[Sidebar] June 29 - July 6, 2000
[Music Reviews]
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401 calling

New goodies from Foxtrot Zulu, Toledo Skye, more

by Bob Gulla

Foxtrot Zulu

Now that the water's warming up, it's nice to have some cool tunes to stay balanced. And while it's a good thing to hit record store racks in search of the Next Big Thing, it's equally excellent to pick up a few local releases. Not only will you be assisting local musicians in their quest for gainful employment, you'll find out how darn good some of this stuff is. So what if it doesn't make it to your radio?

Foxtrot Zulu: Live . . . (Phoenix)

When a band is on, the power of its performance can lift an audience off its feet. Good songs sound great, great playing sounds excellent, and the whole thing mingles with audience adrenaline in creating a spectacular connection of mood and sound. It doesn't matter if you're Springsteen or Spring Heeled Jack, international or a strictly saloon. The key is making that connection.

One of the area's best live bands, Foxtrot Zulu tries hard to create that kind of experience for its audience on Live . . ., their dandy new concert document that's without a doubt the next best thing to being there. Recorded over two nights in January at the Ocean Mist down in Matunuck, the monstrous, 75-minute jag finds the band at their casual, instrumental best, as they sink their teeth into nine of their kickin'est show tunes.

When they're at the top of their game, Foxtrot Zulu closes in on the trippy Latinismo of early '70s (aka "prime era") Santana. It seems that whenever FZ jams expand into something meaty, as they do on the dazzling, 16-minute closer "Equador" and the exhilarating, nine-plus minute "Raygay Rocky," the band leans some on sizzling Cuban percussion and horn elements. At the very least they sound like a fleeter version of the Dave Matthews Band, with the same elite chops but a slightly more aggressive jam element.

Though there's not much of him to be heard across the record, singer Nate Edmunds makes his presence felt on rhythm guitar. He and lead guitarist Neal Jones, along with bassist Brad Haas give the whole shebang a cushiony foundation, upon which the rest of the band goes to town, stomping all over it with horns, Paul Miller's busy bongos, even special guest Eric Neff's gritty violin. Those of you who have seen Foxtrot Zulu and have been swept away by their melodic frenetics, you're gonna wanna have this disc lying around as both a souvenir and a cure for what ails ya. If you've never seen the septet, you might wanna get off the couch first to check 'em out. Chances are you'll want more once that's done.

Toledo Skye (Sunset Venue Music)

Guitarist Craig Roberts and Fletcher Christian of Toledo Skye have got a good thing going and it shows. Their eponymous debut album is an ebullient piece of pretty pop, full of jangly guitars, husky tenor-singing, and solid melodies. There's enough power on songs like the rousing "Going Home" and "Lead You On" to keep things fresh and interesting; while more contemplative tunes like the affectionate "Heroes" (where Christian sounds amazingly like Axl Rose!) and the chilling "So Happy" help to give Toledo Skye a vibrant spectrum of moods.

The record would have benefitted from a more professional drum sound. Band member Kevin Ferias is a perfectly capable drummer, but the band's own production doesn't flatter and the percussion chair sits poorly in the mix. But that's a resolvable technical glitch and not a more difficult stylistic one. Toledo Skye is a welcome work by a talented and enthusiastic new entry in the area's modern rock genus.

John Crawlin' Snake Mac: End o' Time Blues (Laughing Mountain Records)

Relocated to Providence recently from New York City, John Maciel comes as an excellent addition to Rhode Island's cozy but essential blues scene. Mac's a traditionalist, more or less, in the way a guy like Paul Geremia is, only Mac's sights are set slightly more into the future. While he'll fingerpick a storm ala Robert Johnson, Lightnin' Hopkins, even Tampa Red, he'll also explore some vaguely electric alleyways. On his latest album, End o' Time Blues, Mac first and foremost proves himself to be reverent of those pillars of the blues art form. Songs like the closing, slide-happy "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" and the ripping "Wrong House for My Bed" show that Mac's as reverent as they come, while the dizzying "The Great Disappearing Law" and the stomping "Chicken in a Wolfhouse" feature Mac fronting a dynamic quartet. Whichever way you slice it, End o' Time Blues is a potent work, straddling the line between past and future, standard and aspiring classic. After all, isn't that where the blues should be?

The Agents: 401 (Radical Records)

From the first few toots of that spicy horn section on the Agents' new record 401, you know you're in for quite the listening party. From the opening "Long Time" through quick crispies like "Sally Brown" and "Good Foot," the record is a tropical riot of new ska and reggae. Guitarist and singer Jason Dalomba leads the way with a tactile kind of neo-Jamaican dub poetry, while Dawn Hamel and Frank Moniz, among others fill the horn charts with piquant playing. The recording's sonics are high and crisp, with just enough of Jay Medeiros' bass and Kris Branco's shussing drum tempo to keep things moving briskly.

Playing ska in this day and age may not provide the Agents with the combination to the bank safe, but it still -- whether it's trendy or not -- makes for a night of slick, sweaty fun. Kudos to them for sticking with the kind of music that makes them -- and us -- happy.

South of Providence

Part late period Gun Club, part rockabilly, part Uncle Tupelo-style roots rock, South of Providence -- featuring Brian P. on busy bass, Brandon Lee on drums and Zach D. on guitars and vocals -- is the kind of record you wouldn't expect to come out of Providence, actually seven miles South of Providence. But here you have it, and it's a rockin' delight, full of bumptious charm and rat-a-tat-tat drumming, Zach's shambling vocals, and a bubbling rhythmic underpinning.

One of the coolest things about South of Providence is its brevity. With a full nine cuts, it clocks in at an ultra-lean 15 minutes, meaning most of the band's songs get in, make a potent point, and get out in a matter of a minute or two. Songs like "High School Sentimental" and "A Strange Place" work their brief magic with terse arrangements and savvy lyrical twists, while a cover of Johnny Cash's "Mean Eyed Cat" fits in nicely thank you astride the band's own work. Good to the last drop, too: the band's final cut, the woozy "10," is the best on the album.

WANDERING EYE. Tonight (6/29) at AS220 sounds like a cool evening for hipsters. am*be*thang is an ambient/electronic/acoustic/sound/ image thing starring Basque, Cathode Ray Tube, Carrier 81, One Among Many, and Ogre B. Doors open at 8:30, the performance at 9:30. Admission is $5.

Bob Gulla can be reached at b_gulla@yahoo.com.

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