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Sunday September 25th

Blonde's Comeback Fails; Blue Collar Overcomes Frat Rock

2 Stars

Concrete Blonde's reunion album Group Therapy begs the overwhelming question, "Why?"

The band burst from the L.A. scene in the late '80s and oozed an edginess that contrasted with everything else on the radio. But the band's comeback effort, Group Therapy, lacks the rawness and originality that made the band essential.

The trio, made up of singer/bassist Johnette Napolitano, guitarist James Mankey and drummer Harry Rushakoff, blended Latin-rock grooves with gothic sensibilities.

Ten years ago, the emphasis was on the complex interplay of Napolitano's fiery voice and James Mankey's virtuoso guitars. Now, sludgy mid-tempo wank-rock is the style du jour.

In its latest effort, it sounds like the band isn't even trying. "Your Llorona" boasts a Latin edge but lacks any originality or depth. And songs like "Fried" and "Valentine" are so cliched and mediocre that they wouldn't have made it through the rehearsal stage 10 years ago.

Instead of delivering incendiary damnations like "Jesus, Please Forgive Me (For The Things I'm About To Say)," the band now serves up flaccid sing-alongs like "Take Me Home."

Even Napolitano, who once ripped her way through songs with the intensity of Janis Joplin by way of Iggy Pop, sleepwalks through the album. A song like "Violent" should seethe with her animal presence. Instead, it drags under her weighty delivery.

Mankey's guitar seems to have weathered the eight-year gap between Group Therapy and 1993's Mexican Moon with his prowess intact. But the new album's collection of songs are so monotonous that they don't give Mankey any room to display his creativity.

Yet not everything on the album is a total bust. The opener, "Roxy," is a rousing homage to Roxy Music, with a rolling guitar line and a hum-able chorus. But the only true highlight is "Tonight," which captures the manic sense of nervousness that characterizes the band's best work.

Concrete Blonde should have left its career where it naturally ended: with the flawless Mexican Moon. Instead, Concrete Blonde has chosen to return and whither away in complete embarrassment of its catalogue.

By Michael Abernethy

2 Stars

O-Jive follows the same tired formula of 311 and clearly left out some vital aspects that go into making good music.

Mixing over-simplified guitar riffs, untrained vocals and tedious bass beats, the band's first attempt is a far cry from good, but it shows potential. The band bursts with energy and youthful angst but fails to express it in an exceptional way.

Building catchy rhythms, bassist Steve Garrett sometimes stumbles upon grinding tunes while drummer Paul Cox exhibits the most talent and versatility. Their respective instruments battle for dominance but blend together nicely, creating a bouncy but rough crunch. A few diversions on the bongos by Cox are welcome and intense additions to the throbbing rhythms.

Taking the dominant musical role, the repetitive chords from guitarists Joe Magnumand Kee Patterson lend their own head-bobbing energy. But their biggest downfall are weak transitions, which jump blindly from one rhythm to another with no regard for consistency. Crisp and quick but sometimes monotonous, the guitars generally contrast with the background to create tough, edgy energy.

But the untrained, nasal voice of Chad Spivey coupled with his silly, contrived lyrics nearly ruin the entire band. Like an overzealous white boy trying to rap like Snoop Dogg, Spivey's spoken lyrics lack any semblance of rhythm. The most talented vocals in the entire LP appear in "How We Belong," spilling from an anonymous female who sounds like Lil' Kim in comparison to Spivey.

Perhaps Spivey's potential could be realized if he stuck to his raucous roars and energetic chants, but he regretfully dabbles in singing -- a tuneless tragedy. No apparent thought or emotion go into his songwriting: "So now you wanna try again/But I'm strong-willed so I doubt you'll win/I'm still a hip-hop, hard-rock ragin' machine/And I don't need your love babe, know what I mean." To top it off, Spivey fills in with random "yeahs!" and labored grunts any time his words and rhythm fail.

A few rough romps like "Sanford's Finest," and "Blotto," show off the musicians' talent and fury. The band even captures a catchy tune or two when it stops taking itself so seriously in the track "Mr. Bullshit."

With a little time, growth and a new vocalist, O-Jive could become an energetic, underground party band. But its first LP is like a crying baby in a movie -- really loud and pretty annoying, but nevertheless you just can't hate it.

By Nick Parker

Blue Collar Groove
Blue Collar Groove
3 Stars

Not long ago, Blue Collar Groove graduated in more ways than one: Not only did a number of the group's members graduate from UNC, but the whole band graduated from the fraternity scene.

There's a stigma attached to any band that gets its start on the fraternity circuit, especially among fellow musicians and critics. It's not that something good has never come from these roots -- many of the area's best bands started out as frat-rockers, it's that the incidence of generic trash is much higher in the frat circuit.

Thus, in the eyes of rock snobs who remember Blue Collar Groove as Slow Children Playing, there is an additional hurdle to overcome before being taken seriously. But overcome they have.

Their independently produced CD shows a great deal of promise with complementary influences such as Medeski, Martin and Wood and The Allman Brothers Band that combine for a surprisingly individual sound.

Will Saylor splits his time between lead singer and lead guitarist for the group. While singing, Saylor's voice and the group's generally more subdued sound recalls lounge jazz. Conversely, when Saylor focuses on the guitar, his long meandering solos seem to infuse the group members with more energy, and they sound more like a light jam band such as Moe.

Saylor's voice doesn't appear to be strong enough to carry the group alone, and it sounds its best when additional vocal support is added by keyboardist Dan Chase and Bassist Mark Kline on "Need to Know."

Aside from brief flashes on the first and final songs of the disc, Chase's considerable skills are chronically underused. He combines with drummer Rick Babaoff for the Blue Collar Groove's liveliest beat on "Insanity." The Latin feel is much different than any of the previous tracks and is evidence of the group's potential ability to make new, interesting music.

Unfortunately, some of the group's other songs sound too similar to lounge jazz and tend to recede into the background. It's irritating that a group capable of making a song as memorable as "Insanity" can make one as generic and forgettable as "Drift Away."

As countless now-defunct bands can attest, there's only so far you can go with frat-rock. With its new CD, Blue Collar Groove seems to be straddling the line between the warm safety of the frat circuit and the relative uncertainty of a new sound. While the band probably could have continued on with a modicum of success with its old frat-rock sound, the matured band now has a more promising, well-developed future ahead of it.

By Trafton Drew

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