Like much of this city's cultural life, Baltimore's pop music scene is a lot more impressive than it appears at first glance.
GES Records, P.O. Box 2005, Ellicott City, Md. 21041-2005.
Love Nut "Bastards of Melody" (Merkin MM338)
Part of the problem with power pop bands is that they tend to offer more pop than power, sacrificing the visceral intensity of screaming guitars for the gentler pleasures of acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies. That's not the case with Love Nut -- if anything, the band goes too far in the opposite direction.
Unlike a lot of alterna-rockers today, Love Nut owes less to Big Star than to Cheap Trick, meaning that there's a nice, meaty wallop to tunes like "Star" and their inspired remake of the Lemon Pipers' oldie "Green Tambourine." For sheer crank-it-up energy, Love Nut has few peers locally.
Trouble is, they push that end of their sound a little too hard. From the double-timed cadences of "She Won't Do Me" to the full-throttle roar of "Black Cat," there's a sense that the band lets the power of its instrumental attack run away with the material. Worse, the vocals are mixed ridiculously low, a mistake that undercuts the appeal of buoyantly melodic fare like "Into Battle." Given the right direction and a cannier producer, Love Nut could become as well-known and respected as the Posies. But as it stands, "Bastards of Melody" offers more potential than achievement.
Merkin Records, 310 E. Biddle St., Baltimore, Md. 21202.
Lisa Cerbone "Close Your Eyes" (Ichiban 24853)
Because she gets sole billing and her picture on the cover, it's easy to mistake Cerbone's "Close Your Eyes" for a singer-songwriter solo effort. But even though Cerbone is clearly the album's guiding talent, what carries this recording is the collaborative nature of the performances, which bring a full-band intensity to the music.
That's important both because it reflects the way Cerbone normally works, but also because her singing needs the heft and momentum of cohesive instrumental support. Wispy and girlish, Cerbone's voice can come across as fey and insubstantial without proper support -- which is not the best way to put across songs as serious and introspective as "Manic Depressive Jubilation."
Fortunately, the playing fleshes out the material quite nicely, from the lazy guitar and country-style fiddle of "Close Your Eyes" to the swirl of guitar and keyboard that powers "Amber." Even better, the album has been remixed and sweetened since its original release (as "Lisa Cerbone" on the local Sudden Place label), and boasts a richer, more muscular sound than before.
D8 Ichiban, 3991 Royal Drive N.W., Kennesaw, Ga. 30144.
disappear fear "Deep Soul Diver" (Philo 1173), "Live at the Bottom Line" (Philo 1172)
After building an audience through relentless touring and several well-received independent releases, disappear fear made its major-label debut last year with a self-titled album for Philo. Now the label has reissued the band's back catalog on two CDs, "Deep Soul Diver" and "Live at the Bottom Line."
Of the two, "Live" will probably be of greatest interest to long-time fans, since it offers cleaner sound and smoother editing than the original version. This time around, it really is like being there, and the vocal interplay between sisters Cindy Frank and Sonia Rutstein is rendered beautifully. Even better, there's a bonus track: a wry, country-style reading of "Long Long Way to Go."
"Deep Soul Diver" will be of less interest to those who already own the original, of course, but that shouldn't put off more recent fans. It could be said that the album includes some of the duo's best writing, from the wry, Beatlesque "On the Beach" to the flamenco-tinged "Sexual Telepathy."
Philo, c/o Rounder Records, 1 Camp St., Cambridge, Mass. 02140
Ken Navarro "Brighter Days" (Positive Music 77822)
Although it says "File Under Jazz" on the back, the music guitarist Ken Navarro makes is actually closer to easy listening pop. That's not to say there isn't plenty of improvisation here; Navarro solos throughout the album, as do saxophonist Brandon Fields, keyboardist Dan Reynolds and bassist Gary Grainger.
But the solos are generally short and sweet, with the emphasis on the "sweet." This is jazz lite, and as such offers more in the way of intricate arrangements and instrumental proficiency than improvisational fire. Navarro in particular is a capable player, with enough technique to ensure that his tone is as rich and clear on acoustic guitar as it is on the electric.
But as pleasant as the album's sound is, the content of "Brighter Days" is eminently forgettable, working better as background sound than as listening music.
C7 Positive Music, P.O. Box 1521, Columbia, Md. 21044.