EVEN BETTER than the gift of music is the gift of local music. As we note every year, it makes two sets of people happy -- the ones to whom you give it and the ones from whom you buy it.
For the most part, Buffalo-area musicians release their work on cassette these days, vinyl having become passe and compact discs being too expensive. Finding their tapes, however, can be a challenge.
The locally based record store chains -- Record Theater and Cavage's -- can be counted on to carry most of the more prominent releases. The smaller stores -- New World Records, Home of the Hits, Record Mine -- are the best bet for specialized choices. If all else fails, the artists themselves can be counted on to have a few copies around when they're out performing.
Here's a sampling of locally oriented items that have crossed our sound system during the pre-holiday rush.
Band Against Nuclear Dumps in This State, "B.A.N.D.I.T.S. Too" (22-song cassette). The second release by folk-singing Allegany County activists protesting the state's attempts to put a low-level nuclear waste facility in their back yard is another lesson in how to make music with a message. The immediacy of their concern is palpable. They sing about basic rights and environmental quality, but the best moments come when they get righteous, like Dale Misenheimer in "If I Was a Cow" and Cher Appell in "Nasty Girls," a tribute to "sharp-shootin' sisters."
"Buffalo Rocks, Vol. III" (One-Eye Records, 20-song cassette). Out just in time for Christmas is the area's biggest roundup of local talent, the third WGR-FM (97 Rock) compilation of home-grown original songs. Of the 20 bands chosen, about half are active in the clubs and the rest are inspired studio hands.
Not surprisingly, they all sound like something 97 Rock would play -- slick and highly produced variants of hard rock and light metal -- and a bit more variety would have been welcome. The single dramatic change of pace belongs to the Fibs, the comedy rock group, whose job-hating "Bitch About Work" is a joyous throwback to the '60s stylings of the Guess Who.
Fans of major club bands Rockcandy, Tokyo Rose, the Tweeds, White Lies and Widow will be happy to hear their faves sounding so good here. If there's an out-of-the-box hit among them, it's Rockcandy's familiar "Daddy's Little Girl."
Other standouts include ASG's driving, R & B-flavored "Power of Money," Crash Pony's obsessed "Inside Outside," the Pinheads' raunchy "Sin City" and the progressive-rock harmonies of the Miller Bros. Band's "It's a Lonely Way."
Cannibal Corpse, "Eaten Back to Life"
See Music Page G5
Music: The locals, from Dry Bones to the Great Train Robbery
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(Death/Metal Blade 61900, 12-song cassette or compact disc). Buffalo's entry into the national death-metal derby is likely to scare off everybody but fans of this morbid genre. To the unfamiliar, it will seem like a blur of sound and fury, but their command of the style -- the tight, sledgehammer rhythms, the blaring precision guitars and the up-from-the-crypt vocals -- is breathtaking, to say the least.
Cannonstreet, "Lexington" (five-song cassette). An emerging trio with a fuzzy psychedelic spill of guitar-bass-drums that stretches their songs as long as eight minutes and sometimes blurs the grim revelations of vocals to songs like "First Ward Violence." Fortunately, lyrics are included.
Clevelend, "53:54" (Mammoth Records, 11-song cassette or compact disc). A great favorite in clubs here, the touring band from Ohio does a stylistic flip-flop on tape -- progressive rock one minute, metal the next, blues after that and ultimately a tarnished remake of Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale." The vocals sound overly self-conscious as well. They're better in person.
Dry Bones, "And the Band Plays On" (cassette single). Latest in David Meinzer's collectors series (great insert-card graphics) is further evidence of how forceful Dry Bones' '60s pop instincts are becoming. The guitars twang with a simple but ominous riff, the vocals are aggressive and the harmonies are boisterous. Flip side: "MYOB," bouncy but thinner.
Great Train Robbery, "Don't You Love That Sound?" (cassette single). Once a ska band with Elvis Costello inflections, they're reborn as a funk band with Caribbean tendencies. An accusatory little riff song, it starts out with salsa, then gets funky around David Watts' guitar. Flip side: "I Never Wanted to Be Anything," struggling band stuff, plus unlabeled third song, a jumping jive piece reminiscent of early Joe Jackson.
Nan Hoffman & Joe Tumino and Friends, "Celebrations of the Heart" (Moosehead Audio 005, 18-song cassette). The only Christmas recording in the batch and the prettiest package as well. A collection of mostly traditional songs, they're done with such delicacy and care on folk instruments that at times they sound like medieval music. Vocally, Hoffman glows on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and generally is best in duet with Tumino, who's more consistently excellent than the Friends.
The Invisible Flint Tones, "The Invisible Flint Tones" (six-song cassette). A demo tape by a good-naturedly manic, rockabilly-influenced band from Chautauqua County that has created a stir with the extended automotive raving of "Escorts From Hell," which is something like a Mad magazine routine set to music. They go similarly bonkers in "Coffee."
Billy McEwen & the Invaders, "Live at the Tralf -- Vol. 1" (13-song cassette). Arguably the king of the city's white R & B singers, the gravel-voiced McEwen leads his band through their standard set of '60s and '70s numbers in a show captured live last June. Great playing and superior production values for a live recording.
No Apparent Reason, "Help Yourself" (10-song cassette). A quartet determined to work on your head, whether it's by turning up the echo on Brian Broad's guitar, jumping on the word "kick" in "Kick in the Head" or by singing a reggae song about the Irish and potatoes. For good measure, they toss in a snatch of U2's "Trip Through Your Wires."
Nullstadt, "Zero City" (K-9 Productions, six-song cassette). A meticulously crafted transitional work by one of the city's best-regarded alternative bands as it evolves from synthesized techno-rock to something funkier and more guitar-driven. From a stiff, moody, English-flavored beginning reminiscent of old Roxy Music, it gets passionate, perverse and sexy.
Joel Perry, "Rainbow Skylight" (DigiGroove 32590, 15-song compact disc). A UB student in the '70s, well-traveled and irrepressibly eclectic jazz guitarist Perry has gone on to tour with bluesman Johnny Copeland, rock violinist Papa John Creach and the Broadway show "Pippin." Currently a soloist in Manhattan's Rainbow Room, he offers a generous solo set of adept, easygoing standards ("Jitterbug Waltz," the Beatles' "In My Life," " 'Round Midnight") and original compositions (including a sprightly elegy called "Allen Street") that would delight the Rainbow Room crowd as well as the man to whom he dedicates the album, the late Oswald Rantucci, dean of Buffalo guitar instructors.
Lucky Peterson, "Triple Play" (Alligator ALCD-4789, 10-song compact disc). Once a child prodigy on the East Side, Peterson has grown up to be a force on guitar as well as on piano and organ. While this second solo album doesn't quite put him in the same league as Robert Cray -- despite his instrumental prowess, he still needs a distinct identity -- it nudges him closer with tough heartbreak numbers like "Let the Chips Fall Where They May."
Populuxe, "Populuxe" (seven-song cassette). The duo of Bill Scott and Matt MacGillivray has only two long suits -- bright, breezy vocal harmonies and a conga-driven samba rhythm that rises to rock intensity on their choruses. Give them a great song, however, like their easy-rhyming "Lady May" or the Flamin' Groovies' "Shake Some Action," and they sound like a cult band waiting to be discovered.
Random Factor, "Hell of a Plan" (cassette single). This promising preview of the quartet's next album is a political song in the manner of West Coast folk-rockers from the '60s, with nervous guitars and a big beat. Flip side: "Dust to Dust," a wordy reflection on mortality.
Rocket 88, "Taste of the Blues Life" (five-song cassette). Blues-rockers aren't supposed to sound this sophisticated, are they? Then again, not all blues-rockers listen to Steely Dan. And those who do aren't likely to break into boisterous barroom boogie the way these guys do in "Ramona Lisa."
Tom Schuman, "Extremities" (GRP Records GRD-9625 MCA, eight-song compact disc). Keyboardist and the sole Buffalonian in Spyro Gyra, in his first solo album Schuman ventures into many of the same places the band does (among his guests is Spyro's leader, Jay Beckenstein) and a few places the band doesn't go -- like bop and pop, notably in his spark-ling rendition of Minnie Riperton's "Loving You."
The Tails, "Floating World on Blue" (four-song cassette). A complex quartet whose primary delights are their lyrical intricacies and their instrumental dexterity. These guys throw off more themes and ideas than some bands have in a lifetime, but their mutations of standard pop-song forms makes it hard to embrace their music.
Various Artists, "Love Will Rearrange It" (cassette single). Vocals from Mark Dux mix R & B choruses and rap verses in a perky number with a holiday sentiment, accompanied by the wailing harmonies of the Jazzabels and a hard rock guitar solo from Mike Jackson. Proceeds benefit Friends of Night People. Flip side: same song in "spoo mix."
Voxxy Dee, "Voxxy Dee" (five-song cassette). A new project pairing former Ezekial singer Chris Voxx with multi-instrumentalist Ricky Dee, in which good, melodic, hard rock ideas are obscured by the limitations of the Fostex four-track on which they were recorded.
Michel Weber, "Michel Weber" (six-song cassette). A tough alto with a taste for dramatic dissonance, Weber does three songs with Nullstadt behind her (her spoken "Make Me Go Away" over an Indian-flavored backdrop is the standout) and three alone with her guitar. Of those, the one that attracts the most attention is the love song to the soldier in "1945." Her lyrics pack a few surprises, like the sudden "stuck my gum on the TV" in "Leavings Lament."
H.P. Zinker, "Beyond It All" (Roughneck Records NECKCD-3, seven-song English import compact disc). Buffalo drummer David Wasik teams with an Austrian guitarist and bassist in an odd, artful and often compelling trio that furrows brows, walks the edge of avant-garde and follows its musical fancies from the quiet bluesiness of "Sometimes I Just Don't Feel Like Talking" (which sounds a bit like Hot Tuna) to moments of pure sound and high dissonance just for the intensity of it.