Short Cuts

-- Larry Getlen

David Rice
greenelectric
(Columbia)

Back in the early '90s, when most of the country was moshing to the riffs of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, many Christian rockers sat quietly and took copious notes, absorbing the distorted riffs, the feedback-soaked guitar, the plaintive vocals. They learned their lessons well, if the success of Jars of Clay is any indication.

One of the musicians in the back of the classroom was a young singer-songwriter named David Rice. The 26-year-old from Houston came of age in the early '90s, and, like many Christian artists, he seems to have been at once attracted to and repelled by the grunge scene, with its combination of self-pity and pathos. Rice's career has been filled with contradictions (he has admitted to having a childhood fascination with Jews for Jesus), and he's still trying to find a synthesis -- or a fragile reconciliation -- between the spiritual and secular worlds.

With his major-label debut, Rice has hit on something. Despite his standard altrock rasp and radio-ready tunes, he's made a pretty solid album with greenelectric. While many of the lyrics maintain the grave earnestness of so many Christian artists ("We will be together after I expire"), there are enough offbeat lines to keep you on your toes ("The ribbon voice is wrapping around the table offering"). Musically, the record suffers from an illness that plagues a lot of today's bands: too few chords and too many familiar riffs. But most of the melodies are catchy, and the more experimental numbers are intriguing. The hymnlike "I See You" feels as airy as a wafer at Mass, while "Good Life Alone" deploys a triumphant string section. "Watching You Remembering" even ends with an arena-rock digression of Oasis-like proportions.

Anyone expecting the nihilism of Nirvana from a Christian rocker such as Rice will be disappointed with greenelectric. Nevertheless, Rice has proven that you can have your feedback and drink from the Holy Grail, too.

-- Steven M. Zeitchik

Paul Thorn
Hammer & Nail
(A&M)

A former boxer born and raised in Tupelo, Mississippi, Paul Thorn creates music that is awkwardly positioned between the worlds of country and rock, which means, in all likelihood, that this fine debut will fall by the commercial wayside. More's the pity. Hammer & Nail is a delightful collection of up-tempo rockers and bluesy ballads, distinguished by the sure melodic sense of Thorn and his songwriting partner, Billy Maddox, a fixture on Nashville's music scene.

The fare ranges from rollicking anthems ("A Heart With 4 Wheel Drive") to tales of romantic woe ("I Bet He Knows"). Thorn's wry lyricism tends to focus on his workingman's roots (as on "Double Wide Paradise," a paean to trailer park love), though he is not averse to chronicling the more unusual episodes in his life. In the scorching title track, for instance, he details his ill-fated pugilistic career: "I climbed into the ring with Roberto Duran/And the punches began to rain down/He hit me with a dozen hard uppercuts/And my corner threw in the towel."

Thorn favors lush arrangements with Wurlitzers, organ washes, a rich variety of percussive textures (congas, tambourine), and a layering of guitar washes (courtesy of Bill Hinds). "Temporarily Forever Mine" is an unflinching examination of Thorn's dissolved marriage, and "Every Little Bit Hurts" is a classic tale of heartbreak. At the other end of the spectrum, the hidden track "Joanie," about a Jehovah's Witness who's also a stripper, showcases Thorn's sense of whimsy and abundant wit. Throughout, Thorn's voice is smoky and supple. The man may have been nothing to brag about in the ring, but he more than compensates with his powerful and bracing music.

-- Steven Almond

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