Subterranean Finds

The Saw Doctors

Live at the Melody Tent

There may not be any such thing as the perfect band – hell, even the Beatles had their flaws – but Ireland's Saw Doctors damn sure come close. On the one hand, they create the most rousing, exhilarating material imaginable, with a brand of giddiness and effusiveness that's guaranteed to get even the most reluctant onto the dance floor. On the other hand, they have the power of tear-stained ballads to moisten the eyes of the most iron-hearted observer. With equal emphasis on both those sentiments, this live set taped in Cape Cod before an adoring crowd last summer offers all the evidence needed. An ideal intro for the uninitiated, it proves further affirmation for devotees.

This Is Benji

Far Too Honest

Far Too Honest proves the axiom that who you know is often as important as what you know. In this case, This Is Benji, a pseudonym for a surname-shy vocalist/guitarist, finds assistance in Ken Stringfellow. That power pop icon nearly usurps the entire effort by playing practically all the instruments and producing it as well. That's commendable; in fact, Stringfellow's penchant for crafting alluring arrangements serves this set well. Songs like "What You Are," "Everywhere You Are," and "Tell 'Em All You're Here With Me" offer instantly embraceable hooks, chiming melodies, and soft, cooing set-ups that thoroughly illuminate Benji's 1970s sensibilities. With Benji writing the songs and Stringfellow executing most of them, Far Too Honest proves a truly impressive introduction.

Kim Virant

Songs From a Small House

Kim Virant makes a brilliant initial impression. While widespread recognition may elude her, Songs From a Small House ought to elevate her profile with songs that quickly burrow into the subconscious. Virant's most powerful tool is her voice. It's sensual, alluring, and yet vulnerable, offering faint hints of Annie Lennox and Tracy Chapman. "Sam" is a standout, a powerful, compelling ballad thoroughly doused with overwhelming emotion. "Love Ain't For the Weak" and "Careless Girls" are similarly inviting, each in a sensual, suggestive sort of way. "Genius Morning" follows suit, courtesy of its indelible refrain. All in all, this is a solid set of songs from a talented songstress who won't be waiting in the wings much longer.

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Lee Zimmerman