REVIEWED! 1.4.2001


Take the Cliffs' natural kinetic powerpop energy - one that is laced with knowing winks at  The Who, The Move, the Smithereens and Elvis Costello, and get a Beatlesque auteur like producer Andy Bopp to harness and package it and VOILA! This eponymous third effort from the trio of Joey Salvia, Wayne Thomas Kurz and Dennis Carollo finds itself in musical territory somewhere in between well, The Shazam and Myracle Brah - not a bad place to be in! Lovers of guitar pop will not be disappointed with gems like Ride, Wednesday Girl, Ambivalent, Collagen Lips, B-Side, Hooked Again and Gary Numan. 8

THE FLETCHER PRATT Nine By Nine [Rainbow Quartz] E-mail:

First the bad news - it really takes some getting use to the vocals of both George Dubber and Stephen Palmer but once you do get past that minor hiccup, well, good news! The songwriting team of Dubber-Palmer together with bassist Joe Lavis and drummer Joe Leone present a formidable powerpop aggregation. There is an obvious inclination towards British Invasion pop viz. The Kinks, The Who and The Move and thankfully, the ability to deliver memorable songs (eg. Satellite, Living In the House, Million Miles, Listen As It Fades etc) based on this template. Always fun, always smart, always strong. 7

GRAIG MARKEL Hard Grammer [Magwheel]

Markel returns with another batch of distinct, idiosyncratic but consistently well-made alternative rock that challenges the status quo of bland, safe pop fodder. I would liken him to a 21st century version of early 70s Todd Rundgren. Dangerous yet soulful, unpredictable yet professional, independent yet accessible. Edgy and familiar is Markel's modus operandi on songs like In Like A Lion, All Aces, D'azz, Live Without It, Boys and Girls and Virgo's Merlot. Much to admire here. 8.5

JOHN NEWLANDS [Burning Circus Productions] E-mail:

Describing this CD as a  homemade demo is probably doing grave injustice to the sheer quality of the tunes and the production values of this truly shimmering collection of songs. Imagine the melodic and arranging gifts of Brian Wilson & Todd Rundgren compressed in one frenzied, hyperactive burst of creativity. Well, that is certainly what the obviously talented John Newlands sounds like. The quality of the vocal arrangements - heavenly and funky, the sophisticated pure pop vibe - heartfelt and soulful, recall such blue-eyed soul boys as Michael McDonald-led Doobie Brothers, Hall & Oates and yes, Todd. There's just so much to relish here. Impressive. 8.5

LOLA BARBERSHOP [Torpedo Records] E-mail:

Don't laugh now but Swedish quartet Lola Barbershop is pretty serious about its pop pedigree. Thus, they merrily evoke the Beach Boys (Sportsman), the Beatles (Sometimes), the Monkees (Sandy), the Byrds (His First Guitar) and Jan and Dean (Beachparty) without a hint of self-consciousness. Nothing earth-shattering but it's comforting to note that the wide-eyed innocence of the material still manages to work its magic. 7

MATT EASTON Love Ambition [Demo] E-mail:

5 tracks that will haunt you in the same way that music of the late Roy Orbison used to. Songs that touch the heart and enrich the soul, songs that uplift and console. Spare instrumentation is utilized to convey the melancholy tone as Easton's jazz-folk structures and versatile larynx more than keep things intriguing. Introspective and personal, Easton's style recalls the likes of Mark (American Music Club) Eitzel and Mark (Red House Painters) Kozelek, though to be fair, Easton is not quite as morose. An American edition of the New Acoustic Movement making waves in the UK (Coldplay, Badly Drawn Boy) - hopefully Easton will get the attention he richly deserves. 8

REVEREND HORTON HEAT Spend A Night In the Box [Time Bomb]

"You so hip/You're so chic and stylish with that sexy little smile of yours/tell me just how old you are" - mmm, don't you just love retro-punk? Y'know, the kind that is imbued with spunk and guts rather than designer baseball caps. The Rev. Horton Heat does what he does best - high energy rockabilly and rock 'n' roll with an attitude. Well, the kind that made moms and dads frown at the antics of a certain Elvis Aaron Presley, all those years ago. Get ready for a raucous, rollicking time! 7.5

WALON SMITH Too Far Gone [Explosive] PMB 177 3325 Loma Road Suite 2 Birmingham AL 35216

With a finger on the pulse of Replacements-Soul Asylum inspired garage rock, Walon Smith and his merry band deliver top notch, well-constructed recordings that indicate a clear grasp of the dynamics of roots rock n roll. Plainly, on songs like Juliana, Fly (with gorgeous pedal steel), Bubble Boy and Nevermind, Smith compensates for the low-fidelity production values with an infectious enthusiasm for good old fashioned melodic rock! 7

THE ALICE PROJECT Travelling With Lady Berlin [Clown Milk Records]

Alice Leon leads The Alice Project from the front, displaying her strong musical attributes, prominently, a solid set of pipes that, to these ears, bring to mind the likes of Chrissie Hynde, Shawn Colvin, Aimie Mann (and even Grace Slick too!). If these comparisons suggest an adult alternative pop perspective then you're right - there is an emphasis on simple infectious melodies and mature arrangements that leans rather heavily towards the sound of Bruce Hornsby (Scott Monetti's piano playing is the key to this) and Dan Fogelberg. AOR? Perhaps but you can't seriously quibble with the class of songs like 8-10 Parliament Street, Marilyn's Things and Lady Berlin. Pleasant and slick, with a pedigree soft rock fans will greatly appreciated. 7.5

INSANITY WAVE The Minor League [Elmer] E-mail:

Hah! Insanity Wave, a trio based in Madrid, sure had me thrown for a loop. Judging the cover with its goofy Simpsons-like art and references in their profile to Husker Du, Plimsouls, replacements and Green Day, I really expected them to play, well, punk-pop (wouldn't you?) but instead, I am treated to some of the sweetest countrified folk-rock this side of the um century. No joshing! Waitaminute! Isn't that Mitch Easter credited as producer and performing additional guitars. it all makes perfect sense. Let me put it these way - earthy, easy on the ears, breezy, rustic and heartfelt - what more proof do you need? An inspired album that deserves its plaudits. 7.5