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February 2003 Reviews by

 Acuarela Songs
Charles Allison

Alvarius B & Cerberus Shoal
Bluebottle Kiss*
The Caribbean*
Willy DeVille Acoustic Trio

Dirty Power
The Ditty Twisters

The French Broads
Gigolo Aunts*
Jeff Hanson
The Haunted

Machine Head
Stanton Meadowdale
The Party of Helicopters
Pony Express
Elliott Ranney
Reggie and the Full Effect
Mark Selby*
Since By Man
Sir Hedgehog

Snow White Trash


Tucson Simpson
Daniel Clark Turner

The Vexers
Sonny Vincent
Eamonn Vitt

Greg Weeks*
White Light Motorcade



Acuarela Songs - Volume 2 (Triple CD, Acuarela, Various artists)
We rarely review various artists compilations...not because they aren't worthy of attention...but more so because they are difficult to review. How can one adequately sum up single songs by several artists in a single review...? Occasionally a compilation comes along that stands out from the pack...and Acuarela Songs Volume 2 is such a disc. Over the past couple of years, Spain's Acuarela label has become one of our favorite obscure delights. Virtually every artist that the label supports is uniquely talented and incredibly entertaining. Not surprisingly, then, this big whopping triple CD set serves as an excellent introduction to the label. Artists include Windsor for the Derby, Migala, Jacques, Manta Ray, Polar, Anamude, Sr. Chinarro, and many more. The packaging (as always) is excellent. If you aren't familiar with Acuarela, this is an excellent diving off point. If you are already familiar with the label, then you will obviously want this as well as any and/or all of the individual albums the label releases... (Rating: 5+++)

Agatsuma - Beams (CD, Domo, Instrumental)
This instrumental artist is different than the rest first and foremost because of the instrument he plays. Japan's Agatsuma plays the shamisen, a 3-stringed instrument that was originally used as a background instrument for folk singers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But if you think you're going to hear old fashioned or traditional compositions, think again. Instead of using the instrument as it has traditionally been used, Agatsuma plays it within the context of funky modern dance music. The merging of sounds and styles is intriguing. The feeling we get listening to this is that we are in an Asian dance club in 1753. In his own country, Agatsuma has had incredible success. By combining the past with the present...this young artist has created an album that can be appreciated by virtually anyone, provided that they have an open mind and willing spirit. Stellar trippy tracks include "Beams," "Solitude," "Grooving," and "Blown Away." (Rating: 4+++)

Charles Allison - Braced in the Beams (CD, Goodgog, Pop)
This is an interesting release both in terms of the music and the marketing approach. Crossville, Tennessee's Charles Allison began recording under the name Kil Howlie Day but dropped the name for the release of this album. Mr. Allison is an amazing talent. This obscure recording artist is making music that easily meets and/or exceeds the standards set by the major companies. Actually and in fact, the tunes on this album are better than 99% of what is released by the biggies. Allison's approach is subtle and the music is extraordinarily unpretentious and understated. Although these tunes may best be categorized as pop, they are by no means shallow fodder. Instead, Braced in the Beams is filled with thoughtful and intelligent pieces that get better with repeated listenings. Although his music has many strange familiar qualities...we cannot come up with a single comparison that seems to stick. The lyrics are smart...the vocals sincere and genuine...and the arrangements are instinctively appropriate. This album won't blow you over instantly...but instead will grow on your subsconcious over time. Superb tunes like "You've Already Made Me Proud," "Historically Speaking," "Next Summer," and "To Taylor With Twill" are excellent pieces that will stand the test of time. Highly recommended. (Rating: 5+++)

Alvarius B and Cerberus Shoal - The Vim and Vigour of Alvarius B and Cerberus Shoal (CD, North East Indie, Experimental)
Our first reaction? These band names are quite difficult to type. Trying to follow the band's history since their formation in 1994 is an even more difficult task. Not surprisingly, the music contained on this disc is obtuse and unconventional. What do we have here... Is it...folk? Obtuse pop? Cabaret...? Actually, the music is a combination of these...and more. What we admire most about these artists is their pure intent. Instead of writing and recording for fame and fortune...these folks are obviously doing what they do because they have a passion for it. Occasionally, the music almost becomes accessible (the third track is a good example). Excellent packaging completes the picture. This is not likely to be found in your local record shop...so your best bet would be to visit the web sites (links above). Strange and subdued. Intriguing and peculiar. (Not Rated)

Bluebottle Kiss - Revenge Is Slow (CD, In Music We Trust / Nonzero Pop)
Alex Steinberger's In Music We Trust label has quickly become a favorite among folks all over the world because of the quality and consistency of each release. For this offering, Steinberger again delves into the Australian underground to expose yet another tasty up-and-coming band. Bluebottle Kiss combine melodic mid-tempo pop/rock with a slight edge. Revenge Is Slow, the band's fourth full-length album, is extraordinarily entertaining. Far from being just another alternative guitar band, this quartet's tunes combine meaty substance with a yearning quality that is most appealing and genuinely effective. While the band's tunes are generally accessible...some of the tunes are not so obvious. Beautiful and unforgettable melodies make this album a truly satisfying little gem. Our favorites are "Father's Hands," "Hasten the Blows," "Prussian Blue," "Hello Stranger," and "Invent the Summer." An ultimately tasty treat... (Rating: 5+++)

The Caribbean - History's First Know-It-All (CD, Endearing, Abstract pop)
Unconventional pop pioneers The Caribbean release their second full-length...and it is just as satisfying as their first (Verse By Verse). Whereas most artists are either pure noise or pure pop...the fellows in this band combine the two. The end result is a strange concoction of experimental music that has more in common with pop than with the technology that they so willingly embrace. In the process of writing and recording, the band is fond of trading files through the internet. This results in a stunning array of strange sounds and unconventional ideas filtering through the surprisingly uplifting pop tunes. Though it may not be obvious at first, the gentlemen in The Caribbean are actually first rate songwriters. Though their material may requite a bit more effort from the listener in order to obtain the full benefits of the music...the time is well spent. Strangely addicting tunes. Top picks: Cuts #1, #4, #6, #7, #10, and #12. (Rating: 5++)

Willy DeVille Acoustic Trio - Live in Berlin (Double CD, Eagle, Bluesy pop)
Willy DeVille returns with a tasty double live CD. DeVille originally entered the public consciousness as the lead singer of the band Mink DeVille in the 1970s. Since that time, he also struck out on his own and had considerable success as a solo artist (mainly in the 1980s). The performances on this double disc set were recorded during the band's 2002 European tour but disc two also includes eight live tracks by Mink DeVille (the band is still active to this day). When playing with the Acoustic Trio, Willy shows his more softer, intimate side. He does, in fact, sound something like a more masculine version of Tom Waits. His in-between-song patter with the audience is entertaining and at times very funny. This music has a nice relaxed feeling to it...but the performances are professional and determined. It's nice to see this fellow back in the limelight...particularly when he still has this much to offer... (Rating: 5)

Dirty Power - Dirty Power (CD, Dead Teenager, Hard rock)
Pounding hard rock. Based in San Francisco, Dirty Power has a sound that has little in common with other bands in the Bay area. Instead of heady pop or drug-induced drones...these four guys go straight for the hot pocket, delivering loud and intense hard rock with deliberate style. This, the band's debut album, was recorded in Seattle and co-produced by Jack Endino...who has worked with a wealth of stellar artists such as Soundgarden, Dwarves, Supersuckers, Nebula, and more. Not surprisingly, the sound quality here is excellent. The band's energy shines through...while never sounding too slick or overproduced. The band was formed by former Pansy Division guitarist Patrick Goodwin and drummer Jeff Potts...but don't worry. Dirty Power sounds nothing like Pansy Division. Rounding out the band are guitarist Steve Perrone and bassist Nick Ulman. Standout tracks on the album are "LSD," "Hey Superman," "Penny Eyes," "Dirty Power," and "Sympton of the Unitard." Great rock music with smart hooks and driving rhythms. (Rating: 5)

The Ditty Twisters - Vicodin Saturday Night (CD, Herbert House, Pop/rock)"
Not only is this band hilarious in many ways...but hey are also totally entertaining and credible. Our interest was immediately tweaked by the cover art of a 1950s housewife happily retrieving a bottle of Vicodin from the kitchen cabinet (hyuk hyuk...). The band's personally "checked" press release states that they "prefer to sing about things that bring us joy, like drinking ourselves unconscious, stalking ex-lovers, and of course, meaningless sex with men named Toothless Marvin or Slim" (?!?!!). Yup, they've obviously got their hearts in the right place. But even more interesting is the music. The Ditty Twisters play pop/rock with a twang...and chock full of attitude and style. The band's overall approach is reminiscent of Southern Culture on the Skids (with whom they have already shared the stage). The Ditty Twisters aren't into heavy topics or political issues. Instead, they concentrate on things that matter...like not being able to get their Vicodin prescription filled (!). Not only is the music a great big ball of fun, but the disc is packaged in a beautifully designed digipak complete with lyric booklet. These folks truly have their act together in so many ways... Cool, fun, funny, and danceable to boot! And now, a little something for the band (at their request) . . . ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! (Rating: 5+)

The French Broads - Tubes, Wood & Metal (CD, Disgraceland, Pop)
Smart melodic pop with a sense of humor. Knoxville's The French Broads are an upbeat pop band with exceptional tunes and clever lyrics. More than any other band, these guys' music reminds us of The Young Fresh Fellows in terms of overall sound (the vocals in particular are similar). What impresses us most about these guys is their resistance to using the standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus schtick. Most of the songs on Tubes, Wood & Metal vary from the standard structure...offering cool surprises both in terms of arrangements and melodies. This is the band's second full-length and it is impressive...particularly considering that the band recorded and released it themselves. This band possesses all the qualities of a cool little band that has just found their image and sound. These compositions sound fresh and energized. Our favorites are "Tom Brokaw" and "Crazy." (Rating: 4+++)

Gigolo Aunts - Pacific Ocean Blues (CD, Q Division, Power pop)
One of our favorites bands from the 1990s returns...with yet another stunning collection of mind-bending pop. The best word to describe this band's music is...exhilarating. While other bands merely pump out the rhythms and sing the words...these guys manage to take their music to a more cerebral level. Soaring melodies abound throughout Pacific Ocean Blues. Gigolo Aunts are in truly fine form here...presenting each tune with energy, style, and conviction. Bounding out of the gate with the exhilarating "Hello" the band then proceeds to belt out one oughta-be hit after another. Particularly incredible tracks include "Mr. Tomorrow," "Lay Your Weary Body Down," "My Favorite Regret," and the unnamed thirteenth cut. This album is ultimately satisfying from start to finish...with absolutely no filler. This could very well be this band's most consistent effort yet... (Rating: 5+++)

Godboxer - Pins (CD, Rubrosa, Pop)
Godboxer is the new band headed by Aaron Lippert who was formerly the brains behind the band Expanding Man. Pins is an album full of progressive, accessible, inspired pop music...which is just what one would expect from this line up. In addition to Lippert, the band features Jay Barclay (guitar), Joe McMahon (bass), and Mike Levesque (drums). Levesque has played with David Bowie and the Candy Butchers, McMahon played with the Clairvoyants, and Barclay was formerly with Miss Fortune. Not surprisingly, this is a slick project. The songs are strong and well thought out...and they feature lush arrangements that add (rather than detract) from the overall sound. Some of the melodic twists and vocals remind us of Redd Kross. This album was created with the care and attention of folks who have a sound in their heads and know how to transfer it into a digital format. Our favorite cuts are "Until You're Gone" and "Beautiful and Young." (Rating: 5)

Jeff Hanson - Son (CD, Kill Rock Stars, Soft pop)
This is an intriguing release for many reasons. Jeff Hanson sounds absolutely unlike any artist we have yet to hear on the Kill Rock Stars label (slick and polished melodic soft pop? huh?!?). Even more interesting is Hanson's voice. Upon hearing this album, most folks will undoubtedly assume that the vocalist is a woman. We certainly would have if we had not seen the cover and read the press release. We have never ever in our lives heard a male vocalist who sounds this much like a girl. Jeff's voice range is in the same general vicinity as Dominique Durand (of Ivy). The vocals do take a bit of getting used to. After one gets past the initial stumbling blocks...it becomes obvious that Mr. Hanson is an extraordinarily gifted singer/songwriter. Except for a bit of piano, Hanson played all the instruments on Son. The songs have a wonderfully classic sound that one rarely hears in such a young artist. Heavenly tunes like "Hiding Behind the Moon," "You and I Alone," "If You Ever Say," and "The End of Everything Known" (a real standout cut) make this album a real standout. (Rating: 5+)

The Haunted - One Kill Wonder (CD, Earache, Speed metal)
Loud, nervous, maniacal, head banging, intense speed metal. The Haunted have built up quite a following by providing what the alienated youths of the world crave. The music is an intense blur of fury and unbridled energy. The band sometimes plays so fast that it is quite difficult to take it all in. And the lead singer has a voice that could bring Jesus back to life (if that were possible). Unlike many loud thrashers, however, these guys are actually quite adept and tight on their instruments. The drumming in particular is so fast at times it seems almost impossible that they are being played by a human being. If you can rock to the roar, there's a lot to like about these guys. Our favorite cut is the progressive-tinged "Demon Eyes" which features some rather spectacular playing indeed... (Rating: 4+++)

Machine Head - Hellalive (CD, Roadrunner, Hard rock/live)
One of our favorite hard rock bands, Machine Head play extraordinarily harsh music for the thinking rocker. This mind blowing collection of tunes was recorded mainly at the Brixton Academy in London on December 8, 2001...with an additional two tunes recorded at the With Full Force Festival in Leipzig, Germany on July 2, 2002. The band is in fine form...thrashing out their intense rock for an obviously appreciative audience. Unlike many death and speed metal bands who simply turn up and play way too fast and loud...the guys in Machine Head provide music that not only rocks like a mother...but it also retains interesting progressive threads that add extra texture. If you're looking for pure noise, this ain't it. But if you're looking for headbanging music that gets better with repeated listenings...you won't do much better than Machine Head. Heavy rockin' stuff... (Rating: 5)

Stanton Meadowdale - Stanton Meadowdale (CD, Simulcast, Pop)
A truly impressive exercise in low fidelity recording. Stanton Meadowdale's songs sound more like demos than finished products...but therein lies their appeal. Studio gimmicks and glossy polish are now standard fare in home recorded projects. As a result, exceptions tend to stand out dramatically. Our feeling has always been that songs are the most important variable in a good album. Stanton Meadowdale writes damn good songs. The melodies are memorable and the lyrics firmly poignant. The sound quality varies from tune to tune...but that hardly matters when the material is this good. In some ways, Meadowdale's songs remind us of John Vanderslice...but only slightly. Plenty of great tunes here. Our favorites are "Waiting By the Phone," "June the Actress Girl," "Pardon Me," and "Don't Let it Burn You." (Rating: 5)

Morphine - The Best of Morphine (CD, Rykodisc, Rock/pop)
Morphine favorites and rarities compilation. Sixteen cuts including "Buena," "Honey White," "Have a Lucky Day," "Radar," and "Pretty Face." Also includes a video enhanced track ("Shame"). Throbbing bass lines and bluesy saxophones drive the tunes. Morphine never really did that much for us personally (neither the drug nor the band). But for folks who enjoyed these guys' music the first time around, this'll be a nice reminder of what the band was like in their heyday... (Not Rated)

The Party of Helicopters - Please Believe It (CD, Velocette, Rock/pop)
Sounding something like an indie pop version of CKY, Ohio's The Party of Helicopters play an intriguing, hard rocking blend of musical styles. The band is particularly fond of building their hummable hard pop tunes with meaty guitar riffs...and then layering them with lush vocal harmonies. While the band's intricate tunes are probably a bit too complex for the average listener...the music is exactly what underground fans tend to seek out. We rarely hear a pop band rock this hard, and that is probably what makes this album an interesting listen. Smart throbbing heart stoppers like "The Good Punk," "Cover Me," and "Boston" are simultaneously catchy, hummable and...quite progressive... (Rating: 4+++)

Pony Express - Becoming What You Hate (CD, Velvet Blue Music, Pop)
Pony Express is something of a cult superstar band...if you happen to be a fan of the other bands these folks are or were in. This band consists of mainmen Jeff Cloud and Jason Martin along with Frank Lenz, Josh Dooley, and Richard Swift. The band members also play in (or used to play in) Starflyer 59, Joy Electric, Lassie Foundation, Charity Empressa, and Map. We are quite fond of all of the above bands...so our being drawn to the music of Pony Express makes perfect sense. The groovy soothing tunes on Becoming What You Hate are reminiscent of all the previously mentioned bands...with a slightly different twist. Determined guitars and breathy vocals drive the tunes...and, just as we would expect, the melodies are heavenly. The subtleties impress us the most. The slightest elements blended into the mix give these compositions just the right overall flavor. Beautiful and slightly trippy tunes like "Debbies Operation System," "Queens of Beruit" (a particularly outstanding cut), "Puppy Hearts & Phone Calls," and "Behind the Walls" make this album a fantastic spin. And it all just gets better with repeated listenings. Excellent stuff. (Rating: 5++)

Elliott Ranney - An Aging Sailors Dream (CD, Wildstone Audio, Soft Brazilian-flavored pop)
Soft, beautiful, soothing Brazilian-flavored pop music. Ranney's own description of his music is "acoustic music that feels like an island breeze." This very adequately describes the overall tone of the music. Elliot's songs in the same general territory as Arto Lindsay...except the compositions have more open space and are a bit more direct. Some of this music even bears a slight resemblance to the softer side of Donovan. Beautifully strummed and/or picked classical guitar drives the music...while sparse yet adequate arrangements fill out the sound. Ranney's soft and breathy voice is perfect for the style of music he plays. With some mass marketing and heavier distribution...this fellow could easily find quite a large audience for his music. Dreamy numbers like "A Good Life," "I Still Remember You," and "What Am I To Do?" drift by like clouds on a calm autumn afternoon. We particularly like the liner notes giving a brief personal description of how each song came about. One song ("Innervoice") was written as a response to an individual at Windham Hill who asked Ranney to write an essay explaining why he wanted to be a recording artist (!). Clever stuff that comes straight from the heart. (Rating: 4+++)

Reggie and the Full Effect - Under the Tray (CD, Vagrant, Rock/pop)
Really good chunky pop/rock music with thick guitars and interesting melodies. One thing is for certain. Reggie and the Full Effect have some of the most unusual song titles around. "Drunk Girl at the Get Up Kids Show," "What Won't Kill You Eats Gas," "Image is Nothing, Lobsters are Everything," "Canadians Switching the Letter P for the Letter V Eh?"... The music is more direct that the titles might suggest. This band's full-throttle power pop is reminiscent of many pop/punk bands of the 1990s. But just to keep things interesting the band throws all sorts of surprise sounds and snippets into the stew...along with some surprises ("Mood 4 Luv" is a real surprise). This band has a familiar sound that is counterbalanced by the fact that they take a lot of chances other bands in this genre would never take. An cool upbeat grab bag of fun and surprises. (Rating: 4+++)

Rondellus - Sabbatum: A Medieval Tribute to Black Sabbath (CD, The Music Cartel, Tribute album)
A tribute album like no other. While the basic idea here is HILARIOUS....the music is actually subdued and quite serious. Rondellus has recorded an an album of Black Sabbath songs with one MAJOR difference: he plays medieval instruments and has the vocalists sing in latin. The end result is an album of tunes that are virtually unrecognizable...unless you listen very, VERY closely (!). As a result, this album can be listened to in one of two ways. The first way is to listen to the music and try to remember what the original songs actually sounded like (this is quite difficult at times). The second way to listen (and perhaps the best way) is to experience the songs as though you have never heard them before. This isn't difficult because they bear so little resemblance to the originals. If you think you know "War Pigs" and "After Forever" by heart...think again. This album will bend your consciousness in ways it has never been bent. A wonderful effort in many ways. We only wish more tribute albums were this imaginative and unique... (Rating: 5)

Mark Selby - Dirt (CD, Vanguard, Pop)
His name may not be a household word yet...but his songs are already familiar to virtually everyone. Singer/songwriter Mark Selby's tunes have been recorded by such well-known artists as Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Dixie Chicks, and Tammy Cochran, to name a few. Selby's own recordings have not generated as much attention or garnered as much success...yet. Dirt should go a long way towards turning that situation around. Selby's bluesy pop/rock tunes remind us in many ways of Randy Newman or even Elvis Costello. His compositions are smart and catchy...yet they also have an underlying sense of humor. While the man's upbeat tunes are of the highest calibre, we find the more pensive material to be the most gripping. The standout track here is "You," a great low key number which really showcases Selby's vocals and flair for writing a melody. The guitars are excellent throughout...and the slide guitars are particularly appealing. Dirt is a solid album from start to finish and may just be Mark Selby's breakthrough album. (Rating: 5+++)

Since By Man - We Sing the Body Electric (CD, Revelation, Hard rock)
We Sing the Body Electric is the fourth full-length release from Milwaukee's Since By Man. The quintet plays harsh screamer rock with a progressive slant. While Sam Macon's intense vocals are the centerpiece...the drummer is actually what makes this band stand out from the pack. Jon Kraft is a true powerhouse of a skin crasher. On this album he displays an impressive array of playing styles. While most of this band's music is probably too intense for the average listener, many aspects of the music are actually quite accessible. Combining a sense of alienation with an odd sense of terror...these five guys create a wall of sound that is somewhat frightening and as tight as nails. Top picks: "Light Fuse Get Away," "In Threes," "Whats Your Damage." (Rating: 4++)

Sir Hedgehog - Sir Hedgehog (CD, Lunasound Recording, Rock)
Smart progressive hard rock. Heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Vancouver's Sir Hedgehog combine their respect for the past with a passion for the present and future. In terms of playing, these guys are far more advanced than the average band. All the players are as tight as trains on their respective instruments...and the vocalist seems to have an intense affinity for Robert Plant. Even though the Zeppelin similarities are undeniable, these guys manage to come up with their own unique sound. Incredibly, this is the band's debut. We can think of few other bands who have managed to come up with a debut this solid. Throbbing hard rockers like "Otherside," "Freedom Guilt United," and "The Cleavage and the Clamp" make this disc a pure feelgood experience... (Rating: 5)

Snowdonnas - Over Now (CD, Ballyhoo Withdrawal, Pop)
Snowdonnas were formed by three fellows originally in the band The Transmitters. Once a fourth member joined the band they adopted their current name. Over Now is quite a mature album for a band this young. The highly melodic compositions feature intelligent arrangements and heady guitar effects. The vocals are exceptional...particularly the harmonies. The band occasionally delves into drone but never to the point of boring the listener. While this band's best work is probably in the years to come...they are off to a damn good start with this collection of tunes. Smooth gliding pop tunes like "Edison," "Burn," "Rocket Cherries," and "Over Now" prove that Snowdonnas have the brains and talent to be a major contender... (Rating: 4++)

Snow White Trash - Snow White Trash (CD, Shut the Hell Up, Rock/pop)
A word of note to our regular readers...NO, we did NOT make this band up...they are REAL. Snow White Trash is easily one of the best band names we have heard in some time...and Shut the Hell Up is a HELLUVA name for a record label as well. This Tucker, Georgia-based quartet is obviously heading in the right direction with their image as well as their music. The band provides simple and direct pop/rock music that is meant to make the listener feel good. And the tunes on the band's self-titled album does just that. These tunes are simple, clever, well-written, and memorable. The band consists of Iggy Tourettes (drums), Princess Pamela Richards (vocals), R.C. Moonpie (guitar), and Woolly Cooter (bass). Kickass rockers like "Honey, I'm Home," "Sweet Revenge (Ghost of Christmas Pissed)," and "My Boyfriend, Earl" (our favorite) make this a great, upbeat l'il album from start to finish. With a bit more polish and production...these folks could easily end up being B-I-G. Truly cool in a genuine kinda way...! (Rating: 5)

Sparks - Lil' Beethoven (Limited edition British CD, Lil' Beethoven / Universal, Pop)
It is always cause for celebration when Ron and Russell Mael release a new album. But this release is even more exciting because it marks the return of the Mael brothers to experimental territory...and the results are STAGGERING. Lil' Beethoven is perhaps the most successful album ever to successfully birth orchestral pop music. This is likely to be Ron Mael's crowning achievement of all time. His programming and keyboards are compelling and wildly effective. The sounds on this album are absolutely incredible from start to finish. Russell has also outdone himself this time, overdubbing his vocals to the point of excess and...remarkably...it works splendidly within the framework of these compositions. We have always been appalled that Sparks never garnered much recognition in the United States...particularly since their material has been so consistently strong for so many years. Although Lil' Beethoven is destined to be a top pick among reviewers and a huge success overseas...the band is almost guaranteed that it will be another flop in their home country...for the plain and simple fact that Americans prefer bland and unimaginative music. This album is so over the top that it instantly ranks with Sparks very best albums. Not only have they returned to their original concept in creating obtuse and challenging music...but they have pushed it to an entirely new level by producing music that is virtually non-accessible...yet pleasing to the ears and a real KICKER to listen to over...and over..and OVER. An instant classic, this will easily be one of the best releases of 2003. A MUST HAVE. (Rating: 7)

Tino - Stalone (French import CD, Another Record, Electro pop)
Laidback lo-fi pop based upon dub-like beats. Tino is Nicolas Albin, Laurent-Emmanuel Girard, and Vincent Seguret...three underground recording artists in France. The music this trio creates reminds us of some of David Bowie's more experimental work. The songs on Stalone have a somewhat hypnotic and droning effect that is strangely appealing. These gentlemen have a simple and direct manner of writing and recording songs. Interestingly, the songs have as much in common with French pop music as they do with American pop. Nice "who cares" vocals round out the picture...giving the band an obtuse overall sound that is difficult to describe. Nice, uncommon material from a nice and particularly appealing little band... (Rating: 4++++)

Tucson Simpson - Hot Town (CD, GGP, Pop/rock)
Nice positive upbeat Southern fried pop with country-fried edges. If you're looking for the unusual or the bizarre, this band probably won't float your boat. But if by chance you are looking for some music that is simple and easy on the mind (and ears)...Tucson Simpson will likely fill the bill. Hot Town is chock full of Americana-inspired tunes played from the heart. The band generally plays it mid-tempo...while vocalist Graham Perry provides solid up front support. Sadly, guitarist Sam Plumlee died during the recording of this album. Appropriately, this album is dedicated to him. Pure feelgood tunes like "Coldwater," "Cry (Like a Baby)," and "Down Into You (The Sammy Song)" make this album a smooth and pleasant spin... (Rating: 4++)

Daniel Clark Turner - The Only Rational Act (Independently released CD, Folk/soft pop)
Madison, Tennessee's Daniel Clark Turner is a class act. Writing, recording, and releasing his own CD, Turner has managed to match the quality of most releases from major record companies. The Only Rational Act is a mature batch of soft pop and folk compositions with superb instrumentation. Instruments include acoustic guitar, violin, mandolin, cello, and upright bass. The sound quality is exceptional throughout. Turner's real strengths are his writing and his voice. The lyrics tell a story and/or evoke emotions in the listener...while Turner's super smooth voice pushes the music to the next level. This gentleman could easily become financially successful with the proper support and backing. In our minds, however, Daniel Clark Turner is already a real success story. His music is sincere, genuine, thought provoking, and instantly memorable. Standout cuts include "Run Stagecoach Run," "Never Give Up," "When We Lose Control," and "The Only Rational Act." Extraordinary. (Rating: 5)

The Vexers - The Vexers (CD, Ace Fu, Rock)
Cool and catchy throbbing rock music. Philadelphia's The Vexers have a great deal in common with early punk rock bands of the 1970s. The band's tunes are simple, quick, catchy, and smart. These tunes hit like a ton of bricks...but in their mission to entertain, the band never forsakes melodies for the sake of volume. The Vexers are Jennifer Taylor (guitar, vocals), Tres Warren (guitar), and Michael Hammel (bass). This is a nice, meaty sounding disc. While the band incorporates relatively few overdubs into their music, the tunes have a cool thick sound that pounds with unrelenting certainty. We particularly dig Ms. Taylor's vocals...reminding us of both The Waitresses and Patti Smith. Tasty guitars throughout...and the bass lines absolutely KICK ASS. Humorous rockin' tunes like "Something Dirty," "You Get Nothing," and "Sick Sick Sick" make this band's debut album a pure feelgood experience. Great fun. A direct hit. (Rating: 5)

Sonny Vincent - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (CD, Acetate, Rock)
Although you may not be familiar with the name, Sonny Vincent has been around and has paid his dues. Beginning as a member of New York punk band The Testors, Vincent has released a wealth of material under several different band names...including Shotgun Rationale, The Dons, and Rat Race Choir. Although the man has been around the block and back, you'd never know it from the sound of the tunes on The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. The album displays the urgency of a newly formed band that has just discovered their ability to crash and bang about. Interestingly, Mr. Vincent is supported by Scott Asheton (The Stooges) on drums and Captain Sensible (The Damned) on bass. As if that weren't impressive enough, a whole slew of legendary musicians make guest appearances throughout the album. Vincent's rough vocals are the perfect focal point for these loud, raucous tunes. (Rating: 4++)

Eamonn Vitt - Deserted Music (CD, The Self-Starter Foundation, Soft pop)
This is former Karate band member Eamonn Vitt's first full-length release. He had previously released an EP called Old Wave New Ride (also on The Self-Starter Foundation label). Eamonn's music is a heady blend of progressive elements combined with pure pop aesthetics. His vocals are reminiscent of Peter Gabriel, except decidedly less affected. These songs are based around aggressive acoustic guitars and most of the tunes feature thick arrangements. Vitt took a break from the world of music in 1997 to study medicine at Columbia University...but he never stopped writing and recording. He is joined on this album by Kendall Meade (Mascott), Jeff Goddard (Karate), Scott Adamson (Abilene), and Jud Ehbar (Varnaline). Many of these tunes have a busy, swirling sound that provides a strange energy. Our favorites are "Painted," "Fate Maps," and "Coasting." (Rating: 4+++)

Greg Weeks - Slightly West (CD EP, Acuarela, Folk/soft pop)
Unconventional music. Greg Weeks plays in the bands Superstarshine and The Espers...but ventures out on his own for the Slightly West EP. Weeks' subdued and slightly hazy pop/folk tunes are melodic...yet they possess a distant, drifting quality that is ever so slightly surreal. This could be due to the fact that Greg incorporates moog, mellotron, harmonium, and stringed instruments into his compositions. The overall sound is dreamy and peculiar. Weeks' vocals are breathy and understated...yet quite effective. Most likely to be a success among reviewers and fans of the obscure, Slightly West represents Weeks at his best. The tunes are "One Summer Night," "Unsettled (By the Sun)," "Slightly West," "Devils," and "Settle Down." Superb. (Rating: 5++)

White Light Motorcade - Thank You, Goodnight! (CD, Octone / BMG, Hard pop)
Loud and cocky hard pop. Thank You, Goodnight! is the debut album from New York's White Light Motorcade. These fellows are real rockers. The band plays nice and tight...and they have a thick and meaty sound chock full of fuzzy overdriven guitars and urgent vocals. Much of the band's power can be attributed to the dynamite rhythm section of Steven Slingeneyer (drums) and Tommy Salmorin (bass). Together, these two men are a real pile driving force. Harley Dinardo (lead vocals) and Mark Lewis (guitar) round out the band. These guys' sound is reminiscent of power pop bands of the 1980s...this is particularly true with their thick harmonies. The songs are catchy and smart and possess a certain urgency that makes them most appealing. Cool rockers include "Open Your Eyes," "All Gone Again," "Closest," and "I Could Kick Myself." (Rating: 5+)

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