Bandwidth

In which we sift through a mixed bag of local CDs from Big Sky, China Doll, Grant Livingston, and Eyes of Pandora

Whew! Florida musicians are pumping out product faster than Bandwidth Labs' techs can take 'em for test runs. Blame it on the rock-bottom prices on CD burners -- even small pets and most stuffed animals can make an album nowadays. Here's the latest assortment to come through my transom, compiled for your pleasure.


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Big Sky
Under the Megawatt Moon
(Phoenix Media Group)

This live document from Gainesville's Big Sky nestles snugly into the Toad the Rusted Soul Traveler mold, which apparently makes for a serious collegiate fan base and an MOR radio station's wet dream. This well-crafted live set recorded last summer at Orlando's Sapphire Supper Club is the sort of thing followers of the Dave Matthews Band would eat right up. Big Sky is a big band (seven members) with a big, albeit painfully unsophisticated, sound. Singer Mark Gaignard isn't weighed down by playing an instrument, so he can fully lose himself in his junior rock-star histrionics: "Hello, Sapphire!" "This song's a rock 'n' roll song!" "Make some noise!" and "Here we go!" are among his most erudite exhortations, copped straight from the foreword to The Complete Idiot's Guide to Southern Bar-Band Stereotypes. Similarly his lyrics are never able to rise above the level of "Don't tease me/Just please me/ The way you treat me is a crime." But the slightly soused­sounding crowd seems to love it, hollering and clapping on cue.

Dave Kurzman's sax and flute prowess makes for Megawatt Moon's most consistently interesting moments, although he is largely to blame for the pointless, unwelcome cover of Men at Work's "Down Under," delivered (alas) without a hint of irony. Pass the Vegemite.( Big Sky)


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China Doll
Welcome to Loveland
(self-released)

Sunrise's China Doll is almost completely dominated by the strong, oddly accented vocals of Rossella Lamendola, which have a stern, almost operatic quality. Even so, the group's keyboard-dominated psychedelia remains sturdy enough to endure them. Lamendola, bassist Matt Annati, and singer-keyboardist Renata Annati share songwriting duties, the results dealing primarily with interpersonal relationships. China Doll departs slightly from this formula on the jealous tirade of "I Love a Parade" ("Picture this, your name in lights so big and bright/I wish/That I could open up for you I'm just as good/At playing songs that no one listens to"). The ambitious "I Become Invisible" is a jangly vehicle for Lamendola's soaring voice, which strives for the theatrical heights once scaled by Klaus Nomi and Lene Lovich. Welcome to Loveland, though primarily a showcase for the athletic overachievement of Lamendola's singing prowess, is a promising effort from a Broward group not afraid to color outside the lines. (chinadoll003@cs.com)


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Grant Livingston
Let Me off the Leash
(self-released)

Parrotheads and Mardi Gras bead­ tossers will probably rejoice over the antics of singer-guitarist Grant Livingston, but the Miami native is actually toiling overtime to drain ersatz West Indies folk, Southern blues, and quirky zydeco dry of clichés. He's also couching his made-for­grade school songs in an adult-contemporary setting, though they're clearly geared toward children: For instance, Livingston's in the doghouse on the title track, gets catty on the Cajun-flavored "Le Chat Gris," and gives sailing lessons on "Pointy Side Up." With plenty of guests adding fiddle, accordion, dobro, harmonica, and clarinet, Livingston fashions Let Me off the Leash into an appropriately optimistic and pleasant acoustic-folk experience but brings little to the table in the way of new ideas. The acres of kiddie sing-along enjoyment that can be derived from ditties such as "Don't Bother Jack" are offset by the oblivious abandon Livingston projects -- he actually sounds like he believes he's the only guy with a guitar who's ever sung a song about moving to Nashville. For those with limited horizons, Let Me off the Leashwill feel as fashionably comfortable as an old pair of jeans.(grant@grantlivingston.com;Grant Livingston)


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Eyes of Pandora
Eyes of Pandora
(self-released)

Everything about this release suggests an inspired piece of South Florida pop, from the evocative tapestry of the album art to the pristine production skills of Eric Alexandrakis and illustrious indigenous guest spots from the likes of Miami scenester Amanda Green. But the songs put forth by Eyes of Pandora (essentially a duo of singer Susan Tojo and guitarist Robert Gueits) are often too flaccid to live up to these expectations. "Damaged" manages to make some tiny waves with slashing guitar work from Alexandrakis, but it brings too little and, because it's tucked away midalbum, arrives too late. Alexandrakis' heady keyboard swirls attempt to give "Hard Hand of War" a dangerous edge, but it's unfortunately dulled by the cheesiness of lyrics such as "Look at the blood/How red it runs/What have we done/To our daughters and sons." The album's most successful tune, the jaunty "Factory City," stands out mostly because of a hooky chorus -- and the way it apes the Cowboy Junkies. As a singer Tojo offers very little in the way of range, and therefore I had a difficult time distinguishing one song from the next, even on the third or fourth listen. Eyes of Pandora sure puts together a pretty package, but the band must come up with some less-forgettable songs. (rag@eyesofpandora.com;Eyes of Pandora)

 
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