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June 4, 1997
Cravin' Southern Rock  

cravin melon
Cravin' Melon, Red Clay Harvest (Mercury 1997) - It's been a great year for fans of pop-oriented rock. Add Red Clay Harvest to your list, as the quartet's brand of rootsy rock, ala Hootie & The Blowfish, will start your engines.

Cravin' Melon's southern rock influences aren't surprising, considering that all four band members are graduates of Clemson University. Explains drummer Rick Reames, "We're really much more interested in writing four-minute pop songs. Some songs on the record are southern-tinged, but that's just because we grew up, um, in the South."

The band consists of singer Doug Jones, guitarist Jimbo Chapman, drummer Rick Reames, and bassist J. J. Bowers.

Since grouping in 1993, the band has become touring stalwarts, building a substantial fan base like Widespread Panic and Big Head Todd - one gig at a time. Says guitarist Jimbo Chapman, "The fact that our music is being recognized now is due to the fact that we have been touring and playing to more and more people and making friends. We are definitely a live band. I always thought that it was just a matter of time before someone paid attention."

That attention will begin with Red Clay Harvest. Recorded with producer Don Smith (who has worked with such acts as Cracker and John Hiatt), the band never loses sight of its mission. From uptempo rockers like "Come Undone" and "Comeaday" to slower ballads like "Post Office" and "Can't Find My Way," Cravin' Melon has an unpretentious and thoroughly professional sound.

Cravin' Melon has the chops to go the distance. Catch ahold of Red Clay Harvest.  

Dead Reckoners Dead Reckoners, A Night of Reckoning (Dead Reckoning/Rounder 1996) - The Dead Reckoners are a rebel outfit from Nashville who formed their own record company to record roots, rock and country. A Night of Reckoning is a pseudo-live recording designed to showcase the talents of these musicians as a band.

I've seen the Dead Reckoners live, and was amazed. The band includes Kieran Kane on guitars and vocals, singer/songwriter Kevin Welch on guitars and vocals [and Welch's "Kicking Back in Amsterdam" (which isn't on the new release) is a great rebellion rocker], Tammy Rogers on fiddle and vocals, Mike Henderson on electric guitar, Harry Stinson on drums, and Alison Prestwood on bass. The band members have also recorded individual albums released through Dead Reckoning.

Unfortunately, A Night of Reckoning doesn't gel as an album. And that's because it's actually a studio recording dressed up as a live record. Although such songs as "Waiting for the Assassin" and "Workin' On It" have their moments.

For my money, Tammy Rogers' recent self-titled album featured a much better live cut in "Ticket to Heaven." In the end, A Night of Reckoning goes down as a worthy cause, as this independent label deserves success.  
Tarnation, Mirador (Reprise 1997) - Fans of Renaissance will want to investigate Tarnation, fronted by the strong-voiced Paula Frazer. Featuring Frazer's evocative and rich voice, Mirador has a moody, evocative sound that is part goth and part pop.

Frazer was raised as a minister's daughter in Georgia and Arkansas, so it's not surprising that she's interested in questions of morality and eternal salvation. Says Frazer, "Tarnation is slang for hell. I chose the name because it's both comical and dark. Sometimes there can be humor in darkness."

Frazer eventually relocated to San Francisco, where she joined "Savina," a Bay Area woman's chorus, which primarily performs Bulgarian a cappella folk music. And that gives you some idea of Tarnation's leanings.

With Frazer's soaring vocals, understated instrumentation, and atmospheric vibes, Mirador resembles October Project, only more uptempo. With maybe a little bit of It's A Beautiful Day mixed in, together with harpsichord and 60s-style psychodelia.

Not for everyone, Mirador will appeal to fans of goth and romanticism.  
Guy Clark

Guy Clark, Keepers (Sugar Hill 1997) - 55-year-old singer songwriter, Guy Clark, whose recording career stretches 20 years, has recorded his first live album in Keepers. Featuring images from his West Texas roots (such as "Texas - 1947" and "The Last Gunfighter Ballad"), Keepers carries on the Texas storytelling tradition.

Which is perhaps the album's weakness. The focus is too much on storytelling, and not enough on the music. Which is a darn shame, because Clark is backed by a crack country-folk band. When he lets the band unwind on such songs as "L.A. Freeway" and "South Coast of Texas," he really gets a groove going. Fans will enjoy Keepers.

-- Randy Krbechek

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