File the Gear Daddies under bands that did not fare well in their brief time on a major label. After a promising indie debut, PolyGram--entranced with the band's sensitive, rough-hewn country but, it turned out, without a clue as to how to break them--scooped the Minnesota boys up. On the resulting Billy's Live Bait you could thrill to leader Martin Zellar's gruff-voiced recitations about small-town losers and the band's ability to blast out the rock hooks when they had to. But the record went nowhere and the band broke up. Now, nearly three years after the Gear Daddies' final concert, at Lounge Ax in 1992, Zellar's back with his first solo album. Born Under is an extremely quiet collection of songs, one that eschews the Gear Daddies' occasional big beat for an insular, almost acoustic feel. Turns out that Zellar's one of those darn singer-songwriters, and damned if he doesn't pull it off fairly swimmingly. This isn't a hugely modern-sounding album, and it's not easy, either: it takes a while to acclimate yourself to Zellar's chesty growl and longer still before his distinctive phrasing and sympathetic lyrics kick in. When they do, you start catching some nice moments; my current favorite is, "Well, I ain't no Freud / But there's got to be a reason that I'm your Mr. Right." His favorite subject is that small-town loser, male or female, just on the verge of an emotional reckoning, but Born Under is by no means monochromatic: there's also a lot of fatalism, despair, broken love, and loneliness. It's not the sort of recording that's going to perk up your next party, but it is exactly what a lot of people say there isn't much of these days: adult, smart, perceptive, and emotionally genuine rock music. The Honey Dogs and Peat Moss open. Wednesday, 9 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 525-6620.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Dan Corrigan.