Have a Tampa — or Not

Unfettered opinions of local CDs

I got a pretty enthusiastic response a few months back when we ran a full column of local reviews, so I figure we'll try to make some space on at least a semi-quarterly basis to praise, probe and pan our Bay area music makers.

Scotty Clark
Big Largo Tour

Largo singer/songwriter Scotty Clark's full-length starts off strong, with a series of quality country-blues tunes in the storytelling vein of a less wry Ronny Elliott. His untrained voice conveys a convincing earnestness, and the man plays a nicely understated squeeze box to boot. Co-producer Steve Connelly also lends his well-known pedal steel talents to the standout "Largo." The last few tracks fall a bit below the bar, relying on somewhat cliched blues familiarities ("Innocent," "Beale Street Boogie") and chicken pickin' ("Get on Home"), but overall, Big Largo Tour is a solid collection of roots songs from a man who obviously knows how to write 'em. (www.scottyclark.com)
Butterfly Messiah

It's Time CD EP
Fossil Dungeon Records

Electro-dance trio Butterfly Messiah found its fanbase on the Web and has charted highly on various mp3-site lists, by combining industrial/darkwave/Goth atmospheres with a variety of other electronic styles. This single/EP contains three versions of the upbeat, dance-floor-friendly "It's Time," as well as the protracted slow build of "Monument" and pulsing "Machines." While initially interesting, the keening female wail, affected male semi-spoken vocals and faux-ominous ambiance quickly grow rote and caricatured. Plus, any CD containing more takes on one song than other material inevitably comes off as something solely for genre diehards. (www.butterflymessiah.com)
Various Artists

Rockstyle Records 3-Song Sampler
Rockstyle Records

This three-track promo disc from rising Tampa hip-hop imprint Rockstyle Records has everything you'd expect to hear on urban radio. Good production value. A couple of emcees (J-Rock and Deazy) with style and flow. Strong chorus hooks. A sweet and soulful female vocalist (Jaiyan). And the same boastful guns, money, girls and crew subject matter we've been hearing for way too long. J-Rock & Co.'s talent is evident — they're good. But unless they apply those skills to more innovative lyrical ideas, they run the risk of getting lost on the national stage. (www.PRBLM.com)

Of Angels and Gravediggers
Of Angels and Gravediggers

This Tampa metalcore fivesome forgoes nu-school dynamics and hop-along riffs in favor of a style that's half dirge, half perpetual-motion machine. The death metal-inspired vocals add a bit of menace, and the Ministry-esque repetition works well in "Yes This One," and particularly "Your Innocence." Live, this kind of taut slow burn can be insanely effective. As an album-length listening experience, however, the relative dearth of change-ups and infectious grooves is a serious detriment. Everything starts to sound the same far too soon, and pundits may be lost long before the final track "In Fate's Hands," possibly the best thing here.

Reckless Deerhunters/ Dancing Lepers
Split 7-inch
Burn Brandon records

The idea itself deserves five planets: Long-running punk 'zine Burn Brandon's principals get together and decide to put out a record. Then they hold benefit shows until they raise enough money to fund the release, and when they do, it's FREE. Beautiful. This third installment features three songs from venerable hardcore outfit reckless Deerhunters, and two by comparatively new punks Dancing Lepers. The former plies a classically tight and blazing old-school style with plenty of shout-along potential, while the latter pairs a more bluesy, vaguely X-reminiscent sound with some hyper-political lyrics. Neither is blindingly original, but both sides provide an energetic, entertaining and better than average listen.

Various Artists
Almost Invisible
Cephia's Treat recordings

This vinyl-only compilation's been sitting next to my stereo since last fall, but I only recently got a new turntable, so what the hell. (Plus, after my last local-review column, a guy wrote in and intimated that my taste was in my ass, and that I needed to listen to weirder shit. Some of the bands he recommended are on this.) There are 19 regional bands/projects/one-offs here. All of them are pushing the experimental post-rock envelope heavily in one direction or another, and the album is split pretty evenly between daring, intriguing sounds and what comes off as unlistenable noise for the sake of "innovation." High points include Mothko's moody drone; Mammals in the Water's Sonic Youth-isms; The Whore Moans' fuzz-pop; Dead Horse Detective Agency's mix of structure and ordered dissonance; Call Cancel's hypnotic cool; Kenova's catchy, energetic chords; and Transit Mum's disregard for staying in tune. On the whole, the aforementioned great moments are worth wading through some obnoxious cantplaycore. But just barely. (Cephia's Treat, 3416 W. Lemon St., Tampa 33609)

Spacious International
Screw Music Forever

I rarely "got" Spacious International live, and now I know why. They don't write songs; they write music from and inspired by pop culture-cognizant sci-fi films that haven't been made yet. Derail is Esquivel for the post-postmodern set, the soundtrack to a show about some Latin hipster super-spy whose fuck-pad is full of books by edgy authors and whose furniture's the next take on Art Deco. And it works; this is awesome music for headphones or your next successful party. "Out of the White," "Siren" and "Riot Act" steal the show. It does get a bit long, at 18 tracks and God knows however many minutes — by "Ribbons, Cont.," your attention wanders a bit. But the Spacious co-op seems to know exactly what they want to do and are very good at doing it. (www.screwmusicforever.com)

The Swinging Johnsons

This crowd-pleasing array of jazz and R&B styles goes down a lot like a sampler platter at any number of decent American restaurants: it's tasty enough, but it ain't getting into Zagat. By the midpoint, a vaguely Eric Johnson-ish take on the Johnny Mercer-penned "Autumn Leaves," we've heard everything from straight-up bar-jazz and sophisticated blues to funk and light fusion. While all of it is adept, there's a certain lack of bite, and one gets the distinct impression that much of the material is geared toward keeping a pedestrian club audience's attention; the bluesy tunes' hokey, cliched lyrics reinforce that vibe. Standout track "Half a Carafe" aside, the second half of the disc offers more of the same. These guys are obviously good players, as are their contributing friends (including Roomful of Blues sax player Rich Lataille), but Duck spreads itself thin and light in its efforts to cover all bases. (www.swingingjohnsons.net)

Music critic Scott Harrell can be reached at 813-248-8888, ext. 109, or by email at [email protected].

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