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Turning Over a New Leaf

Ten years ago, the Album Leaf's main man, Jimmy LaValle, was part of San Diego hard-core noise demons the Locust. "I played keyboards," he says. "And screamed."

He went on to play guitar, drums, and bass in three different seminal indie bands, inching away from bombast toward the peaceful melodicism he now explores with the Album Leaf -- whose name comes from a Chopin etude. The multi-instrumentalist now calls his Fender Rhodes electric piano his "secret weapon" and prefers to keep his music on the slightly precious, delicate side.

"You don't think it sounds too much like a Hallmark commercial?" LaValle asks from his San Diego home, cringing as he recounts comparisons to -- egad! -- Enya. Though the Album Leaf adheres to an ambient prettiness, the tinge of melancholy in the songs keeps it from sounding too "pussified," to quote one cynical reviewer.

"I have a way of overexposing my thoughts," LaValle worries, "letting them leach in." A gorgeously sad acoustic-guitar lament from 2003's Seal Beach EP exemplifies this tendency -- LaValle wrote it after a phone call from an ex-girlfriend while waiting for some Chinese food to be delivered. But on that record and its predecessors, he's kept his compositions strictly instrumental. His soft-pedal keyboards narrate the heavily reverbed tales of disappointment and ennui documented on 1999's An Orchestrated Rise and Fall and 2001's One Day I'll Be On Time.

That changed with 2004's In a Safe Place, which LaValle recorded in Iceland with members of Mum and Sigur Rós. A lusciously Scandinavian elegy, In a Safe Place includes vocals from Jón Thor Birgisson (Sigur Rós), Pall Jenkins (Black Heart Procession), and even LaValle. Previously, he'd deliberately kept singing off his résumé.

"It was something I wanted to get over and start doing," he explains. "We just put a few vocals on to see where they would go. Cellos, violins, vibes, glockenspiels, and Moog make the record the Album Leaf's most adventurous, fully realized outing. When LaValle adds bouncing beats (either electronic or via his own drum loops), songs like "On Your Way" point toward a new, less-moody dynamic. He says he'll keep vocals in the mix and deemphasize the Rhodes when he returns to Iceland this summer to work on a follow-up to Safe Place.

He's looking forward to the geysers and hot springs, hikes through the mountains, and a "minutely Jäeger-ish" schnapps called Brennivin the natives like to drink. He's not anxious to get back to the island's cuisine, though: "The food's not so hot. They have Subway, KFC, and McDonald's, and everything there is served with a side of iceberg lettuce and dressing.

"At least it's not gonna be freezing," he notes. "It'll be more fun and a happy time period. I'm not sure if it's gonna make the record happier, though. I don't think I could write a strictly happy record anyway." -- Jeff Stratton

The Album Leaf, Roots of Orchis, and Textual will be joined in holy mellowness at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 23, at Respectable Street, 518 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $6 in advance and $8 at the door. Call 561-832-9999.

Erin Go, Brah

With a name garnered from one of Ireland's 32 counties, the limerick is one of the world's most easily recognized poetic forms. It also helps that the five-line verses are usually raunchy enough to stand out on a crowded bathroom wall. In honor of this especially Gaelic week -- and after a few celebratory Guinnesses -- we've indulged in a few ditties of our own. Slainte!

50 Cent went to pop his collar

And he made all the club hoochies holler.

Love/hate with the Game

Getting rich just the same

But he still can't make change for a dollar.

Check out the Kings of Leon:

Dudes must be huffing freon!

Three bros and a cousin

Shred riffs by the dozen

But those haircuts I just want to pee on.

From Miami, L.A., and Boston

They flock to the streets of Austin.

Bands on the shmooze

Scribes for free booze

In the rockinest town to get lost in.

There was an Aussie lass named Kylie

Who shimmied her ass quite spryly.

If the fine Miss Minogue

Only sang with a brogue

I would think of her all the more highly.

-- Jonathan Zwickel

Black Irish

As the founder and musical mainstay of Black 47, the New York-based, Irish insurgent, trad-rock combo, Larry Kirwan juggles his day job with the band with a nominal career as an author and solo artist. He's currently celebrating a double delivery in the form of the group's new album, Elvis Murphy's Green Suede Shoes -- its seventh and best effort -- as well as a companion book, Green Suede Shoes. Each parallels the other, drawing on autobiographical themes echoed in Kirwan's incisive song lyrics, from growing up in Ireland under the influence of his Irish Republican grandfather to his mid-'70s relocation to New York City, where he immersed himself in punk, politics, and pontificating.

As Black 47 passes through Broward the day after St. Pat's, we asked Kirwan's thoughts about a holiday that celebrates beer, corned beef and cabbage, beer, leprechauns, more beer, all things green, and, for that matter, green beer. He was happy to oblige.

Q: So Larry, how does a good Irish lad celebrate St Patrick's Day?

A: I work like a dog. We always do two shows that night. One would be draining enough, but two? We usually do television and radio on the day too. So you could say I'm riding the wild stallion -- hanging on and just trying to direct the energy.

Q: Any favorite holiday memories?

A: All of the great Black 47 gigs. There is nothing quite like it when we hit the stage in New York on St. Patrick's Day. We've become synonymous with the city for that day -- and many others too.

Q: Outside of Dublin, where's the best place to spend St. Pat's?

A: Dublin doesn't hold a candle to New York City.

Q: Does a real Irishman wear green? And when you don't wear the green, does anyone try to pinch you?

A: I'm not sure I've ever worn green on the day. It's not my favorite color. And if you have a nice posterior, you get used to being pinched.

Q: What's your explanation of the meaning of St. Patrick's Day?

A: In Ireland, it was always a religious holiday with very little of the celebratory trappings. St. Patrick's Day in New York City, however, was almost overwhelming to me at first. Now I see it as a celebration of arrival and a certain triumph that those lost and poor immigrants survived bigotry and poverty and went on to carve out successful lives for themselves in the U.S. To me, it's rather like a cry: "We have survived -- we have arrived."

Q: Would Black 47 ever consider changing their name to Green 47 for this one special holiday?

A: Are you ready to make a firm offer?

Q: Even though you're playing Fort Lauderdale the day after, I'm guessing we'll still get a taste of post-St Paddy's celebration.

A: You can be certain many of the songs we perform will be evocative of "the day." And anyway, we pretty much treat all of March as one big St. Patrick's Day. So look out, Lauderdale! We're coming to collect your green soul! -- Lee Zimmerman

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton
Lee Zimmerman
Jonathan Zwickel

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