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1991: ORANGE COUNTY, THE YEAR IN REVIEW : A Snapshot of the Year’s Best Albums--From Orange County and From All Over

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Top 10 Orange County albums of 1991:

1. The Walter Trout Band, “Prisoner of a Dream” (Electra Denmark import). Trout’s fully absorbed influences range from Robert Johnson to Carlos Santana, from Little Feat to Little Richard, from Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton. Soulful singing, blazing guitar solos, tasty Hammond organ licks, strong songwriting, superb band performance. What else does a guy have to do to earn a U.S. recording deal, anyway?

2. Vinnie James, “All American Boy” (RCA/Cypress). Love songs with tenderness, plus social commentaries fueled by passion and intelligence. You can fault James for stridency in his singing at times, but overall, this collection of acoustic ballads and raw, R&B-tinged; rockers was one of the best debut albums of ’91.

3. Tender Fury, “If Anger Were Soul I’d Be James Brown” (Triple X). Wayward punk lad Jack Grisham turns 30 and digs deep for cathartic reckoning with his misspent youth. The music is propulsively true to the players’ punk roots but also gracefully allusive to such pop sources as the Beatles and Bowie. You can’t help being engaged by music this emotionally open.

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4. Richard Stekol, “Richard Stekol” (BSQ). His voice isn’t the strongest, and his lyrics can be convoluted and obscure. But when the former Honk guitarist is on--which is more than half the time--he turns out shimmering, beautifully crafted gems, backed by a fine acoustic band. “America Walking By” is a landmark, a song of family grief that deserves to be famous. Maybe we’ll hear it in the movies someday--and pull out our handkerchiefs when we do.

5. 3D Picnic, “Sunshine & Cockroaches” (Earth Music/Cargo). Alternately funny and poignant, and marked by consistently fine pop craftsmanship, this album ranges through a wide array of folk, pop and country influences without sacrificing a tough rock edge that reflects front man Don Burnet’s punk roots. Some of the melodic hooks are so grand that they play over and over in your head.

6. Altered State, “Altered State” (Warner Bros.). Another strong debut. Lavishly produced but still forceful music from a band that is equally at home with trippy-progressive Floyd and Crimson influences, Beatles psychedelia, and contemporary, INXS-style dance rock.

7. Rick Elias, “Ten Stories” (Alarma). Getting religion doesn’t mean giving up one’s imagination--or sacrificing a skeptical, critical perspective. It’s the turmoil in his songs that makes this Christian rocker so interesting. Not to mention his authoritative Stones-blues-Mellencamp heartland rock style and commanding vocal rasp.

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8. The James Harman Band, “Do Not Disturb” (Black Top). Only a grinch could fail to be charmed by Harman’s good-natured, down-home way with a blues song. And only a dedicated hater of the blues could fail to respond to the bandleader’s trenchant harp blowing, or guitar sidekick Joel Foy’s total command. These mostly original numbers chronicle the comic ups and downs of a traveling blues man’s life on the road.

9. Jann Browne, “It Only Hurts When I Laugh” (Curb). It’s a puzzlement why this catchy, well-played collection didn’t catch fire commercially, especially after Browne’s 1990 debut album had made an impact on the charts. Browne and an all-star cast convey a strong sense of rockin'-country roots. The singer has a knack for aching in songs of affection abused, but without sacrificing her dignity.

10. Mumbles, “Two Clouds” (Viva import). Made in a Costa Mesa garage, released on an Italian label. It is a global economy, isn’t it? Mumbles offers progressive rock that mixes in influences ranging from blues to country to raga-rock to Bad Company pop dramatics to Cocteau Twins aural haze. Outside all standard categories, this music is like a travelogue offering surprising vistas of a wide pop landscape. Fine stuff for those looking for something a little different. Unfortunately, Mumbles (formerly known as Drowning Pool) broke up after the album’s release.

Honorable Mention: Agent Orange, “Real Live Sound” (Restless); Cadillac Tramps, “Cadillac Tramps” (Doctor Dream); Don’t Mean Maybe, “Real Good Life” (Doctor Dream); Soul Scream, “Soul Scream”; Peter Shambrook, “Peter Shambrook” (Frontline); Force of Souls, “To Live and Die in Orange County” (Purple Twilight); Robert Lucas, “Usin’ Man Blues” (Audioquest); Bazooka, “Bazooka.”

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Top 10 Albums Overall:

1. R.E.M., “Out of Time” (Warner Bros.)

2. Graham Parker, “Struck by Lightning” (RCA)

3. Throwing Muses, “The Real Ramona” (Sire/Warner Bros.)

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4. Pixies, “Trompe Le Monde” (Elektra)

5. Squeeze, “Play” (Reprise)

6. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, “After Awhile” (Elektra Nonesuch)

7. Dave Alvin, “Blue Blvd” (Hightone)

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8. Richard Thompson, “Rumor and Sigh” (Capitol)

9. Walter Trout Band, “Prisoner of A Dream” (Electra Denmark import)

10. Nirvana, “Nevermind” (DGC)

Top 10 Concerts:

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1. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Social Distortion, L.A. Sports Arena

2. Allman Brothers Band, Pacific Amphitheatre

3. Randy Newman, Coach House

4. Difford & Tilbrook, Coach House

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5. Sweet Honey in the Rock, Chapman University Auditorium

6. Thelonious Monster, Peppers Golden Bear

7. Life, Sex & Death, Doll Hut

8. Elvis Costello, Pacific Amphitheatre

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9. Johnette Napolitano and Andy Prieboy, Coach House

10. Jerry Jeff Walker, Coach House

Worst Concerts:

1. Ratt, Irvine Meadows

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2. Michael Bolton, Pacific Amphitheatre

3. Kenny Rogers, Celebrity Theatre

Special Citations:

Don Quixote Award: To Leland Jeffries, a local rock musician who had worked for Leo Fender, for trying to organize a major benefit concert honoring the guitar maker. The all-day Leo Fender Memorial Jam Benefit, featuring such name players as Dick Dale, Albert Lee, Jeff Baxter, Yngwie Malmsteen and Robben Ford, was more than any novice concert promoter should have attempted on his own. The show had organizational problems and lost money, but the cause was noble, and Jeffries’ heart certainly was in the right place.

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Guitarist Grata Award: To B.B. King, who brought his classy presence to Orange County for four separate engagements in 1991. King played two shows at the Celebrity Theatre (one in March, and another coming up Friday night), performed at Michael’s Supper Club in Dana Point, and headlined a blues festival at the Pacific Amphitheatre.

Guitarist Non Grata Award: To C.C. DeVille of Poison. After stinking up Irvine Meadows with a marathon guitar solo spot that was the ultimate in musical stupidity, DeVille debased himself even further by turning up at the Fender Memorial Jam Benefit to deliver a crude, profane rant from the stage.

JIM WASHBURN’S PICKS

Lucky 13: the best concerts of the year:

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1. Elvis Costello at the Pacific Amphitheatre, Aug. 16.

2. Crowded House and Richard Thompson at the Universal Amphitheatre, Sept. 10.

3. Emmylou Harris at the Coach House, Aug. 15.

4. Jonathan Richman at Bogart’s, Dec. 15.

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5. The Winans at the Celebrity Theatre, March 29.

6. Randy Newman at the Coach House, Nov. 1.

7. Buck Owens at the Crazy Horse, Feb. 25.

8. David Lindley at the Coach House, June 14.

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9. Chris Difford and Glenn Tillbrook at the Coach House, July 25.

10. The Neville Brothers at the Coach House, Jan. 6.

11. Bazooka at Diedrich Coffee, Feb. 2.

12. The O’Jays and Levert at the Celebrity Theatre, Nov. 17.

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13. Marc Cohn at the Coach House, Nov. 24.


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