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It was like trying to make a killing at the casino, a dollar at a time -- playing scratch-off tickets.

As they say in the biz, it just wasn't in the cards.

Carving out a niche in the bar-centered world of alternative rock music seemed unlikely for the Sliger brothers of Newfane, since neither was old enough to play in the very clubs that nurtured those noise-fests.

Rather than folding, however, Cliff, and Allen Sliger simply retooled.

They kept the crunching power chords they favored, but chopped the coarse lyrics they didn't. Writing their own tunes, they turned alternative rock into Rock of Ages.

Cliff, 16, and Allen, 19, are making a name for themselves now as "Common Vessel," an acoustic-based Christian rock outfit and vehicle for their "music ministry."

The message they hope comes across loud and clear in their music: Christianity can be fun.

"(Teens) don't have to be out on the streets" doing things that lead to trouble later, said Cliff, a junior at Newfane High School. Through his lyrics, he suggests that teens instead should "let God be in charge" of their lives.

"He has a better plan than anything you can think of," Cliff said.

Since moving to Newfane from Michigan a couple years ago, Cliff and Allen have steadily built up a solid local following. Their music with a message has been a hit in local coffee houses and at church gatherings, and now it can be a hit in homes, too: The boys recently completed their first compact disc.

"Most people seem to like it," said Cliff, who sells the disc, among other places, at school. It is especially popular among members of the Bible Club, of which Cliff is a member.

The brothers have been active in various youth groups and sports throughout their lives, said their mother, Marilyn Sliger, and they see their music as just another positive method of conveying messages of hope.

"Our big focus is youth," said Cliff. "Being teens, we like to minister to people our own age.

"We're having fun with it. We want people to feel blessed, and we'll take it where ever God wants it to go. God has opened a lot of doors for us, and we want to keep the focus there -- on pleasing God -- rather than on making big bucks."

If a career in the music industry is in the cards, Allen said, "that would be fantastic." If not, the Niagara County Community College sophomore would like to continue working with kids, probably as an elementary or middle school-level physical education teacher.

For the time being, though, the brothers are concentrating on their music.

"We weren't getting anywhere playing secular music," said Allen. "Last summer we tried a little writing, and playing exclusively Christian music, and it just kind of took off. Christian and country music are the two most (popular) types of music right now. Every time we play there seems to be someone new there to hear it" and open new doors.

Their mother and father, Bud Sliger, are the backbone of the operation's "business end," which includes driving the brothers to their performances and taking care of the finances.

"It is wonderful," Mrs. Sliger said. "God has just really blessed the whole situation."

Playing a mix of originals and cover tunes, the brothers were runners-up in a recent Battle of the Bands. Since then, they've made it onto the play list of the morning Christian rock show on 1270 AM.

At shows, they invite audience members to "move up front and get a little rowdy," Allen said.

After all, it is about having fun, and Christian music, along with Christianity itself, can be plenty of that, as the Sliger brothers can attest.

Common Vessel will be at these upcoming shows: in Tranquil Blend, Wilson, from 8:30 to 10 p.m. Jan. 29; Greater Niagara Falls Church of God, Feb. 18, and inFirst Baptist Church, Lockport, Feb. 19, both 7 p.m.; and again in Tranquil Blend, Feb. 26 at 8:30 p.m.

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