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A Precocious Brat Gets Sophisticated

Scottish singer-songwriter Roddy Frame, the foundation of the group Aztec Camera, sounded every bit the wizened veteran as he chatted recently in a Universal City hotel room.

“As you get older you realize life’s too short to be sitting around,” he said, dragging on a cigarette.

That staring-in-the-face-of-mortality musing is a tad disconcerting coming from a 26-year-old--especially a baby-faced one who looks more like 16.

When this was pointed out to him, Frame shrugged and grinned. “I was always a precocious little brat,” he said.

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Indeed. Frame’s songwriting first drew attention in Glasgow a full 10 years ago, and he was just 19 when the first Aztec Camera album, “High Land, Hard Rain,” was released to tremendous critical and alternative-radio praise.

Though he never broke out of the underground in the United States, Frame became an instant star in Britain. That album also won him such fans as Elvis Costello, who picked the group as the opening act on his 1983 tour, and Mark Knopfler, who signed on to produce the second Camera album, “Knife.”

Now, following the failed soul experiment of 1988’s “Love,” Aztec Camera, which will be at the Wiltern Theatre on Friday, has returned with “Stray.” The album again establishes Frame as a precocious popster with its emphasis on sophisticated, worldly stylings.

But it also captures a youthful energy with the likes of “Good Morning Britain,” a strong, upbeat duet with B.A.D. leader and former Clash-man Mick Jones.

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The album, Frame said, is largely the end product of spending a year at home outside London with his eclectic record collection.

“You’d have (jazz guitarist) Wes Montgomery followed by Anita Baker and the Clash,” he said, describing a typical listening session. “I fell in love with the guitar again.”

In that year of down-time he also matured as a songwriter.

“On the last album I wanted every word to mean something.” he said of “Love.” “You start out wanting to write like Marvin Gaye, but end up Roland Barthes or something.”

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But Frame made it clear he’s not maturing too fast. He sounded every bit the wide-eyed boy as he told of his star-gazing the night before when he went to the rough-hewn Hollywood club King King to see the L.A. blues band the Blue Shadows.

“Norm from ‘Cheers’ was there,” he said, his eyes gleaming. “But he was standing. It would have been great if he was sitting at the bar with a beer like on the show.”


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