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Reviews of CDs by the Groobees, The New Amsterdams, Amy Adams and the Hank Sinatras, The Deadlights and Shuggie Otis

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The Groobees, "Buy One Get Eleven Free" (Downtime) — Don't try to pin too narrow a tag on The Groobees' music. A little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll and a little bit singer-songwriter pop, these catchy sounds from the Texas Panhandle hit an original groove that's infectious with good humor and charm. Led by the songwriting of Susan Gibson and Scott Melott, the quintet's musical tales of adventure, uncertain romance and the odd pleasures of band life take a listener on a good-natured examination of the human condition.

In "My Best Feature," Gibson ticks off a list of her shortcomings with a smile. Melott tells a cautionary tale that mixes low-budget drugs and driving during "Cheap Trucker Speed," and in "Ballad of an Opening Band" he makes you glad you are not in a struggling musical group. But not everything is lighthearted, as Gibson takes a look at a relationship troubled by whiskey and her struggle to find love. Likewise, Melott has his serious moments. But, overall, the 15 cuts are full of fun and life, and the songs are what this unit is about rather than stellar individual musical moments. The Groobees play Poe's Pub, Sunday, June 10. — Ames Arnold

The New Amsterdams, "Never Mind Me" (Heroes & Villains/Vagrant Records) — As an offshoot of the Kansas City emo/indie rock powerhouse The Get Up Kids, The New Amsterdams are led by the same charismatic guitarist/frontman Matt Pryor. His musical vision and emotionally charged lyrics haven't changed a lick in the transition to his new side project, although he has toned down the sound. Acoustic guitar now takes center stage on songs such as "Everyday Double Life" and "Idaho," but that doesn't mean the band's electrics don't have a time to shine. The power-chord-driven, yet strangely beautiful and despairing "Slow Down" proves that even ballads can have their crescendos.

"Never Mind Me" is a well-written, yet forlorn, indie pop record that's best enjoyed with your significant other. However, the tales of woe and longing on the album are sentiments that the lonely-hearted can also empathize with. — Angelo DeFranzo

Amy Adams and the Hank Sinatras, "Ladies Must Dress" (WAAP) — This New Orleans-based band swings with rhythm and roll to spare. Fronted by the big and slinky vocals of Amy Adams, this little combo rocks with plenty of blues-oriented groove, tight arrangements and originality. Locked down by upright bass player Jack Carter and drummer Willie Panker, and highlighted by guitarist John Fohl and pianists Joe Krown and Bob Andrews, the music is rooted in traditions of the past, but it's filtered through contemporary sensibilities. Adams is the primary lyricist in the band and she keeps the attitude warm and friendly. Whether it's the upbeat and sultry "Good Man's Woman," the flat-out piano-boogie rock of "Knock Knock," the sweet summer New Orleans sweat of "Easy Livin'," or the title song's humorous take on a woman's need to look fine, fine, fine, this 15-cut project is nothing but fun. — A.A.

The Deadlights, "The Deadlights" (Elecktra/QED Records) — Here we go again with more of the same neo-metal cut from the cloth of Korn. The imagery on the album's cover led me to believe that The Deadlights might have been a tad bit goth-rock or industrial in addition to the metal tinge, but no such luck. The vocalist is one part Ozzy, two parts Billy Corgan and completely "Mr. deep-voiced, angry metal/hardcore singer guy." His fellow brothers in arms wail furiously on their respective instruments, moving from fast to slow then back again with ease. I enjoyed the more melodic number "Sweet Oblivion," the problem is that bands of this vein have done it all before. The Deadlights are one of those bands which, while good at what it does and having some real potential, will never find its niche until it progresses enough musically to stop sounding like everyone else. — A.D.

Shuggie Otis, "Inspiration Information" (Luaka Bop) — I've been listening to this little gem of a re-release off and on for weeks, and I still can't figure out why I like it so much. Shuggie, the son of legendary rhythm and blues bandleader Johnny Otis, recorded "Inspiration" in 1974 at the age of 19, and he played all the instruments except the strings and horns that he arranged. The resulting tracks were largely overlooked at the time, and that's probably because they were unlike anything around during its day.

Otis plucked these light and airy sounds out of some private perception of space and time, and strung them together in a haze of aural pastel tones that are a delight to the ear. At times soulful, at other times get-down funky or pre-Prince primitive, the project is a first-rate pop fantasy. Otis' jazzy guitar sets a strong and peaceful tone for this recording, and even the drum machines sound right. Granted, there's not much here to get worked up about lyrically. But the varied, vaguely Latin beats and overall mood created by the musical swirls and private visions of "Inspiration" are the soundtrack for the ultimate party. — A.A.

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