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Superdrag; James Michael 

In the Valley of Dying Stars (Arena Rock); Inhale (Beyond)

Superdrag is a supergroup in waiting, a Mid-Atlantic powerhouse out of time. Driven by the lyrics and vocals of John Davis and the sharp, punishing drumming of Don Coffey Jr., the third full-length effort -- released on an indie after two fine CDs for Elektra -- by this Knoxville quartet may be its best. In tunes such as "Gimme Animosity," the creepy "Ambulance Driver," and the bracing "Lighting the Way," Davis, Coffey, guitarist Brandon Fisher, and new bassist Sam Powers effectively perpetuate that hoary genre known as power pop. Ambition is all over this CD, and so is weariness -- as the title suggests. But the lasting impression is power. From the fierce downward guitar strum of "Keep It Close to Me" to the title track, with its soulful '60s harmonies, Superdrag keeps the stakes and energy high. "Lighting the Way" and "Unprepared," respectively, mine the spirit of Cheap Trick and Love, suggesting the depth of the pop reservoir Davis and his buddies draw on so effortlessly.

James Michael is a talented songwriter with abiding affection for new wave. His impressive debut contains a smart cover of Joe Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" and touches on the Cars ("Chemical"), Any Trouble (the prolix "Another Trip Home"), and of course, Cheap Trick (think of "I'm OK With This" as "The Flame" on Paxil). An Angeleno with midwestern roots, Michael, like Superdrag, has an affection and knack for power pop; trawl his promising debut deep enough, and you'll come up with all sorts of stylish influences from the mid-'70s to, say, 1980. His strength is his lyrics. But in the title track and the ravishing "January," Michael promises to be more than a flash in the pan.

More by Carlo Wolff

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