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.