Local music scene has many faces, a not-so-low profile


September 19, 1993|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Baltimore is not Seattle.

That's not a statement of geography (though one look at a map will tell you it's true), but of musical culture. Seattle, home of flannel and grunge, is currently believed to have America's most potent rock and roll scene, thanks to a local band roster that includes such luminaries as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Merely mention the words "Seattle sound" to a record industry talent scout, and he or she will salivate visibly.

Baltimore isn't Atlanta, either.

Atlanta is, by almost any reckoning, the R&B center of the universe. It's where Babyface, Peabo Bryson, Frankie Beverly, TLC, Kris Kross, Duice and former Baltimorean Toni Braxton all ++ call home. And regardless of whether you say "whoot" or "whoomp," Atlanta is clearly the "there" in "there it is!"

Still, even if Baltimore isn't the most happening city in America, its local music scene is hardly the wasteland it once was. Not only is the Baltimore area home to some world-class musicians, but its record-industry profile gets higher with each passing year. Next month, for example, will see major-label releases from dance diva Ultra Nate (her second album) and guitar pop phenoms the Woodies (their first).

Granted, there still is no such thing as a "Baltimore sound," but that's understandable given the stylistic variety found here in Mobtown. Sift through the local albums reviewed below, and you'll find all manner of musical experience, from thrash to folk to jazz and beyond.

(Note to readers: Many of these albums are distributed through major labels, and should be available at any local record store. Others may be harder to find, in which case we've included an address for mail orders.)



(Atlantic 82499)

By far the area's best-known and most-successful hard rock act, this Hagerstown quintet has been cranking out albums for a dozen years now. Critics love 'em, and for good reason -- few bands have ever combined pop-rock smarts with heavy-guitar crunch as effectively as these guys have. Imagine if AC/DC had Cheap Trick's ear for melody, and you'll have a reasonable idea of why Kix has never been just for kids.

"Live" finds the band at something of a crossroads. On the one hand, the rabidly enthusiastic audience at the University of Maryland's Richie Coliseum gives Kix precisely the sort of roaring welcome you'd expect of a chart-topping hard rock crew cutting its sixth album. Trouble is, apart from "Don't Close Your Eyes," none of the songs included here ever achieved the success they deserved.

No matter. "Girl Money" certainly sounds like a big hit here, while "Rock & Roll Overdose" is blessed with an urgency the studio version never had. And even if "Don't Close Your Eyes" loses a little in its live setting, it's still enough to leave most listeners as excited as fans at Richie.

* Souls at Zero

"Souls at Zero" (Energy 81104).

If the name rings no bells, there should be something familiar about the faces, because these four guys used to be known as Wrathchild America. Like the old band, Souls at Zero specialize in angry, edgy, socially disaffected thrash; the only real difference is that instead of the jack-hammer riffs of yore, the new version of the band boasts a more varied musical arsenal.

It's a minor change, but very much for the better. True, most of the album is split between slow-grinding tunes that chew their melodies the way a chain saw eats deadwood, and hell-for-leather riffs that clatter along as noisily as an empty dump truck, but there are a few numbers -- "Welcome to the '90s" springs to mind -- that find the Souls displaying an impressive degree of melodic imagination.

5) Too bad they don't use it more often.

* Love Riot

"Love Riot" (LR 101).

There's a difference between folk music and acoustic rock, but few bands mark that distinction as clearly as Love Riot. Although the quartet's instrumentation -- acoustic guitar, bass, violin and voice -- doesn't exactly lend itself to kicking out the jams, the playing on the 10 songs collected here is anything but sedate.

Credit for much of that belongs with the group's instrumental balance. Rather than take a strictly conventional approach, with violinist Mikel Gehl carrying the melody while guitarist Willem Elzevir and bassist Mark Evanko handle harmony and rhythm, the three swap roles throughout, with Evanko carrying much of the melodic weight in "Without You Here" while Gehl seems to drive the band through much of "Orbit."

Granted, not every song works; "Calling" rocks woodenly, while "Tell Me" never quite finds a vocal line that's as interesting as its instrumental atmosphere. But Lisa Matthews adds enough luster these melodies to make even the weak songs enjoyable, while making the strongest melodies -- particularly "Killing Time" -- shine like gems. (2116 Mount Royal Terrace, Baltimore, Md. 21217)

* Probable Cause

"Equal Justice" (New Dawn 100)

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