End of The Line

Yes, still more local efforts cross our ears and end up with ink all over them. Thanks for your feedback. Thanks for the music. Thanks for a great year. See ya in '93.

(independent cassette)

One of the biggest cliches in the rock criticism biz is the ol' "band that defies categorization." But XSF is exactly that.

They come with a metal cachet -- long hair, angry vocals, fast and oft-distorted guitars, throb-'til-it-hurts bass -- but they are at once too melodic and too unconventional (on tape, at least) to appeal exclusively to hard-core fans. The lyrics do not aim just for the crotch or celebrate Satan worship, and there are allusions to a certain smokable weed that is not necessarily the drug of choice for headbangers and stage divers.

Unfortunately, trap avoidance, hemp advocacy, and a glimmer of lyrical intelligence are about the extent of XSF's appeal at this stage of the game. The songs all strive to rise above the metal/thrash/hard-core din, and generally avoid sounding like the same old twisted, misogynistic, gothic suicide cult-o-rama crap. But XSF is just not very musically diverting. Not one of their songs is flat-out painful to listen to, but neither do any make much of a lasting impression. Avoiding an overworked genre's traps is one thing, strong songwriting is another story entirely. It is the latter quality that is conspicuously absent from Doodles.

Ho Chi Minh
(independent cassette)

I must be taking the wrong drugs. Or, as the doormouse said, this ain't my cup o' tea.

Be sure that I'm glad the Ho's are back from wherever they were. Be aware that this was tracked at Synch, spawning ground of so much fine music. Be more open-minded than most critics. But also be forewarned that this isn't easy listening, and by that I definitely don't mean it's hard rock.

There's nothing specifically "wrong" with this four-song effort -- the playing's skillful, the songwriting earnest, the passion present. But there are few occasions where the trio employs a standard time, typical hook, hummable melody, or solid backbeat. It's all texture, thick and webby, like a big bowl of goo you can sort of fall into. "Wishbone" is the only song that sounds like an actual song, and not a bad one, either, with a juicy hook and pleasant groove. The tape as a whole is probably brilliant, risk-taking, frontier-seeking new music. If you're taking the right drugs.

Mr. Red, White, Blue
(Granat Records CD and cassette)

There's that candy-apple red Strat hanging on the wall, standing out against all the other guitars. You pull it down, frantically dig through your pockets for a pick, and plug into the nearest amp. You flip the pick-up switch, set the tone-bass-volume, and you strum that first chord. Ah! You expected the sound to be great, and it was.

When you check out a local band and see a nice package -- the "right" equipment and image -- you can't assume the sound's going to match the look. In fact, most of the time they sound like an Epiphone, the low-end copy of a Fender.

Farrcry have dropped the glam sham, set their tone, and turned up the power with their new release, Mr. Red, White, Blue. Produced by University of Miami grad Paul Trust (no stranger to mixing high-quality local sounds), Farrcry are also the sole artists on Granat Records. And while the result is commercial pop with an emphasis on soft-ballad frameworks, the title track is the real hook, a song that captures the spirit of local rock. It begins with a vintage, classic-rock guitar sound much like the one associated with Nirvana, before breaking into a hard-hitting wave crested by the clean-to-crunchy ax work of Craig Martin. The bonus that makes it so catchy is the addition of rapped lyrics. Not a typical sound, more like the deep voice on Steve Vai's "Little Green Men" from Flexible. Perfect for WSHE-FM's local-show Top 10.

"Walking the Dog" is the band's cover version, not of Aerosmith -- the tune originated with blues singer Rufus Thomas. They do it justice, courtesy of great vocals and groovy guitars. Nonetheless, the rhythm section of Randy LaPierre (bass) and Eli Facuseh (drums) is the backbone of this quintet, and they really shine on "Dog."

For his part Martin comes up with guitar riffs that don't overpower the other instruments so much as they fill gaps. That approach is indicative of Farrcry's knack for teamwork, making this a group effort in the truest sense. The drawback: You really would like to know what Martin might have in his bag of tricks. Staying within the confines of the songs muzzles him. Maybe that's a hold-some-back ploy to get you out to their live shows.

The band has opened for Firehouse, Babylon A.D., and Saigon Kick, and here they fit in with those headliners' sounds. "Mirror, Mirror" and "I'll Be the One" are the sort of slow rock you might expect to find on the flip side of Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." The commerciality doesn't seem to bother the members of Farrcry -- singer Mark Christian says, "We write what we feel, we take from our world around us, our influences, and lives. If people don't like our style of music, don't listen."

Hey -- we never said popular always equals bad. "Loving You" has plenty of radio-pop appeal, but it also has a smattering of piano work by keyboardist Ira Saltzman, a Berklee grad. Perhaps because of his jazz and classical training, his contribution is reserved, with no cluttering. And in "Walking Out the Door," Christian gives his best, and Martin is, again, right on the mark with a strong rhythm and riffs that surpass the timid sound common to many local bands.

The album closer, "Caught in the Middle" is, yes, another contender for airplay, thanks to some stellar vocal work. And these guys know how to make the most of a chorus line, making sure not only that you can't miss it, but that you'll be singing along by the end. After working together two years with the current lineup, and aggressively playing live around South Florida, this is Farrcry's step out. They join a crowd -- the marketplace is becoming glutted with locally made full-length CDs of original rock. Maybe 1993 will be the Year of the Local Band.

"She's a Model"/"Blue Roses"
(independent vinyl single)

The most versatile, innovative, and technically proficient musicians in the world play jazz. Classical can be too constricting, and generic pop offers few challenges. But because pop, rock, and dance music are where the money is, both literally and figuratively, the annals of modern music are littered with the stories of failed jazz and classical musicians who successfully crossed over into rock. Few have done the converse (Santana? Sting?). When really great musicians do play rock, they often cannot avoid the pitfall of making songs that sound like exercises in theory -- musical muscle-flexing for its own sake.

The members of F.O.C. are accomplished musicians who can play jazz, classical, or just about any other style they please. They've chosen to rock, with the result being that their music is some of the most challenging, sophisticated, and chaotic being made -- anywhere. Perhaps because of their youth, it doesn't sound like a bunch of hired guns showing off their academic expertise. Not the easiest band on the listener, F.O.C. is nothing if not restless. Rap, reggae, R&B, Memphis soul, Motor City funk, alternative grooves -- F.O.C. can cover them all, and often within the same song. It's easy to be overwhelmed, to feel a little confused or put-off by the maelstrom. Like Fishbone or the Chili Peppers, F.O.C. rarely pauses to let the audience catch up.

Popularity-wise, it might be in F.O.C.'s best interest to pull back a little, come home more often. Find a groove and stick to it for more than two or three bars, maybe consciously adhere to a 2/4 or a 4/4 beat and a I-IV-V progression for an entire song, just to give listeners a frame of reference, and to give F.O.C. an "Under the Bridge"-style single. On the other hand, it would be a damn shame for the most innovative and potentially explosive band around to have to go slumming just to find an audience.

These guys are as good as it gets. Enjoy them. Support them. Someday you'll be able to say you were there when....

Robbie Gennet
(independent cassette)

One of the great mysteries of modern pop music: A couple of decades ago a pianist name Reginald Dwight and a lyricist named Bernie Taupin got together and created something different. Their songs didn't rock out in typical three-chord, 4/4 fashion, but they certainly did rock. The lead instrument wasn't guitar, but piano. And the resulting tunes sold like dry wall in Homestead. Using classical inventions, broad imagery, and topical fearlessness, Elton John created songs that stand to this day as solid, and sometimes groundbreaking, successes, especially if you look beyond all the hit singles. Plus he's still going strong. And therein lies the mystery: With a few notable exceptions, no one has followed the trail John blazed. Sure, Billy Joel and Bruce Hornsby and others have taken the keys route, but neither should be, nor is, thought of as a John successor, or worse, clone.

Robbie Gennet should be considered one or the other. The resemblance is staggering. His crisp and rich piano leads, his clear and lively voice, his descriptive and informed songwriting -- all make one think of Elton.

Gennet, who toured with Saigon Kick and has composed dozens of originals, began playing piano at age six, and the experience shows. The three songs on this tape -- "Niggle's Parish," "The Only One," and "Jones" -- are well done, great listening, masterfully arranged and recorded. Did I mention that he sounds like Elton John?

A new mystery waits to be solved: Is Robbie Gennet the true successor to Elton's mighty throne? Or is he just a clone?


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