POP MUSIC REVIEW : Taff Delivers a Show With Spirit

Who will be "the male Amy Grant"--that is, the first male white gospel performer to make a crossover to the pop mainstream? It's interesting to watch the gospel-rock chart-jockeying between leading contenders Michael W. Smith, whose thin voice and teen-oriented preachiness are a big hit with evangelical kids but unlikely to make a moment's impact with anyone else, and Russ Taff, who actually has some soul in his soul-searching. It's no contest.

Taff's showcase on Monday at the Roxy was oriented toward making an impression on an unknowing industry crowd as well as his considerable coterie of Christian fans. It was the kind of set that could also conceivably make an impression in, say, a Southern bar; you could sell beer and plenty of it with that voice of his, smooth and versatile but drenched in the rough-hewn realities that shape R&B; singers, and that band of his, which at times resembled a seasoned rock 'n' rhythm roadhouse outfit more than a post-Pentecostal pop group.

Taff mostly alternated between the kind of catchy, anthem-like material that album-rock radio loves (like the Danny Wilde-penned "Winds of Change"), ballads (an acoustic "Believe in Love," performed during a technical difficulty, was the inadvertent highlight) and bluesier barn-burners that suggested that this may be the world's best Christian bar band.

The only real missteps were "Not Gonna Bow," a religiously cheesy encore relic, and his ill-chosen version of the Call's "I Still Believe." Luckily, Taff's full-throttle vocal talent is natural enough that he's plenty listenable even when he over-sings a bit.

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