Is Anybody Out There?

Oh, yeah, they're out there. Is anybody listening? Oh, yeah!
Here we go again. The recording artists calling Miami home are steppin' to it, and we're kickin' what they're droppin'. Please join us.

Mary Karlzen
(Y&T Music)

"Hey, don't I know you? You look familiar...."
It takes less than a second for the opening strains of "I'd Be Lying" A a gossamer twelve-string intro punched up by the hired guns (Jorge Barcala on lead guitar, Jose Tillan on bass, Derek Murphy on traps, and Mark Scandariato on guitar and backing vocals) A to establish the cut as the obvious monster single from Mary Karlzen's latest release. Contagious as the flu, "I'd Be Lying" is the Big Song whose potential was hinted at on Karlzen's eponymous debut CD, but never quite realized until now. It's one of those simple-but-vital rockers that quickly penetrates the cranium and posits itself deep within the recesses of the cerebral cortex, the result being that one day you walk out to your Honda, mindlessly crank up whatever cassette is already in the player, and suddenly realize that you've been listening to Karlzen's tape for a month. And it still sounds fresh.

Part of the EP's success can be attributed to Karlzen's willingness to keep the wounded-little-girl persona in check. With the possible exception of the closing tune, "Hide" ("Maybe I oughta find me someone to hold me up/When I can't go on, when things get too rough"), which registers high on the "I'm Mary, don't hurt me" meter, Karlzen has gotten downright spunky. Perhaps raising her performance level a notch to match that of her crack sidemen, Mary's voice has never sounded stronger or more in control. It's a shift in tone that suits her well.

The font of Karlzen's inspiration is still close to home A most of her lyrics center on past relationships and nostalgic reminiscences. But they also reveal a survivor's toughness and resilience, qualities one might not have automatically associated with her previous output. Daddy's little girl is all growed up; you can even see it in the cut of Mary's jaw and the unflinching way her eyes stare straight into the camera on the album's cover. The first D brandished a sepia-toned shot of the flaxen-haired songstress turning away from the lens, brow slightly furrowed, as if to suggest imminent tears. Hide features Karlzen in harsh lighting standing beneath a weather-beaten sign that warns, "KEEP OUT."

The new attitude is everywhere. "I'd Be Lying," "I See You Again," and "St. James Hotel" all flex major musical muscle. That last tune, with its tale of cardsharps and gunslinging ghosts, would be a natural for video. It runs a close second to "I'd Be Lying" in the infectiousness sweepstakes.

The half-finished, 99-second closing tune in whose honor the album is titled is an enigma that, depending on your orientation, is either the diamond of the EP or its lump of coal. It's all Karlzen, plaintive and vulnerable and unadorned, with no help from her vaunted sidemen. For a lot of folks, especially her executive producer, Y&T Music mogul Richard Ulloa, this is the essential Karlzen. With all due respect, and after dozens, maybe scores, of listenings, this heretic begs to differ. I like the new, bolder, uptempo Mary better, the one who isn't afraid to deliver a good, swift kick if the situation calls for it.

-- Todd Anthony

Clay D.
We're Goin' Off

Gimme a girl with a big ol' butt. Uh-huh. Sir Mix-a-Lot might be turning it into platinum and Grammy trophies, but Clay D.'s been doing it longer and better, deeper and creeper. Gimme a bottle and a motherfuckin' cup, me and my boys gonna get fucked up. This time out the Beatmaster has a new crew gettin' funky (way funky), and yes, he shouts out to his depart-ners Prince Rahim and Magic Mike ("we're still down like three flat tires") while also slipping 'em a dis. Don't know if there's any love lost between the three powerhouses, but there's nothing lost in Clay Dixon's music.

This guy's mixed, matched, written, created, mastered, and dropped enough solid hip hop to keep half the population trippin' (and the other half calling the cops). A bitch ain't nothin' but a bitch, and a great record ain't nothin' but a great record. This is a great record. Mix-a-Lot might be the biggest rap rat in the world, but he can't touch this with a ten-foot butt.

-- Greg Baker

Freedom Cage
Vol. II
(independent cassette)

What happened, you might ask, to the first volume? Gone with the wind. Literally. The completed master tape for Vol. I A stored at a band member's house near the Falls in South Dade A was disappeared by a sonuvabitch called Andrew. The band is reconstructing it, so Vol. I will be released sometime after Vol. II, which just came out. Fortunately, Freedom Cage's music isn't nearly so confusing.

Being twice as old and ten times as depressed as the band's members (and by extension their target audience), I have some problems with the Cage's music. Singer Jamie Burritt, I must note, is not my "Fantazy." That doesn't mean he isn't yours, and it takes nothing away from the opening cut, the most radio-ready smash hit by any group A local or not A I've heard in some time. In fact, the vast majority of the music here blows away anything Rush ever did. And Rush did plenty. Especially saleswise.

Burritt has that big "arena rock" vocal thing down pat (check the gorgeous highs in "Lonely Survivor" and "On My Way"), and guitarists Gonzo Gutsens and Eric Babl can wail and screech and roil and boil as well as any ax-heavy metal band in the land. The rhythm section (Mark McGreevy on bass and Kevin Alfinez on drums) is more than sturdy, often pushing the leads into the red zone. Lots of keyboards, harmonies, and brilliant production help make this a clear candidate for platinum status. Oh, okay, big-time distribution, airplay, and a video might also be needed, but the fact remains that sonically this is as glossy and polished and accessible as anything Rush ever did. If you like the sort of rock WSHE plays, obtain this forthwith. An incredible beginning, whether it's their first album or not.

-- Greg Baker

The Livid Kittens
Fuzz A Drenched and Dripping
(independent cassette)

Is this what Iggy Pop meant by "pussy power?"
Edgar Allan Poe would have loved the Livid Kittens. From the ethereal disquiet of "A Flower, a Scent, a Shadow, a Box" to the crashing guitar-driven romp of "Bliss," every song the Livid Kittens sing is unnerving. Their slower tunes border on hypnotic and their uptempo (if you can call it that) offerings are laced with portent.

Vocalist Paige is so spectral you almost expect mist to emanate from the tape deck. At times she flirts with a Chrissie Hynde-like bite to her delivery, but mostly she just floats along on the disquieting mix, hauntingly. From the cover art (a fluorescent orange and black rendering of one angry pussy emerging from another) to the gothic guitars of "Fangs," these grimalkins with attitude are not a band for listeners who are afraid of the dark.

-- Todd Anthony

Phil T. Rich
File Under Carnal Knowledge
(demo cassette)

Phil T. Mouth might be a more appropriate moniker for this tressless troubadour with a penchant for really raunchy rhyme. If Rich was a black rapper from South-Central, he'd be topping Donald Wildmon's hit list and shipping beaucoups units right now.

From the sensitively psychoanalytical ("Do You Think Your Pussy's Ugly?") to the delicately plaintive ("Give Me Head"), Rich is there to distill complex and elusive emotional stirrings into crystalline simplicity.

But seriously, folks, under that coarse, shock-'em-first-ask-questions-later exterior beats the heart of a talented songwriter. Occasionally derivative (Phil, about the titular F.U.C.K. A surely you're aware of the Van Halen album with the same gimmick?) and frequently sophomoric, Rich still comes up with enough funny lines to compensate. Check out this angst-ridden stanza from the tender-hearted, compassionate, "Fuck You:"

"To those who kiss and hold me tight/And whisper, 'I want you tonight'/Then say, 'I can't, you know it's just not right'/Fuck you!/Fuck you!/Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, too."

It ain't the Bard, but it ain't my achy, breaky, insipid heart, either. Phil, take a tip from Luke, Ice-T, et cetera A work on your tan, go into the studio with a rap producer, and send a tape off to the PMRC or whatever repressed, bed-wetting outfit has taken their place. A little well-placed notoriety and you could become filthy rich indeed. After all, you're already Phil T.

-- Todd Anthony

The Rayne
Live and Learn
(Stormy Weather Records)

Too bad there's no way to package a thunderstorm with this album. Distaff dual harmonizing, dueling guitars (plus patches of bass and steel as well as tabla and sitar and tambourine...), and an overall ethos that must be compared to a gentle spring sun shower add up to perfect dark-cloud, snuggle-snuggle listening.

In fact most of the music created by Susan Crago and Monica Pavlik (with big help from guest Stephan Mikes) is gentle, easy on the ears and the mind, like a sophisticated Indigo Girls with talent. Very nice. But two of the ten tracks strike like lightning, if not disrupting the mood then at least stirring the heart. "One in Ten" is as trenchant as Suzanne Vega's best, a penetrating character study of depth and vision. And "Emmett Till" A a recounting of the story of a young black man murdered for whistling at a white woman A rips and grips like few folk songs from any quarter of late.

-- Greg Baker

George Felton
I'm Bettin' On You
(independent cassette single)

"I'm Bettin' On You," the single, is the tune that won the Great South Florida Sound Search, Country Music Division, sponsored by that other local newspaper. George Felton, who wrote the song, ruefully notes that the distinction and four bits will buy him a can of soda. However, rather than brooding about it, Felton has decided to take action: he's sending the slickly produced cassette (coupled with "Being Poor, Ain't That New to Me") to more than 250 country radio stations.

With his congenial, slightly nasal tenor, Felton resembles Willie Nelson without the edge. Lyrically he's slick, a tad too facile, but radio-ready nonetheless. "I'm Bettin' On You" is the better and more traditional of the two tunes, while "Being Poor" cuts a little too close to Charlie Daniels's "Uneasy Rider." But it's that distinctive yet quintessentially country voice that's going to make it or break it for him.

The odds might be long, but you could do a lot worse than bettin' on George.
-- Todd Anthony

The Master of None
Plan Z
(independent cassette)

Rich Lyles's songs are a nightmare for a lead guitarist. Spiked with tempo changes, finger-picking interludes, and lots of diminished-ninth and minor-eleventh-augmented chords, it's the kind of stuff that would have had Stevie Ray storming off the stage in disgust.

Lyles, a.k.a. The Master of None, is a sensitive, articulate guy with a whimsical sense of humor (although it rarely finds an outlet in his songwriting) as well as an accomplished guitarist with a unique feel for the instrument. He also has an air of defiant sincerity about him, sort of like Jimmy Buffett's polar opposite. Lyles composes and performs complex songs that make absolutely no concessions to commercial appeal whatsoever. It's the type of material that demands a lot of a listener, earnest and subtle and devoid of cliche. Hooks A hard to define, but we know them when we hear them A are not a consideration. As a result, Lyles's music can sound, to the casual listener, opaque and impenetrable, like Jethro Tull unplugged and at their darkest.

On the other hand, to those with an ear for something off the beaten path, something that ignores traditional I-IV-V structures like they hadn't been discovered yet, a little time with the Master is recommended.

-- Todd Anthony

The Volunteers
The Volunteers
(independent cassette)

Tom Waits could gargle with Drano, Joe Strummer could munch gravel, and Bob Dylan could undergo a tracheotomy, and they'd still sound glossier and more polished than Henk Milne, frontman and songwriter for the Volunteers.

"I've always been in bands where they never gave you enough PA, so I had to shout to be heard," explains Milne. Then, changing his mind, he points to "gin and cigars, m'dear" as the culprits that created a voice that "sounds like I left me throat on some barroom floor." The important thing to remember, however, is that Milne's coarse, throaty excursions fit the songs he writes perfectly. He is to generic rock vocals as Guinness is to Coors Light.

The Volunteers effect a meld of guitar-driven rock with traditional Scottish and Irish music, vaguely reminiscent of the Pogues, but without that band's penchant for lapsing into, as Milne calls it, "a wild thrashing melange of acoustic noise." Which is not to say that the Volunteers aren't wild or thrashing, it's just that they're not punk or metal. Not surprisingly, the band is offered a lot of St. Patrick's Day gigs. After all, how many other rockers in town can play "Loch Lomond" or "Whiskey in the Jar"?

From their first bottle-rattling gig at Churchill's, it's been no secret that the Vols are a great party band. But one could have been forgiven for doubting their ability to re-create the atmosphere in a recording studio. No one who has seen them perform would mistake them for the most disciplined band in the world.

But Milne, bassist Roger Vaughan, drummer Cortland F. Joyce, violinist Patricia Donovan, harmonica monster Homer Wills, and guitarist Paul Feltman have turned a neat trick here. They've recorded a tape that, for the most part, does them justice. Maybe some of the danger is missing (put this crew and free-flowing alcohol in a club setting and you never know what will happen next, from a sermon on gun control to a fiery rendition of "Pat's Jig" complete with dancing colleens). But the spirit and the passion are there.

"Chains of Steel" opens the tape with a soothing acoustic intro that gradually builds momentum until it boils over into a ranting, insistent chorus. "Wild Western Sea" is a raveup that tells the tale of the Irish potato famine of 1845. But perhaps the most representative song on the tape is the band's rollicking, raucous, pub-crawling version of the traditional ballad, "A Man You Don't Meet Everyday." It's recorded confirmation that this is a band capable of raising the roof in the best Celtic tradition.

-- Todd Anthony


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