Is Anybody Out There?

Page 3 of 4

-- 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.

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Todd Anthony
Contact: Todd Anthony
Greg Baker