The Clint K Band's latest disc, Three Man Show, opens with an anthemic rock riff and a percussive exclamation point, then, during its sweetly harmonious chorus, transforms into a tambourine-tapping ditty. From that point on, the trio breezes through a variety of pop styles, including furry psychedelic new wave ("I Don't Mind"), soft-skinned balladry ("Cry"), and do-do-do dotted pep pills ("Sleeping Beauty" and "Call Me Down"). The group's liner-note art (including a mid-air rock-jump photo) and lyrics (kickin' over amps/breaking glass with a bloody guitar) hint at an out-of-control live show, which means fans of this mild-mannered music might get to see their group go wild on stage.
On the other hand, Russ Long, pianist/vocalist for the Russ Long Trio, keeps his cool on his new release Never Let Me Go. Whether he's singing about the "Wildest Gal in Town" or "Kidney Stew," Long's confident, conversational delivery never wavers or fluctuates. However, he does let loose a bit on the keys, especially during the self-penned "Meatloaf." Though the song isn't an ode to the rotund singer/actor born Marvin Lee Aday (or at least not obviously so -- the tune's instrumental format takes the words right out of his mouth), Long solos like a bat out of hell, maneuvering with impressive speed and agility. And the other two out of three ain't bad, either: Gerald Spaits, whose sleek bass lines propel the album's upbeat selections, and Ray DeMarchi, who steps out of the shadows for some robust drum solos, both get plenty of showcase moments during which the other players fade to a whisper.
Malarkey dubbed its colorfully covered new album Chameleon, a title that summarizes this some-assembly-required collective's expansive repertoire. (A trio in theory, Malarkey welcomes contributions from more than a dozen recognizable local musicians, including top reggae draw Brent Berry.) However, the meaning of the name Chameleon goes beyond the band's ability to weave together free-jazz piano splats, flamenco guitar, Irish jigs, a desert-dive-ready Tex-Mex horn section, exotic world-music percussion and hepcat can-you-dig-it wordplay (think combination words such as "deja-voodoo"). This is a concept album about a hermaphrodite named J.D. (A Jane or John Doe/There was no way to know), and his/her sometimes perverse, sometimes scary, always interesting escapades. Complete with testimonials (He grew parts, little girls' parts, recalls one rural acquaintance with a convincing trailer-park twang), Chameleon sets up its story so thoroughly that the abrupt shifts in musical style feel more like plot twists than jarring musical aberrations.
N is for "Nursery Rhymes," which, as a rap song title, usually predicts an Andrew Dice Clay-style revision of the exploits of Jack, Jill, Little Jack Horner and their ilk. But T-Wes' version, though it contains a few sexual references, avoids this tired gimmick. In fact, its only actual nursery rhyme reference point is Peter Piper, which doubles as a nod to Run D.M.C. "Blazin' Saddles," another surprising track on T-Wes' How You Still Ballin', reclaims Kansas' agricultural heritage, deadening the impact of any cowtown insults MCs from other locales might use (Come from horses and cattle/Born to battle, he raps in the chorus). T-Wes gives plenty of shouts out to local landmarks with "KCK" and "Twin Cities," a tribute to both the Show-Me state and the 913. Musically, the beats combine subtle but effective keyboard lines with pounding bass thumps, and some live jazz guitar licks add an organic touch.
Hailing from the other side of the state line comes the Olive Block Gang, which teams up with WesCrook the Jakyl to represent for their East Side 'hood on "400 OP." The track begins with a bang: During the preceding skit, "Savage Tactics," gunfire ensues when someone asks "Where ya from?" The post-shots answer: "Olive Block!" And in the intro to the song, the group's members chant My block is precious to me while letting it be known that they're not to be toyed with. On the other selections from his disc Savage Tactics, WesCrook spits streetwise tales over slow-pulsing beats from CKu Koo Bird. In a few exceptions to that formula, "It's Poppin'" picks up the pace in a bid for club play, and producer Don Juan delivers his patented low-end rumble on his sole contribution, "Hypnotize." Savage Tactics also introduces the talented female MC Reign, who, the album art promises, will soon release a solo shot called Perfect Storm.
Bands have sometimes recorded soundtracks to works of literature, such as Witchblade, Babe in Toyland Kat Bjelland's score to the comic of the same name. But while such works are often arranged in chronological order to provide a loose link to the book's plot, few have been put together like keyboardist Rocco Priolo's The Journal of Renaldo Salazar. An instrumental album save for a few samples and emphatic grunts, this disc offers no concrete evidence of Renaldo Salazar's trials and tribulations. Even the song titles provide no hints -- they're chapters, numbering one through fifteen. But Salazar's story would seem to be an intriguing one, given that the music moves from soprano-sax-solo-studded smooth jazz to dance-floor funk to new-agey progressive ambience.
Ever notice that there's no Q on the telephone keypad? Well, there's none here, either, and there probably won't be one in Around Hear until the ever-changing math-rock ensemble Q finally releases its long-delayed sophomore disc.
The Manhattan-based trio Ramrod's Invention opens Exorcising the Ju-Ju with "Cache," on which distorted speaking-in-tongues vocals compete with howling guitars for attention. But after that demonic opening, things calm down considerably with a stream of laid-back, short and sincere backwater-indie-rock tunes. Like the early Meat Puppets, Ramrod's Invention changes speeds sloppily yet effectively. Also like the Puppets, the group never lets its ever-present feedback and dubiously tuneful vocals obscure the underlying listenability of its songs.
Now that rap rock is going out of style (wishful thinking perhaps, but let's stay optimistic -- it's a new year), the new trend in heavy music seems to be one in which bands pack tried-and-true old-school riffs together with vocals that range from rapid-fire and rhythmic to drawn-out and on-key. Substance follows this path on its two-song demo, sounding a bit like Disturbed without the wacky "ee wa ka ka ka" outbursts. It's middle-of-the-road metal, hard enough to inspire moshing but melodic compared with thrash outfits; traditional enough to satisfy balding Ride the Lightning-era purists but contemporary enough that youngsters with flowing, virile mullets will approve.
Tacit Blue's song titles are just abstract nature-themed haikus waiting to happen: "Pure Snow," "Red Sprites," "Sand/Chimes of Fall," "Pool," "Wire," "Earthrise/The Running," "The Thread." For that matter, its liner notes lend themselves to similar treatment: "We support NASA/We explore space, in a way/That's head space, groovy." The group's album deserves a haiku review: New age keys and drums/endless three-part "Dreamland Suite"/slumber, pleasant dreams.
Next week: U through Z.