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POP MUSIC REVIEW : The Proclaimers’ Purity, Passion

Times Pop Music Critic

Yes, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, there is “quiet rock music"--and the Proclaimers are a band that can wear that tag proudly.

It’s not that the Scottish group is incapable of the energy and force to run afoul of the Central Park noise regulations--the case that prompted Marshall to ask if rock has to be so l-o-u-d.

But the heart of the Proclaimers’ artistry, both on their new Chrysalis album and in their Southern California debut Wednesday night at the Bacchanal here, is their intimacy. For a band whose name suggests bold declarations, the Proclaimers speak with unusual gentleness and grace. The most affecting songs are as natural as the well-wishes of an old friend or the reassurances of a loved one.

This warmth is accented by the vocal blend of the bespectacled twins who founded the band. Though they have been described as the Everly Brothers of Scotland, Craig and Charlie Reid, 26, don’t reach for the sweet, choirlike harmonies of the Everlys. Rather, their voices, featuring a sometimes heavy brogue, weave together in an everyman bond that reinforces their themes of concern and support.

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More important is the Reids’ writing. Their best songs about optimism and faith sound as if they are straight from the heart. “Sean,” for instance, is a song about the birth of a baby that seems like a pure flush of emotion--an uncanny capturing of a moment of joy: “Sean, I sat awhile on clouds to ask God if he’s living / I should have spent the time on knees / In thanks for what he’s given.”

The Proclaimers convey an equal intimacy in songs about social discontent.

There is frustration and bite when the Reids strike out at social-political apathy in “Cap in Hand,” but “What Do You Do?” captures marvelously the disillusionment of running against the political tide. Sample line: “What do you do? / When democracy fails you / What do you do / When minority means you?”

The musical vision in these numbers is so personal that at times Wednesday the band’s other five members almost seemed like intruders on stage. The point was underscored when the brothers stood by themselves midway through the 70-minute set and sang the wistful “Letter From America,” a reflection on loyalty and aspirations.

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The Reids may feel the added instrumental bite is needed for variety and punch, but the Cowboy Junkies’ recent success demonstrates that audiences will respond to intimate music when it is heartfelt.

This doesn’t mean the Reids should return to their early folk-duo days. There were several times in Wednesday’s performance when the band--whose arrangements are nicely tailored with accordions and violins as well as guitars and drums--was in perfect step with the brothers. Among them: a rollicking rendition of the old R&B; hit "(I’m Gonna) Burn Your Playhouse Down” and a version of their own “The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues” that had a revival-tent fervor. But the Reids could better showcase the intimacy that is their primary strength by combining two or three of their more delicate songs in an acoustic stretch.

Even if the show wasn’t perfectly designed, the Proclaimers showed that they have a kinship with some of the most valuable and uplifting new forces in rock, including the Waterboys and Hothouse Flowers. In a pop world filled with calculation and self-conscious cleverness, this is music abounding with purity and passion.

The group, which was scheduled to close the first leg of its U.S. tour Thursday night at the Roxy in West Hollywood, is expected to return to the West Coast in late April to resume the tour.


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