Music: Local Disc-O-Mania

A look at some recent Greater Cincinnati-spawned releases



Snatching obscurity from the jaws of fame for over 25 years, Cincinnati's psychodots are easily the most underrated Pop group in America. Like hydroponic song farmers, the 'dots are so wildly prolific that their prodigious output can barely be contained by group efforts, side projects and solo releases. Bassist Bob Nyswonger's new disc is actually his first solo album and a long-overdue exhibit of his own clever songcraft. Fans will be pleased to find Bob accompanied here by all the usual suspects: fellow 'dots' Rob Fetters and Chris Arduser, former Raisins drummer Bam Powell and his Bears-mate Adrian Belew (drumming on "Dust Devil"). Never likely to be voted the best vocalist out of the bunch, Nyswonger is arguably the most diverse songwriter. With tunes ranging from sparkling Pop ditties to winsome piano ballads with sardonic lyrics worthy of the great Ray Davies, Bob's less-than-operatic pipes make his tales of loss and heartbreak sound all the more convincing. Akin to a long-lost vinyl LP by an old favorite, Nyswonger's Deposition has an air of friendly familiarity, simple, direct production and clocks in at a lean 40 minutes. Like watching Pete Rose step up to the plate, veteran slugger Nyswonger is a familiar face with a unique stance and an unfailing ability to connect with the ball. Bravo, Bad Bob. (RH) Grade: B


Where would Jazz be without tributes?

It's an interesting question, but not one that's going to get answered on The Jazz Circle's Joshua. Cincinnatian Steve Hoskins, a veteran saxophonist and commercially successful composer and arranger, rounded up a group of shining stars from the local Jazz scene to pay tribute to some of the most influential Jazz artists of the 1960s through reworkings of selected tunes. While their interpretations are better described as contemporizing than reinventing, there is plenty of talent on display in the solos and lively backing performances, and the liner notes are an interesting walk through each song's evolution through Hoskins' eyes. The use of vocals is one element that makes The Jazz Circle a standout. With a combination of borrowed and original lyrics, they add an unexpected dimension to what is otherwise a musicians' album. Much of the vocal delivery is "vocalese," essentially a form of scat using lyrics instead of nonsense. But the effect is often distracting as the voice attempts to ape the horns' staccato swells, such as on the title track, "Nothing Like You," and "Unit Seven." This is in sharp contrast to the way the words smolder on tracks like "Stolen Moments," "Lush Life" and "Footprints." Both the instrumental performances and arrangements are consistently impressive. Hoskins builds on musical phrases inspired by bits of solos and melodies from the subjects of his audiobiography. The band runs with these ideas and never stumbles. From combo to big band feel, they breathe life into the songs on Joshua and give them context, even if it is in the more sanitized realms of the genre. (EW) Grade: B-


Out for a couple of months now and available nationwide thanks to distribution through Universal, hard-hitting Rock fivesome Lorenzo's debut, Love Shape Bruise, is already garnering the band some widespread attention, including radio airplay and a slot as one of just six finalists at this week's "Independent Music World Series" in Chicago (they were selected by Billboard editors for the honor). It's pretty clear from the crisp, high-end production and the gritty, Rock-radio-friendly melodies that Lorenzo are gunning for the big time; Bruise certainly shows they have the product to achieve that goal. Mixing the most accessible elements of Post Grunge (Stone Temple Pilots, Audioslave, etc.) with a strong dose of the clean-cut but walloping swagger of bar-boogie Rock revivalists like Buckcherry, opener "Nothing Left to Talk About" sets the tone, with its precise, strong-armed guitar riffs, down-and-dirty verses and soaring, ear-seizing chorus hooks. While there are a few clever, attention-grabbing tricks tossed in (like the electro-sounding bubbling on "Naked and Wasted" and the Rush/The Police-like guitar trickling on "Fallen"), the band largely sticks to the aforementioned formula on Bruise's 10 tracks. It's a good idea, as "Hateful," the closest to a "ballad" on the disc, is also the weakest cut. The precision and sheen works well for radio-targeting, but the songs occasionally feel mechanical, as if the passion has been sapped out by the pin-point production. There's an alluring rawness and swagger hinted at on a few tracks that just doesn't fully shine through. Still, this is as good (and often better) than the majority of "New Rock" littering the nation's commercial airwaves (I'd take this 100 times over Nickelback or Hoobastank). The band's craftsmanship cannot be faulted; it's just so scrubbed-up and presented so meticulously that at times you forget there are real people behind the sounds. (MB) Grade: B


A.M. Elevator is the latest vehicle for Walt McAtee's wry and energetic Pop songwriting. The Lexingtonian enlisted Cincinnatians T Sly (guitar) and Brian Williamson (drums) for this self-titled collection of New Wave-inspired tunes. While the difference between this and his former eponymous incarnation is analogous to a fresh coat of paint, there are some nicks and scratches that detract from the finished product. Fortunately, most of the band's missteps are nothing that a good producer couldn't help them avoid. The rhythm guitar is repetitive and jangly, which can be infectious ("Almost Lost," "Connected") or monotonous ("To the Top," "More Than You Know"). Leads often sound flaccid and not terribly cohesive. Although the parts are creative, the mix is not complementary. Likewise, the drumming is always tight, but very reserved for the most part. The tracks in which McAtee's voice is full of emotion stand out, but the album tends to drag at times, sounding like a tired melding of Jesus & Mary Chain and Weezer influences. A.M. Elevator fares best on their most unique songs, such as the Dub-inflected "Never Step In." "Known For That" is also excellent, a breathy acoustic number that delivers respite from the punkish Pop surrounding it. The final track, "I Won't Close You," is another low-key offering that swims in a pool of strings and keys. These stronger cuts leave the distinct impression that maybe the band should be focusing more of their efforts in this area. (EW) Grade: C

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