Klammie-nominated singer/songwriter Celia recently relocated to St. Louis and promptly earned a nod for a Slammie, making her quite possibly the first artist to become eligible for both awards in the same calendar year. Her loyal Lawrence-based fans might still be scrambling to fill the void left by the absence of her regular gigs at the Brown Bear Brewery, but her debut full-length Love O Rama, should ease their pain. Recorded at Z'gwon,th Studio, Love O Rama showcases Celia's confident vocals, her skilled acoustic playing and particularly her clever wordplay. On the opening "Flirting," she directs a series of coy queries at a "gymnast of joking" who's giving her his best lines, asking Are you just having fun?/Could I be anyone? Musically, the album's finest song, "Forgot February," offers a melancholy melody that emphasizes the regret at which its lyrics hint. When she sings It felt good to be reckless, the chilly guitar hook in the background suggests that consequences followed this carefree time. Celia wraps up the disc with a drastically rearranged version of The Beatles' "Help" -- one that, by toning down the tune's catchiness, enhances the urgency of its message.
Another expatriate, pianist Michael Strening, Jr., recently revisited Lawrence for the release of his instrumental album Stars. Appropriately, the disc includes a song called "Coming Home," but it's the delicate "Wedding Song" and its dense, crescendo-heavy reprise that provide the most festive fare. Metronomic foundations anchor Strening's compositions, but each periodically springs to life with fluttering melodies and dynamic switches from the faintest of sounds to bold flourishes.
Applying the same formula to a different genre is Brent Berry, a member of traditional ska mainstays Secondhands, whose solo record rocks steady but picks it up for the choruses. Like his near namesake Brent Barry, who ranks with Harold Miner as one of the most anonymous players ever to win an NBA slam-dunk title, Berry likes to jam. But whereas the flashy Seattle Supersonic guard's best playing days might be behind him, Berry's future seems bright, as he and his group look to add some fresh blood to a solid, but aging, local reggae scene.
By contrast, the local metal scene needs no help regenerating, with new groups arriving to play opening slots and at open-mic nights almost weekly. Veteran groups such as Lansing, Kansas' Soulless continue to show the young ones the way, leading by example with crisp, well-produced discs like its latest Regret. Merging grunge accessibility with chunky Pantera-style riffs, Soulless marries Tony Torres' tuneful vocals with clicking double-bass-aided drumbeats and thick, inventive breakdowns.
While the band name Soulless screams metal, Nairobi Trio is more ambiguous. It could be a jazz ensemble, or perhaps a smoking rockabilly outfit such as Kansas City's classic Hellcat Trio. But instead, on its debut EP Accusatory Anthems, this trio plays mid-paced rock with jangly guitar smothered by buoyant basslines. While more pop-inclined power trios prefer short songs, Nairobi's threesome prefers slow-building epics (several of which stretch beyond the five-minute mark) but never resorts to such length-padding devices as the spoken interlude or the guitar-solo-that-would-not-die.
Minds Under Cover also trims the fat off its tunes -- to place twenty-plus tracks on every album. Last year's self-titled disc sprawled all over the musical map, ranging from industrial noise to dreamy psychedelic pop to compact metallic thrash to electronically enhanced funk. Lyrically, the group's output was similarly scattered, but with titles such as "Testical Infection" and "Maggot Entrails," most of it could easily be filed under "warped." The trio's latest release, 2 Years Weird Luck, expands on its previously established oddity, hiding hazy gems such as "Today" within a phallocentric collection of quirky tunes such as "Wrinkles on My Dick," "Mustard Nuts" and "Dick Jokes." As if it weren't already obvious that Minds Under Cover might not be the best gift for politically correct friends, the group decorates the disc itself with obscene epithets and vows to donate a dollar from every sale to the "Kill a Pregnant Whale Foundation." While not an exact musical match with the Pornhuskers, Big Jeter (for which MUC member John Bersuch plays drums) or Descension, Minds Under Cover might do well to end up on a bill with any of these acts, ensuring an entertainingly offensive evening.