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Issue #23 October 2000

Interview with Scott Rockenfield
of Rockenfield / Speer & Queensryche
(Click Here)


Joe Pernice
Soulhat
Wobbleshop
Smart Brown Handbag
Paul Cote
Kenneth Grey Hope


Joe Pernice
Big Tobacco

Independent Records
9 song CD

The ever-prolific and ever-depressed Joe Pernice is back with yet another stunning set of songs, following up the eponymous Chappaquiddick Skyline from earlier this year. While this "official" solo effort doesn't quite reach the heights of Skyline or The Pernice Brothers, it shows yet another subtle side to this former frontman of The Scud Mountain Boys. Pernice displays his ability to pull dreadfully riveting songs out of thin air, all but confirming the notion that he is one of the best singer/songwriters in independent music. The songs still reflect a slight resemblance to the Scud Mountain tunes, as they have that country tinge which can't help but creep into the overall sound.

Cynical humor is a common thread through many of Pernice's songs, but Tobacco holds a few of the best examples, namely the cheeky Prince Valium, which exorts "So help me Lord, get me stoned again..." There's more tragic humor in the coming-of-age ode, The Pill: "Do what I will, I'm on the pill..." The best of the album comes in the form of the unabashedly pop Undertow, with a light-hearted guitar strumming over a deep end of heavy drumming while Pernice sings the catchy chorus in his trademark breathless fashion.

And, don't you know it, there's another album with the Pernice Brothers slated for the beginning of next year. If Big Tobacco is any indication, it should be one of many great ones to come.

MISH MASH Mandate: Prolific Depression.

Independent Records Website


Soulhat
Experiment On A Flat Plane

Terminus Records
12 song CD

Soulhat is back, and they're better than ever. Six years after the band's last full release and a subsequent breakup/hiatus, the ever faithful growl and guitar of Kevin McKinney shines on in Experiment On A Flat Plane. The overall sound is unpolished and gritty, leaning heavily on country-fried acoustic guitars; a backwoods blues feel that never misses a beat.

McKinney and the band simply rip through Plastic, a groovy rocker that rolls with boundless energy. There's a slight Dave Matthews flavor in the swaying rhythms of Flat Plane, while the humorous WNBA takes a stab at full-tilt bluegrass, topped off with a classic silly refrain: "The WNBA done stole my girl away...how will I rebound from misery?" The dirty blues rock of City is a standout track, full of attitude and soul, showing off all of McKinney's songwriting strongpoints.

After all the trouble Soulhat has endured, this disc is a pleasant surprise. McKinney has a great album on his hands, and hopefully it won't take another six years to find out if he can do it again.

MISH MASH Mandate: Soulful Strut

Soulhat Website
Terminus Records Website


Wobbleshop
Bittergreen

Creativengine / Big Record Company
12 song CD

The indie-rock roots run deep for Wobbleshop, a California-based duo who expertly blend the Southern twang of R.E.M. with the unpredictable and emotional dynamic songwriting of Radiohead. Brian Holmes and Levi Nunez share the duties and avoid set patterns, meandering into unexplored musical ground by mixing the standard guitar/bass/drums with the earthy sounds of the accordion and steel guitar.

Past Perfect has a distinct early R.E.M. flavor, blending a driving and upbeat rhythm against a guitar drenched in minor chords. They take a slightly different turn with Cycle, a song which leans heavily on its guitar-driven chorus, which then twists into the quiet flow of Goodnight Children. The song Red Hot spins with late-60s psychedelia, leading perfectly into the fuzzy & druggy guitar riffs of the album's closer, White Flower.

Wobbleshop keeps it interesting throughout, rarely repetitive and constantly throwing in surprises here and there. Bittergreen has all the elements of a great album, and more often than not, that's exactly what it is.

MISH MASH Mandate: Weebles Wobble

Wobbleshop Website


Smart Brown Handbag
Just Like Driving Backwards

Stonegarden Records
10 song CD

With a sound steeped in 80s new wave/alternative, Smart Brown Handbag jangles along in a melancholy fashion along the lines of The Smiths and The Cure. The brainchild of chief songwriter and vocalist David Steinhart, SBH has a certain level-headed sensibility that doesn't take unnecessary risks, yet it all somehow sounds fresh even while sticking to a tried-and-true alt-pop structure. Steinhart is wonderfully convincing as the pouty & depressed frontman, delivering his lines in the obligatory less-than-enthusiastic manner.

The album opens with Where To From Here?, a smoothly cool song that would be great if it weren't for the overly loud and harsh squeaks of a finger sliding across guitar strings. It almost sounds like the squeaks are highlighted on purpose, which absolutely makes no sense, because they are grating and downright irritating! Moving on, SBH fares much better with the pulsating staccato keyboards of The Day Before and the driving rhythms of Greetings. The cynical irony of Medicate To Stabilize shows off some brilliant lyric work ("Thank God for pills..."), and the rambling Her Side of the World brings all of the SBH musical influences together full circle.

Not a lot of new ground covered here, but SBH pulls it off with terrific songs and talent.

MISH MASH Mandate: Pouty Pop

Stonegarden Records Website


Paul Cote
Assorted Chocolates

Two Shes Productions
6 song CD

It's an intriguing blend of power pop and punk attitude that pervades this solo effort from Paul Cote. The songs are noisy and catchy, mixing fuzzy guitars with pounding drums and sneering vocals, and sometimes topped off with a touch of funk. There's a loose garage-ness about the songs that creates a cool, sloppy feel. Cote's songwriting style leans toward early British Invasion, with plenty of melody and memorable hooks.

Lobuine begins the album with an appealing lo-fi sound that gets everything started off on the right track. The ironic aggression of Jet Fighter is powerful and electric, whipping into a near-frenzy, which then settles down into the relatively quiet guitar of Wax Divine. Cote maneuvers into a more psychedelic sound with the trippy Refrigerator Syndrome and the groovy Chinese Pictures.

It's not a completely unique or original style, but Cote delivers his tunes in such an alive and fresh way, you can hardly hold it against him.

MISH MASH Mandate: Lo-fi Frenzy

Paul Cote Website


Kenneth Grey Hope
Freedom Fields

9 song CD

The soft whisper of a solo piano is the centerpiece of this effort by Kenneth Grey Hope. His gentle and reflective style is both dramatic and endearing, setting a musical scene that is full of warmth. The songs of Freedom Fields are relatively short, with the complete album of nine songs timing in at just under 35 minutes. Each piece works together to form the whole, a collection of songs that represent a spirited dedication to those who sacrificed all for freedom.

Hope's genuinely heartfelt attitude shines through in these songs, creating an evocative piece of work that captures the intangible elements of American pride and honor. His piano paints a wide expanse, a musical landscape that is sometimes subdued and sometimes set aloft with patriotism. Quietly reserved, this is an album which is thoughtful in its mystery and manner.

MISH MASH Mandate: Endearing Dedication

Ken Hope Website



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