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In our own back yard


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 31, 2000

An occasional roundup of compact discs by local musicians.

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THE ASHES OF GRISUM, COMPLETED WORKS VOLUME 1. Ashes of Grisum sounds a lot like Nick Cave's the Birthday Party or an alt-rock version of the Doors, thanks to the world-weary vocal delivery of Tampa poet/singer Chris Temple. The quartet makes brooding music that delves into mopiness and melodrama, but don't let that scare you; the tunes are intelligent, the playing is precise, and Temple's agonized cries of "I cannot go on" (Out of The Womb) sound surprisingly good. Guest violin courtesy by Liza Wakeman of Tampa's November Foxtrot Whiskey.

FUNKGHOST, ULTRA-BOOGIE HIGHLIFE. Proof that Tampa can get its hip-hop groove on, Funkghost's Ultra-Boogie Highlife is jam-packed with seductive R&B, ambient house grooves, and super fly laid back rap. The Fabulous . . . and U Can Get Down are funky with a capital F. Add clever samples, plenty of shout outs to Tampa Bay (yeah, it sounds kind of weird) and you get quality hip-hop, the level of any national act.

THE SWINGING JOHNSONS, GET A LIFE! The Swinging Johnsons grab from jazz, blues, swing, even Steely Dan to create a sassy, energetic sound that gets toes tapping. Moe Johnson's bluesy growl could make anyone who's into Motown melt. The fine slide trombone of Clinton Johnson (yes, like the Ramones, all these Swinging guys have the same last name) makes you wish you'd hear that instrument more often. Not all of Get A Life! is so rowdy. Huh? is a delicate little number, showing the Johnson's, er, softer side.

IF TANYA COULD TALK, YEAH BABY! Lead cut Twentysomething is feel-good pop, but listen closely: that jingle jangle guitar and Joe Spector's low and weary vocals hint of Morrissey and the Smiths circa 1986. (Though If Tanya Could Talk would probably balk at such a weird comparison.) Eric Richard's slap happy-bass on Love Me funks things up. Blue Eyes is another winner.

DAVE HARDIN, NINE YEARS ALONE. Hardin knows how to craft a song and others recognize that; Hardin was twice awarded Best Songwriter honors by the Weekly Planet.

Nine Years Alone is top-quality folk and roots rock with awesome arrangements. Hardin's sandpapery voice and nuanced, charming delivery in a Kentucky drawl make songs such as Between Us beautiful. Nu Varnes, with its big bright chorus and gorgeous harmonies is an instant forget-me-not.

With buddy Patrick Bettison fleshing out tunes with harmonica, piano and slide guitar, Nine Years Alone would sound at home on VH1, in Borders, even on your car stereo.

VERSAILLES, THE GREAT AXIS. Someone has listened to some Henry Rollins records. The staccato vocals on The Great Axis -- by both bassist Bryan Bates and guitarist Heath Dupras -- make Versailles sound like Black Flag doing prog rock. You can also hear influences such as Polvo, Unwound and Slint. Drummer Simon Baker keeps things heavy.

The tunes on The Great Axis take their time: 6 minutes here, 7 minutes there. But, please, don't rush Versailles; The Great Axis sounds like the band's therapy. It's primal stuff, aggressive and disarmingly emotional. The Great Axis is revealing, the sonic equivalent of peeling the Band Aid from your wound.

ROB TYRE AND THE ROCKETS OF LOVE, PERSONAL PROBLEM. If it's well-crafted pop you want, Rob Tyre and the Rockets of Love can deliver. Tyre, a mainstay of Tampa Bay's local music scene, has a voice that's all grit-covered-in-honey like Dave Matthews'. School Boy shows he has lyrical chops to boot. Tyre has quite a band in the Rockets of Love. Listen to that sax, and the awesome drums and percussion of Barry "Bongo" Ross. All of Personal Problem is catchy and heartfelt, as good as -- better? -- than anything on 95.7.

ALLON SAMS, BAYSHORE Sams crafts polished jazz as smooth as David Benoit but with a bit more oomph. Sams' keyboard playing on Bayshore is sublime and finely accented by John Mayeaux's acoustic and electric guitar. Greg Cannon's sax makes the mix sultry.

If it's smooth, romantic, first-date tunes you need while lighting those candles and chilling that chardonnay, why not try Bayshore?

DAMN THE TORPEDOES, DAMN THE TORPEDOES Kyle Ashley sings like a man who could front Whitesnake, .38 Special or any other big hair 1980s hard-rock band. Ashley's voice, a little bluesy, a lot testosteroney, is rugged. It works for numbers such as Mojo Woman. Big choruses and tasty guitar licks make Damn the Torpedoes fun.

Why not throw in a tender ballad -- Angel -- to show you know how to treat your lady after enticing her with your ballast? Guest vocals from Cheap Trick's Robin Zander -- how'd they swing that? -- make the cover of the Beatles' Help From My Friends live up to its name.

KILL THEORY, WE WON'T FOLLOW THEIR FOOTSTEPS. Jeez, for a bunch of teenage musicians enrolled in the Pinellas County Center for the Arts program at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg, Kill Theory sure makes some raucous noise. (Okay, so all four are in the visual arts program.) You were expecting Mozart maybe? Ha! Kill Theory is a sonic assault. Check out Erik Jones' pummeling drums and the Cookie Monster-gone-mental vocals of Josh Stanton. Add Russell Hause's feverish guitar and Justin Monaco's heavy bass on songs with cheery titles such as Live A Lie and Crimes Against Humanity and -- whooee -- that's one mighty big chip on your shoulder there, son.

But, it's not all aggression for aggression's sake. Pay attention, and you'll hear that, despite the bludgeoning sound, this stuff is intricately arranged. The lyrics (those which can be deciphered) are intelligent and provocative. Still, We Won't Follow serves to do what all rock should, namely, vent your frustration and make your parents wonder what the heck's wrong with you.

If you would like your local act's CD considered for In Our Own Back Yard, send it to Gina Vivinetto, St. Petersburg Times, P.O Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

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