By and large, metal expresses the angst and social misplacement of the years between the onset of acne and the declaration of a college major. That realization came courtesy of the local boys Fall in Union, whose debut United We Stand could stand next to 90 percent of the output of the brothers in arms. That's the good news. The bad news is that their riffs (musically and lyrically) remind listeners that, if a band with a median age of fifteen gets it, it might not be that deep to begin with.
Fall in Union is not just a good band for its age. The musicianship is solid at every position. Guitarist Steven Poprocki has won the band much of its early notoriety, because he's only thirteen years old and is able to approximate Steve Vai's sonic whammy skywriting. Bassist Hank Hellwig is a melodic and occasionally upfront bass player. The shredding doesn't always work, but the combination of crunch and rap still explores refreshingly novel territory, especially on "Last Respect."
United We Stand is to be applauded for its anti-drug stance, but mainly for stepping to the plate and delivering the goods. The uncredited producer deserves as big a hand as anyone for his great sound, which Metallica took three albums (charitably) to achieve.
The Clarks Live
For Pittsburgh's the Clarks, fame has been limited to the Ohio-Pennsylvania region. Yet they have quite a following, selling 70,000 discs in the past ten years--not bad for a band that has never been on a major label.
For those who haven't seen or heard the band, The Clarks Live offers the ideal opportunity to sample their songwriting talents. Spirited with blue-collar harmonies and beer-joint guitar riffs, the Clarks have much to offer the down and out. "Penny on the Floor" is a somber track depicting everyday life. Never too far from a friendly power chord, the Clarks also have the ability to kick up the tempo ("If I Can't Have You" and "Brand New") when needed. Honest storytelling appears to be their forte. Lead singer Scott Blasey guides the band through its tales, using his depressing delivery and moralizing vocal style.
The band should have resisted the temptation to include the out-of-place cover of Prince's "Kiss." For the same reason this track works in a live setting--a smoky room, the smell of beer, and an enthusiastic crowd--it fails on disc. The lack of atmosphere leaves Blasey's high voice alone with this straightforward cover.
The Clarks Live may not break this band nationally, but it's a perfect recap for fans and a great place for the interested to start.
P.O. Box 15262
Pittsburgh, PA 15237
Time + Place
Classy rock and roll acts are a tough sell. Without a smudge of grit to balance out the laid-back beauty, it's hard to appreciate many of Summersalt's strong points.
Most of Time + Place is driven along by the impressive, slick blues/pop chops of Mark Brennan's guitar, Tim Ginley's simplistic but in-the-pocket drumming, and guest appearances by the likes of the Michael Stanley Band's violinist Ed Caner. But beyond the obvious professionalism of the musicians, Time + Place lacks fire and tension--it's upbeat suburban hippie rock that's great for backyard cookouts.
In their better moments, Lawler's ethereal, swaying vocals are vaguely reminiscent of Yes's John Anderson or a poor man's Graham Nash. But a tune such as "Beautiful Day" is virtually sunk by its complete lack of lyrical purpose ("What a beautiful day to come outside/The sun is shining so yellow and bright/And it makes me feel all right"). When given a chance to float freely over the shuffling rhythm of "The Day Before" or shimmer through the title track, the effect works. It's when the band goes for a funky country feel ("That's Then") or more overt hard rock ("Downpour") that his pale, easygoing leaves one wishing for a more world-weary voice. Elsewhere, guest pianist Pete Tokar shines on "For You and Me" and the bluesy "Baby Come Home," but here again the unfocused, ambiguous lyrical content fail to intrigue for long.
Time + Place is a relaxing, pleasurable ride. But where most bands need to tone down the gimmickry and write songs with clear sentiment, Summersalt would be a much more powerful outfit with subject matter a little more poignant than sunny days. And turn up the amps a little.
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