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Reviews of new CDs by Shannon Curfman, Allen Crime Syndicate, Dave Edmunds and Drive-By Truckers.

Now Hear This

Shannon Curfman, "Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions" (Arista) — Young guitar heroes are not always my cup of tea because too often flash and attitude outweigh substance. But if Curfman's CD occasionally crosses into over-the-top territory, this young woman also keeps it in line with a sense of restraint and variety. I actually think of this as more of a vocal project than a guitar recording. Curfman rips off her share of licks but they never overwhelm the songs, and what makes this interesting is the variety of moods and stylistic vocal changes that abound. "Few and Far Between" kicks things off in a fairly standard bar-band blooze style before Curfman takes a stab at a Southern-fried groove on "No Riders." Jonny Lang's solo during the hard rocking "True Friends" again sets a tone that will please fans of aggressive guitar attack until "If You Change Your Mind" reveals a softer side of Curfman, one that's more aware of dynamics. "Playing With Fire" again offers a change of pace. This homage to Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix gives Curfman a chance to show off a simmering Hendrix wah-wah style. Things continue to please with the straight-on, unaffected vocals of "I Don't Make Promises," a fine take of Robbie Robertson's "The Weight," and the gently melodic ballad "Never Enough." I doubt 15-year-old Curfman sings her self-penned blues and lost-love tales based on a lot of experience. But she shows much promise and is undeniably oozing talent. In a time of young bands with too many cynically cute hooks, this is more like your daddy's rock 'n' roll.

— Ames Arnold

Alien Crime Syndicate, "From The Word Go" (Will Records) — This must be what they call space rock. The otherworldly sound effects lacing each song and the extraterrestrial-inspired imagery of the aptly named Alien Crime Syndicate leads me to believe so. Way out in their neck of the universe must lie an alternative rock-styled planet of sing-a-long delights, where pounding rhythms and memorable hooks would catch even the most veteran of astronauts off guard. This Seattle quartet may have its astro gimmick down pat, but the group's playing adds substance to any surface ploy it might tout. The Syndicate seems to musically outdo other bands of this vein (even chart-toppers such as Spacehog).

Since the album is good from start to finish it's hard to choose a favorite song. However the first single and the opening track, "Take Me To Your Leader" is a strong contender.

For those brave enough to take a glimpse at the future of rock, the accompanying video for the album's opener is also included on this enhanced CD. We could learn a lot from the musical knowledge being dispensed from Alien Crime Syndicate. This group's enlightened sound is out of this world.

— Angelo DeFranzo

Dave Edmunds, "A Pile of Rock Live" (Castle Music) - File under no-brainer. You know, where you don't gamble $16 that a CD will have more than a few fair cuts. Example: When I asked the fella who sold me this import who was in the band, he asked, "Who cares?"

Exactly. El Edmundo has been stoking the fires for so long, every release is a sure thing. Ditto for "Pile of Rock," recorded in 1997 in Sweden. "I Hear You Knocking," "I Knew the Bride" and "Lady Madonna" rip and roll just like they did when Edmunds joined Ringo Starr in Norfolk last May.

So what a thrill to see Edmunds' band including none other than ex-Rockpile mate Billy Bremner, whose guitar brought much zing to that band in its brief glory days. In a word, they sound great — as does Lord of the Boogie Geriant Watkins, billed here as "Jerry Lee Lewis" of the valleys.

What a set, too. Everyone tears into "Crawling from the Wreckage," "Here Comes the Weekend" and "I'm Ready." And if you didn't hear Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance" when it was a hit for Edmunds back in his Love Sculpture days, here's your chance.

— C.A. Shapiro, The Virginian-Pilot

Drive-By Truckers, "Alabama Ass Whuppin'" (second — These guys have become one of my favorite bands and group leader Patterson Hood one of my favorite lunatic fringe performers. Rough and raw, this live CD recorded in various Georgia clubs about a year ago captures the Truckers' chaos in all of its soulful glory. Playing with the alcohol-fueled passion of an honest-to-God rock band, the Truckers swagger through all the favorites. There's the tough-spirited "Why Henry Drinks" and the heart of "The Living Bubba." "Steve McQueen" contains some of the funniest and most truthful lyrics in rock music and "Buttholeville" captures the frustrations and dreams of a slice of society that's not in tune with today's economic good times. Some may think these guys play up a crude Southern stereotype. I prefer to think these guys are the real deal, and I love a huge dose of political incorrectness with my sixth beer. Any band that cranks loud and proud on a little ditty called "Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus)" is OK in my book.

— A.A.

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