectic Jo Serrapere wowed the festival crowd with her tragic folk tune "Dream, My Girl," which scored her the award for best ballad. The slow-paced "Dream" tells the poignant story of a young wife who, unable to give her husband a male heir, watches him grow increasingly violent. After enduring years of beatings, the wife finally stands up to him and meets a tragic end.

That song and ten others (nine written by Serrapere) appear on the diverse collection, My Blue Heaven. (Covers of John Henry's "Good Ol' Wagon" and a traditional arrangement of "C.C. Rider" are also included.) She plays guitar and harmonica and is backed by a crew of stellar musicians (a few of them, known as her "hot tail section" perform with her on a regular basis) who provide touches of Dobro, slide guitar, bass, clarinet, trumpet, cello, and mandolin. Part Peggy Lee, part PJ Harvey, part Natalie Merchant, Serrapere growls, purrs, quivers, and bellows through melodies ranging from torch to blues to swing to traditional folk.

Other standouts include the coquettish swingy tune "You're Changing Like the Season," the tale of a fickle lover, leavened by a coy lyric ("Last night you said you loved me/had you droppin' on your knees/Now the only thing that's droppin'/is your lovin' by degrees") and Andrew Bishop's peppy clarinet. Serrapere's forlorn harmonica and John Devine's sexy electric slide guitar shine on the laid-back "Throw Rug Blues," whose take-no-guff voice declares "My life is like a Persian rug/I'm thrown so casually/But you gotta take your shoes off/to walk all over me." Serrapere's lone guitar and Aria DiSalvio's cello subtly and beautifully inhabit the meandering "Ghost." Serrapere cites singer Tom Waits, writer Garrison Keillor, cartoonist Lynda Barry, and silent-film star Clara Bow as influences. An adept storyteller and performer, Serrapere clearly honors her idols. (One Man Clapping Productions, 2032 N Racine, Chicago,

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