Your Friends and Neighbors: It's hard not to be put off by the substantial pomp emitting from Rise and Shine (TMG Records), the new album from Ed Hale and Transcendence, which arrives with a glossy and expensive sleeve and full-on promotional campaign befitting the next Bono. The Miami band (which performed at Churchill's Hideaway last month) sounds as if it spends more cash on a snare drum echo than most local groups spend on an entire record. Hale's heavy-handed self-awareness causes him to include -- along with the overwrought lyrics to 17 optimistic, world-saving anthems served up under monikers like "Love is You" and "Do You Know Who You Are" -- no fewer than four pages of history and intent, plus a full page of shoutouts and then the obligatory list of links to Greenpeace, Amnesty International, International Campaign for Tibet, etc. In the extensive notes, Hale begs Edie Brickell to make another album, apologizes to director Wim Wenders on behalf of all Americans for City of Angels, and gives thanks to the "creating and sustaining force that is in and of all things." Yet he also acknowledges the genius of Latin composers like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, and the rare moments where his mainstream music actually borrows their tropical lilt are unquestionably Rise and Shine's best. But as sturdy and Sting-like as the compositions are, Hale could switch gears and start up a David Bowie cover band for the ages. Much of the time, his voice is like tracing paper atop Alladin Sane's red and white lightning bolt. Pretty neat trick, Ed. (www.transcendence.com)
Likewise, Gainesville-based Laura Minor (who just performed at Dada in Delray Beach on July 21) is luckier than most: she's backed by a big-league indie label (Hightone Records) and producer (David Lowery of Camper Van Cracker fame). Salesman's Girl is a fresh-baked, health-food breadbasket packed with oodles of shimmery pedal-steel guitar and reedy organ lines that work nicely against Minor's extra-fine, sandpaper-silk rasp. Her earnest, twangy tunes may well appeal to fans of folk, country, or rare (as opposed to raw) rock, the standout being the feverish burn of "As Close to Sacred." So countryish is Salesman's Girl that it's easily the least-Floridian disc reviewed here. (www.lauraminor.com)
The three nasty little homemade songs sent through Bandwidth's transom by Fort Lauderdale's Muppets on Crack are nothing if not poorly recorded, but the muffled Muppets' sneer comes shining through nonetheless. "She's in Command" is enjoyable if sloppy with speedball guitar and liquor-saturated voicings. A shambling, sharpened version of Bowie's "Space Oddity" makes me want to pass along Ed Hale's phone number to the gang. Something tells me the MOC are better suited to the stage, with these songs sure to be embraced by the drunken, dumb, or both. A splendid time is all but guaranteed for a choice few. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Records like Spoonful of Stars by Broward's own Smoken can unplug jaded ears. Anyone believing the blues to be a tired, landlocked genre should catch a jolt of this, because singer Lauren Smoken and guitarist George Mazzola are dead-set on allowing Deep South, gospel/soul goodness to infiltrate their music like Liquid Smoke in barbecue sauce. At the least, Spoonful of Stars contains a heat level not encountered since the foundry turned out Janis and Koko Taylor. Far too many bands of this ilk are content to play covers, sling boringly gratuitous solos, or wallow in similar stereotypes; Smoken sidesteps all of these traps with style. (LQueenBlue@aol.com)
The druggy, narcotic Whirlaway is a hard habit to break, and Letting Go typifies the band's subtly addictive attraction. Singer/guitarist Adam Cohen (who engineered and produced the album at Boca Raton's Morning Drinker Studios) lets a shoegaze swirl set the mood, a towering spiral of lofty, wall-to-wall melody and disembodied voices. With most tunes requiring more than six minutes to fully uncoil, the sound expands and contracts in waves, as Letting Go pulses and sighs. But hardly quietly: Dissonance and distortion often snarl in the distant background. The dreamy, slo-mo "Transport" is a textbook example of how the careful use of effects can render even the simplest guitar phrases lethally lovely weapons, and that's one good reason to keep returning to Whirlaway's illicit-sounding pleasures. Letting Go is more than just a mildly mesmerizing album that benefits tremendously from a twist of the ol' volume knob. Try it and get back to me. (www.whirlaway.music)
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