Today’s sampling of local releases finds punk/alternative types conspiring on the Independent’s Day ’95 compilation, while singer-songwriter Jim Quealy emerges as an insightful, boomer generation voice of experience. Ratings range from * (poor) to **** (excellent). Three stars denote a solid recommendation.
***, Jim Quealy, “Far From the Real World”, Mudfram Records Most of the new rock music that gets rewarded with publicity and record contracts is the work of players in their 20s. Records like this self-financed CD from Quealy, a 41-year-old who has been playing as a part-timer in Orange County cover bars over the past decade while raising a family, suggest that room also needs to be made for some older hands.
The dozen songs on “Far From the Real World” are suffused with a mature vision that comes from doing hard time in the real world. Only somebody who has stood on the peaks and fallen in the ditches, smelled the bouquets and been scratched by the thorns could make songs about relationships ring as true as Quealy does here.
What comes through is a sensibility experienced enough to know what’s important, open-hearted enough not to have been dulled or hardened by life’s heavy weather, and wise enough not to claim to have final answers to big questions.
Not that Quealy shirks big questions: “See Me Now,” a loving ballad to a dead parent, probes deeply into the thorny nature of legacies handed down through generations, observing how they can simultaneously contort and sustain the lives of the legatees.
In “Truth,” with its sunny tint of reggae, and “If My Dreams Were Movies,” a tense, spiny rocker a la Dire Straits, Quealy’s subject is the human reluctance to be seen in the severe light of naked honesty. The tone isn’t the easy indictment of the post-adolescent who thinks in absolutes, but the chastened, humbled one of a writer who has seen what can happen when our choices grow murky. Quealy’s pithy couplets in “Truth” crystallize a lot of human behavior:
You can be favorite man of the year.
You can always tell ‘em what they want to hear.
Never expose what might weaken your stance.
Lengthen your nose, increase your chance. . .
The writing isn’t always that sharp; lyrically, Quealy has his mannered or overly abstract moments. But his melodies and arrangements, which show the influence of such masters as Van Morrison and Smokey Robinson, are consistently strong, and his voice, a husky but pliant tenor that sounds like a grittier Kenny Loggins, never fails to hit home emotionally.
One of the album’s strengths is its lovely romantic balladry, but what makes the love songs memorable is the way Quealy injects a twist of doubt and difficulty--in short, reality--into even a glowing tribute like “The Way You Look.” When he gives a pep talk about following dreams (“It Matters to You”) or persevering in love (“Night After Night”), his encouraging words gain weight from the note of struggle and hard-won experience in his voice.
The songs get the support they deserve from Quealy’s band of regular players, augmented by Laguna Beach studio aces Steve Wood, who produced and played organ, and Mike Hamilton, who dabs on many a sweetly crying, Lindley-esque slide guitar solo.
(Available from Mudfram Records, P.O. Box 80915, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688.)
* The Jim Quealy Band and Kerry Getz play Saturday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. 8 p.m. $10. (714) 957-0600.
Various Artists, “Independent’s Day ’95", Taurus Enterprises/Doctor Dream
This is not a live recording of the recent 100-band local punk-alternative fest at Irvine Meadows but a studio documentation of 20 of the bands that played, (actually, one of them, Das Klown, bailed out of the show due to an injury).
Like the festival, the commemorative album is too heavily weighted toward hard-core punk, but lovers of the genre should be well-pleased. Das Klown’s minute-long blitz “Timebomb” leavens hard-core with a brisk sense of fun, while “Head,” the first recording from X-Members, the new band fronted by Mike (Gabby) Gaborno of Cadillac Tramps, gives hard-core an injection of high-octane fuel while making a point about the consequences of out-of-control behavior.
The band called Hed serves up a surprise, framing a routine thrash-punk song with Sonic Youth-style guitar architecture, then taking a bizarre but satisfying turn into spacey rap stylings that ride a cool, funky guitar line.
Metal-heads can headbang to Humble Gods’ Tool-meets-Jane’s Addiction workout “Catch Me,” while the ever-heavy Bitch Funky Sex Machine calls to mind Motorhead in a tag-team wrestling match with Black Sabbath. The band called Larry serves up this otherwise hard-rocking collection’s lone screwball pitch with a kitschy cabaret song.
Burnin’ Groove’s catchy, careening “Anybody See,” which has received deserved play on KROQ, is the standout cut, but listeners are best directed to the band’s recent CD, “In the Gallows,” which also features the song.
Jigsaw, the new band fronted by Mike Conley of MIA and Naked Soul semi-fame, arrives with a sound that’s heftier and more dense than Conley’s past work without relinquishing his strengths as a song-craftsman. Jigsaw’s number, “Runt,” wonders whether it’s worth pushing on in the face of evidence “that it’s all been done.”
The “Independent’s Day” collection gives us plenty of unabashed recyclers of punk hand-me-downs who don’t care if they’re being redundant, and a few bands that have the personal spark to at least glimpse the “destination further” Conley proclaims, in “Runt,” as the object of his creative quest.
(Available from Doctor Dream Records, 841 W. Collins, Orange, CA 92667 or  453-7326.)