Home Grown

All music is local to somewhere. Here at New Times Music Central, we've always believed, and tried to express, that music should be judged by its merits, not its geographic point of origin. The recordings reviewed below are examined using the same criteria we'd use for any other release, be it from Sony or somebody's garage. (We do not overly emphasize recording quality during our considerations.) This new format, which we plan to revisit in subsequent editions, allows us to broaden our spotlight on the area's sonic output. Some of these releases are available in local record stores, others are not. Demos (short for "demonstration tapes") are reviewed to provide you an opinion about the bands, which, for the most part, can be enjoyed live at Miami clubs.

Musicians are encouraged to send us their work. Readers are encouraged to sample area music.

The Children's Hour
(cassette demo)

You don't expect to hear a lot of groundbreaking, compelling rock from a band named the Children's Hour, and this demo does not dispel that initial impression. It does, however, have its moments, and hints at the potential for something more substantial.

If inoffensiveness were a crime, Children's Hour would be doing time. They construct introspective songs with upbeat messages that neither antagonize nor excite. Vocalist/guitarist Bill Cruz has a buoyant voice. But his lyrics, while well-meaning and seemingly sincere, are lightweight and occasionally trite, which can be a fatal flaw when the music is as melodic and unobtrusive as it is here. On the plus side, Rick Clark's production is crisp, and Cruz is a wellspring of pleasant, acoustic melodies. If these Children integrate their rhythm section - bass, drums, and percussion - into more of their songs and worry a little less about sounding pretty, they could be a potent band when they grow up.

-- Todd Anthony

Fresh from Florida
(independent release)

The large problem with this cassette is the empty space between the songs. It should be much longer. That would give listeners a chance to catch their breath. Like good sex, the Killer sound is exhausting and well worth it.

Driven by Reggie Smith's bang-ya-till-ya-can't-walk drumming and a spirit generally known as "energy," the Killers come closer in overall sound to the Paladins than to, say, Willie Dixon (whom they cover with "Ain't Superstitious"). Being compared to the Paladins is one of the highest compliments this writer can pay.

In tunes such as "(You'll Always Be) The Way You Are," the Dixon remake, and "Gypsy Curse," keyboardist Jim Petullo does everything possible (without being obtrusive) to steal the whole show, but his cohorts - Carl "Kilmo" Pacillo on bass, Midnight Johnny Morana on guitar, along with Smith - maintain, and the whole thing works perfectly. The music itself, most of it penned by Pacillo, is stomp-the-carpet-till-the-dust-flies stuff. Jumping tempo changes in "My Name Used to Be Mud (But Now It's Just Dirt)" and the slow-bluz ooze of "Seen So Many Movies" (a Groove Thangs cover; Pacillo was a member of that outfit at one time) break things up nicely. The latter track also displays a bridge you could cross the Pacific on and deft vocals from Chris D. Long. Listening to it is as good as a trip to Chicago or Texas or the Delta.

Guest James Kidwell's MIDI guitar on "Wishful Thinkin'" should impress major labels, and fits the tune's overt hookiness, but a less polished approach may have been more effective (even the blistering guitar solo sounds a bit constrained, for these guys anyway). The real-deal, can-you-take-it material is stronger, but then again, if the boys think they need a hit, it's "Wishful Thinkin'."

-- Greg Baker

Your God Is Dead
(demo cassette)

Lest anyone think from the title that the Nakeds are diggin' on the Devil, the "God" they refer to is money, power, greed, and other golden calves. Musically, these guys grow on you faster than mold on leftover fridge relics. The first time I saw them, they elicited an "eh;" the second time I was doing that idiotic "nod your head in rhythm" bit; the third time (hey, what was I doing back a third time?), I was singing along to the fast and swirly "World of Emotion."

They've got a really good duality thang happening with highly melodic harmonies that keep their crunchy riffs from sinking into your standard metal mutha mayhem. On that note, sorry to hear about the departure of rhythm guitarist Kevin James, whose backing vocals contributed to balancing out the Hyde side of the group's streamlined, rapid-fire riffing and fibrillating tempo. But really, you've gotta love a band whose first lyrics to "Gloomy Tuesday" are "Ding dong/The witch is dead!"

-- Suzan Colon

Sister Red
(Vision Records)

Remember those huge chocolate Easter bunnies you got when you were a kid? All wrapped in that bright, technicolor tin foil, the sheer size of 'em made you think you'd be in chocolate heaven for the rest of your life. Remember the big fat bummer when you bit into it and found, to your kiddie horror, that the sugary rodent was hollow?

Here we have Sister Red, a band so cleverly packaged one would think they had David Geffen's millions behind them. An extremely attractive three-piece with a strong image, a ten-song cassette of superior quality (with sampling, no less) in a five-page foldout J-card, a recent full-page ad in Billboard.... We're talkin' major bucks here, and a lot of brains, too.

However it's music that usually gets bands signed, and here is the flaw in the Sister Red machine. Aimee's thin, breathy vocals rarely explore the range of emotions the rather uncomplicated lyrics would like to imply. Songwriter/guitarist Anthony Winters got off to a few good starts, but the songs lack a necessary catchiness, and are sometimes easily traceable to their inspirations; both the chorus and subject matter of "I Miss You" are nearly identical to "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."

To its credit, the Sister Red organization is wise in the ways of business and marketing, but the outfit would do well to slip passion for a contract back into the music, where it's needed. A slick product, but one should always put something in the box before the ribbon is tied.

-- Suzan Colon

DJ Laz
(Pandisc Music)

DJ Laz presents a juicy target. The popular Power 96 DJ and his partner in crime Danny D stocked Laz's eponymous Pandisc release with all the lyrical rap-music elements that critics love to lambaste - sexist braggadocio ("Hump All Night," "Back in the Days"), misogyny ("Fatal Attraction"), and violence ("Lookin' for the Payoff"). Round up the usual suspects.

Laz is not as profane as Luke, nor as incendiary as Chuck D, but it's safe to assume that this album will curry little favor with the National Organization for Women or the Police Benevolent Association.

Of course, the only people who really care about rap lyrics are anal-retentive, self-appointed guardians of morality (you know who you are) and music critics who still haven't forgiven Dylan for going electric. This is DJ Laz, after all, not Tracy Chapman. He's aiming for the feet, not the cranium, and he's a damn good shot. The opening cut, "Mami el Negro," positively percolates. Combining expert production, pumping bass, and samples from the Wilfrido Vargas merengue standard of the same name, "Mami" kicks. The cassette also features an amusing pseudo-reggae tune called "Rub Your Belly," and is sprinkled with excerpts from the classic Alvarez Guedes comedy routine offering Spanish lessons for Anglos (Lesson One: ­Come mierda! Lesson Two: No!). That's an example of another important facet of DJ Laz's music: humor. An overriding sense of fun pervades "Mami el Negro," and that has helped push the video into heavy rotation on Video Jukebox and MTV International, and the album onto the Billboard "Black LP" chart.