Short Cuts | New Times Broward-Palm Beach
Kacy Crowley

This talented singer-songwriter was born in Connecticut and grew up listening to the heartland rock and roll of John Cougar Mellencamp. She did a brief stint as a Grateful Dead groupie then devoted herself to playing music in the coffeehouses of Los Angeles. She played with various bands in New York City then relocated to Austin. An indie record deal led to a gig at the South by Southwest music festival, which in turn landed her a contract with Atlantic Records. The result is this twelve-song debut, on which Crowley sounds totally and utterly identical to Sheryl Crow.

Crowley has Crow down pat, from her overly emotional delivery to her contrived Middle American accent to her hick-chick-in-a-hip-city lyrics. The most obvious example is the song "Nickel to the Stone," in which Crowley speak-sings over an urban-sounding guitar riff: "There's these little side-alleys leading nowhere/A garbage truck just drove on by/The guy on back gave us the eye." All Crowley wants to do is have some fun, but somebody used that line already. Almost every track on this debut -- the rootsy "Hand to Mouthville," the radio-friendly ballad "Love Is Close," the coming-of-age story "Rebellious" -- mimics Crow with the accuracy of a good impressionist. Crowley, who plays acoustic guitar, even has her own Tuesday Night Music Club, a group of session musicians who specialize in bland rock with a latent country strain.

The world is full of weak and desperate rip-off artists, but is Crowley really one of them? Or has she fallen victim to the bandwagon mentality of the bigtime music business? She certainly has poetry in her soul, and some of her lyrics have an eloquent simplicity: "I called my mother, but we don't get along/Because when I was there, she was gone/And there is one last thing I need to get a handle on/People can love you and still do you wrong." She also ventures into territory where Crow would never go. "Scars" is a dark and possibly metaphorical song in which Crowley relates, "I got chills down my spine/When they told me what they were gonna do/They said you'll have scars/You'll have scars."

Crowley hits upon something solid and true in that tune, but the rest of the time she's trying to sing someone else's song. Perhaps if she does a second album, she'll let us hear what she actually sounds like.

-- Rafer Guzman

Various Artists
Bridge School Concerts Volume 1

Leave it to Neil Young to put together a various-artists collection that includes back-to-back performances by Beck and Bonnie Raitt, Ministry and Simon and Garfunkel. As one of the most iconoclastic and adventurous artists in rock and roll, Young has friends of all ages and musical sensibilities. For the past ten years, many of them have jumped at the chance to help out at the annual Bridge School Concerts, a Northern California event hosted by Young himself. It's always one of the most intriguing live gigs of any calendar year, and it's also for a good cause: Proceeds benefit a school for children with severe speech and physical disabilities, including Young's own.

Bridge shows are mostly acoustic affairs, which means that this CD -- culled from various performances over the years -- is relatively cohesive, regardless of its hodgepodge of altrockers, old punkers, and boomer staples. From the Pretenders with the Duke String Quartet ("Real Sense of Purpose") to Beck at his most Dylan-like ("It's All in Your Mind") to the bluesy Raitt ("The Road's My Middle Name"), there's a shared sense of intimacy that just might keep you from lunging for the fast-forward button, whether you're a fortysomething or a Gen X-er. In fact only one track really begs for the eject button: "Battle of Evermore," by the Lovemongers, who are actually the Wilson sisters (of Heart) taking their career-long Zeppelin envy to bombastic extremes. Spinal Tap lives.

But this is one painful moment among many passionate ones that can be found in performances by Tracy Chapman ("All That You Have Is Your Soul"), Patti Smith ("People Have the Power"), Pearl Jam ("Nothingman"), and Simon and Garfunkel ("America"), the latter duo still harmonizing gorgeously after all these years. Stripped of his usual high drama, David Bowie delivers a powerful "Heroes," but the CD's biggest surprise comes from Ministry, which eschews its ear-bleeding industrialisms for a spirited acoustic-country reading of the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil." Elvis Costello weighs in with that old chestnut "Alison," and even Young's jarring backup vocals can't dull the song's bittersweet shine. Besides, it's Young's party, he can do whatever he wants.

-- Neal Weiss

The Orange Peels
(Minty Fresh)

Allen Clapp is a seething pit of rage, lust, and other less cardinal but more unseemly sins. Only an assiduously practiced Christian faith helps control the monster he is. That, and the fact that he writes real purdy songs. As the lead singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter for the Orange Peels, Clapp leads his cohorts -- Jill "Judas" Pries (his wife) on bass, Larry "Geetar" Winther on guitar, and Bob Vickers on drums -- into a realm of pure pop evil with Square.