Considering that the songwriting of Anders Parker easily burned a hole through the lo-fi muck on Man of Sin, Varnaline's guy-in-a-bedroom-with-a-four-track debut (1996), it's no surprise that when he opted for a real studio the lack of homey ambience didn't hamper the music. Thanks to a tight working band--brother John on bass and Anders's Space Needle band mate Jud Ehrbar on drums--on the new Varnaline (Zero Hour) Parker's moody quality is supported (and buffeted) by substantial firepower. The album covers impressive if familiar stylistic range: you can hear Richard Thompson on "Meet Me on the Ledge," John Lennon on "Really Can't Say," Paul Westerberg on "God in Your Eyes," and Neil Young on "Understanding H." But while most straight-up rock these days tends to follow market-proven templates, this band devotes itself to its own songs. Despite a marked lack of flash, Varnaline has a nice grip on seemingly mundane basics like varied tempi, dynamics, and harmony; those elements take on a subtle luster when applied to Parker's pretty tunes and combined with his slightly ragged, soulful vocals. Neither album suggests the trio's effectiveness and intensity live--particularly Ehrbar's terrific playing. Bedhead headlines. Saturday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Varnaline by Kevin Knight.