A Go Go
Patty Larkin may just get her due one day. The Boston-based folk singer has been a longtime favorite on the East Coast concert circuit. Beginning in the mid-'80s, Larkin paved the way for a cavalcade of modern female singer-songwriters, including Ani DiFranco, Tracy Chapman and Jewel. On "A Go Go," Larkin's second live album, she combines dexterous guitar work and gritty vocals with razor-sharp wit and psychosomatic observations. Recorded at various East Coast venues, Larkin plays to enthusiastic crowds of the converted. Accompanied only by her own acoustic guitar, she strips her songs to the bone, giving herself little room to hide. She needn't worry. A caustic "Wolf At The Door" kicks off the disc mightily, leading into a deft instrumental workout and moody "Tango." Showcasing material from her extended career, Larkin proves to be lyrically bold and playful at the same time. Non-sequeters worthy of a David Lynch film ("I saw a poodle in a parking lot," "I believe it's not butter") come from deep in left field, always keeping you guessing. With a bit of luck, "A Go Go" might just be the "Frampton Comes Alive" of Patty's career.
311's latest release, "Soundsystem," finds the original "Down" boys on the downside of their final 15 minutes of fame. Omaha's favorite sons have concocted yet another banal blend of lite metal, pseudo-reggae, flaccid funk and raps so pale they make Puff Daddy look like Old Dirty Bastard. The Bill and Ted tradeoff of singer-rappers Nick Hexum and SA Martinez doesn't help either, making the CD sound hopelessly beyond its expiration date. That's because 311 has mined its particular brand of mainstream alternative for years, although the band was never a pioneer to speak of. It just ripped off better bands. "Soundsystem" is another chapter in 311's gradual descent into the land of Sugar Ray.
Live at Schwagstock V
The LA Ramblers was one of Lawrence's truly great bands. In the early '90s the group was a staple of the local club scene, packing houses with an intoxicating blend of bluesy grooves and Dead-informed melodies. Part of the group's magic came from the intricate guitar interplay of Darrell Lea and Brad Boerger. Lea was Jerry Garcia to Boerger's Bob Weir and the Ramblers' live shows were known for extended forays into guitar outerspace. Unfortunately, the band splintered, never really recovering from the departure of effervescent lead singer Stephanie Turner. Chill Factor reunites the band's two guitarists for some serious phunkengroovin'. Lea is one of the area's most under-rated guitarists and his playing ranges from subtle to soaring on "Schwagstock." His nimble touch and passion for extended bluesy riffs contains echoes of everyone from Carlos Santana to Jimi Hendrix. Boerger proves a capable vocalist, and he and Lea pull off some nice harmonies. Seven of the CD's nine songs are covers -- fine for this live jam session but some more original material would have been nice. Boerger's two contributions, the ultra-"Never Would've Found You" and the Ramblers' classic "Never Break Your Fall," are both standouts. If "Schwagstock" is any indication of things to come, Chill Factor could be a local band to watch.
"These are some of my reflections: some thoughts, images, fancies, and hopefully a bit of truth. I hope they bring you peace, joy, hope, and inspiration," states Lawrence-based Celtic artist Pamela Bruner on the liner notes of her second release, "Reflections." Bruner, backed at times by bass, cello, flute and percussion, blends Celtic harp and soaring vocals into a soothing mix of Sunday-morning melodies. Bruner's lush, honey-tinged harp work rightfully takes center stage and she proves to be an adept, inventive player. She also has a compelling, powerful voice. Lyrically though, Bruner definitely lives in the Ren-Fest land of Dungeons and Dragons, where fairies run through fields dancing to the pipes of Pan. Still, it all works nicely here and "Reflections" proves to be an easy-going trip worth taking.
-- by Geoff Harkness, music writer for The Mag