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Lindley Playfully Cruises a Wide Musical Ocean

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Times Staff Writer

For American and British rockers, musical excursions into the Third World have become almost as common as Caribbean cruises.

David Lindley is one of the more experienced and imaginative travelers in those waters: The Los Angeles guitarist, best known for his work as a sideman for Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon, has devoted his solo career to a playful commingling of Caribbean rhythms and vocal inflections with home-grown blues, rock and R & B.

The key word there is playful: Rather than engaging in ethnomusicology, Lindley’s dabbling with “World Music” is like a chemistry experiment in which diverse compounds are mixed in hopes of generating a colorful, fizzing reaction.

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In a delightful early show Saturday night at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, Lindley and his expert band, El Rayo-X, showed that they are still leaders in stylistic exploration. Others may circle the globe to find new ways to rock, but in one memorable segment of their 105-minute set, Lindley and El Rayo-X transplanted Caribbean and R & B roots into outer space.

Takeoff occurred during the percussion break in their rendition of the Neville Brothers’ wonderful New Orleans parade song, “Brother John.” While the rest of the five-man band clicked away on cowbells, drums and finger-cymbals, rhythm guitarist Ray Woodbury generated spacey, moonwalking tones in a refreshingly low-tech way--by blowing rhythmically into a couple of beer bottles.

This was delicious stuff: If there is anything more buoyant than the sound of a Mardi Gras parade, it’s the sound of a Mardi Gras parade conducted at zero gravity.

There was plenty of levity in Lindley’s show--his own impish stage presence, for openers: His scraggly hair and garish clothes made for a motley look, and he played the jester in song introductions delivered in an elfin falsetto or a carny barker’s exaggerated drawl. Lindley’s high, nasal singing voice lent a humorous cast to virtually every song, but it also carried a more plaintive dimension on seriocomic songs like “Ain’t No Way.”

In an exciting opening, Lindley and El Rayo-X merged humor with ferocious, precise musicianship. They began with a fast, reggae permutation of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” drawn from their new album, “Very Greasy.” Then came “Talk to the Lawyer,” a prescient song, dating from 1982, in which Lindley caustically satirizes the sort of covert government operation that came to light last year with the Iran-Contra scandal.

Lindley dedicated the song to George Bush, then powered it with hard-hitting but elegant rock guitar leads. Walfredo Reyes, an exceptional drummer, added to the excitement with responsive playing that surged and ebbed at just the right moments in Lindley’s extended solo.

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While the show went off in all sorts of engaging directions after that, it never returned to the high-intensity, straight-ahead rock with which it began (although an encore version of “Twist And Shout” that merged reggae with Chicano garage rock was good fun). Two or three additional well-placed rockers could have lifted a strong performance even higher.

Otherwise, there was little to complain about. Lindley showcased his technique on six-string guitar, steel guitar, fiddle and electric mandolin. But unlike some instrumental aces, he dispensed with gaudy displays, emphasized ensemble playing, and gave each band mate--notably the fine keyboardist, William (Smitty) Smith--room to establish a musical personality.

Traveling as a group helped Lindley and El Rayo-X find consistently fresh and lively vistas along an extensive, if now well-beaten, itinerary.

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