HATFUL OF RAIN, WEBSTIRS 1/6, CUE CLUB There are a couple of ways to look at these two acts. As a scene apologist I'd praise their technical competence, potential commercial appeal, and general professionalism. Speaking from the heart, I'd condemn the triumphant mediocrity of their music. On their recently released Alone, Hatful of Rain, a quartet from Lawrence who look like models for Chess King, offer a cloying pop-rock that might tickle the fancy of those who admire James Taylor, Elton John, and Jackson Browne, in addition to "contemporary" sluggers like Jude Cole and del Amitri (all of whom the band list as influences). After clear dish soap, clear soda pop, and clear beer, we now have clear bands. Considerably less egregious in their blandness are the Webstirs, a local foursome who exude a pure pop sensibility on their self-released debut, Smirk. Just the same, their sweetly mewling harmonies and 70s-ish bubblegum melodies won't help them transcend their status as live background music for round after round of Old Style pitchers. Pop Psychology also appear. SATURNINE 60 1/7, EMPTY BOTTLE This New York foursome with only a year under its belt owes an arm and a leg to Galaxie 500. On their debut EP Autoguider (Dirt), they deliver a surprisingly well-developed gliding, dreamy pop that sounds an awful lot like Dean Wareham's precious whine and warm slow-reeling psychedelic guitar. Even when they eschew Galaxie's molasses rhythms in favor of a considerably more rocking attack, the resemblance is uncanny; fortunately their lack of stylistic imagination is offset by genuine songwriting strengths. They open for Hurl and Shiner. KLUGMAKNOTTS 1/8, DOUBLE DOOR On its recently released debut, Juggernaut (Telegraph), this five-year-old De Kalb trio displays its proficiency in such a wide-ranging array of styles and moods that it's sometimes easy to forget it's only one band. "Alternative rock" is their chosen milieu, and in that maligned region they make all stops: skittering white-boy funk, REM-ish collegiate rock, ferocious hard rock, even a few sprinklings of post-Grateful Dead mystical pop (a la Toad the Wet Sprocket). On any given tune they stand to impress, but by the time the album's over you've suffered through a musical Sybil. They open for Girls With Tools. FLOYD MCDANIEL & THE BLUES SWINGERS 1/8, B.L.U.E.S. Now approaching his 80th birthday, singer-guitarist Floyd McDaniel came of age musically in an era when genre boundaries didn't mean much. In the 30s and 40s jazz, blues, gospel, and R & B often commingled with country, old-time, and hillbilly at a place called pop, and McDaniel was in the thick of it. His long-overdue debut, Let Your Hair Down! (Delmark), recorded with his exuberant horn-loaded backing band the Blues Swingers, harks back to that time, seamlessly mixing jazz with jump, blues with boogie. He cites T-Bone Walker and Charlie Christian as his primary guitar influences, but the album reveals a wider stylistic path, including tunes associated with Roy Milton, Louis Jordan, Duke Ellington, Percy Mayfield, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, and the Blazes, his own popular combo in the 40s and 50s. At a time when most blues clubs are booking small funked-up combos more concerned with flashy pyrotechnics than grace or emotion, McDaniel and the Blues Swingers are a welcome anomaly; the leader's wealth of hard-won experience prevents them from being just another exercise in revivalism. TOM JONES 1/11, METRO His cover of Prince's "Kiss" with Art of Noise a few years back and his more recent tackling of EMF's "Unbelievable" were harbingers of swoon-inducer Tom Jones's reinvention as alternative megahunk, but nothing could prepare one for the extremes found on his recent The Lead and How to Swing It (Interscope). Joined by a bevy of hot-shit contemporary dance and pop producers, Jones applies his white-hot soul to tunes that range from ultralightweight to sunk-stone heavy--and smothers them all. On upbeat stompers like the Trevor Horn-produced single "If I Only Knew" or the old Yaz hit "Situation" Jones rides the groove like a brassy pro, but the painful preponderance of gloppy ballads only brings out the overwrought entertainer in him, and when he croons "Chillin' in your crib, coolin' in my ride," on the Teddy Riley-produced "Something for Your Head," it's impossible not to flinch, laugh, cry, or do all at once. There's no doubt Jones means to cash in on all of these weird tensions, and since he's never exactly been a musical innovator he can't be faulted for such failures, but that doesn't make the album any more listenable. Live, however, he's a legend. No one else has lasted four decades as a magnet for women's underwear.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Lavine.