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ALBUM REVIEWS : ** AUGUST BURNING “August Burning” Soundtrack <i> August Burning</i>

Like U2 and the Waterboys, this Balboa Island-based quintet straddles that fine line between an inflated sense of importance and penetrating self-examination. With a couple of exceptions, the group steers clear of self-indulgent tendencies.

Creating a generally somber mood with themes of loneliness, self-doubt and hope for redemption, this year-old band captures attention with the grainy, gravelly vocals of John List. Threatening to crack on each strained note, his voice penetrates deeply with its defiant edge.

His vocals work especially well in tunes of emotional turmoil and betrayal. From the first words List growls in the album-opening “Throw Me Over,” we’re drawn into a world turned upside down: “Pierce me with your verbal dagger / My brother conquer me with those eyes of misunderstanding.”

Searching for reassurance where none exists, List unveils family secrets in a lament entitled “Virginia”: “I shake from the poisons my family provides / But remember this face, remember these eyes.”

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But there’s more to recommend August Burning than its distinctive singing and songwriting skills.

Instrumentally, drummer John Ray and bassist Patrick List kick out potent, sturdy rhythms while lead guitarist James Wagner delivers well-timed angular riffs (particularly during the “Boy"-era-U2-influenced “Don’t Wait”). And Craig Hawkins’ seductive piano rolls sneak to the forefront during the delicate “Early Winter” and high-octane “Slumber.”

These individual attributes mesh seamlessly, reaching a peak during “River.” With its sharp, quirky shifts in tempo, along with Wagner’s jabbing guitar licks, this multilayered number highlights the group’s depth and versatility.

The promising band stumbles with “Life” and “The Bird,” both songs falling victim to overreaching and vagueness. Still, young and ambitious, this band is burning bright.

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(Available from August Burning, P.O. Box 584, Balboa, CA 92661.)


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