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Local bands greet spring with a bushel of new releases that bump with blues and grind with metal

Riff Raff
Watch Your Back
Half Pint Records

Riff Raff avoids the sophomore jinx on Watch Your Back, released by the recently resuscitated Half Pint Records. Produced by local musician Russ Rankin of Good Riddance, this effort captures a sound that proves Riff Raff's trademark assault of piston-fueled punk rock is alive and well. These guys belt out their tightest and maturest material to date. Songs like "Painkiller," "Better Off Dead" and "Falling Down" stick with their guitar-driven, rapid-fire tradition. "Blessed Days" focuses less on guitars, letting the drums and bass drive the song. Singer/guitarist Troy Lewis continues to write about personal feelings, life and its letdowns--and if he sounds pissed off, it's because he is. (Velvet Fitzgerald)

Steppin' Off to Eden
Fueled Up Records

Herbert's Steppin' Off to Eden is a mind-altering rock & roll experience that starts with the cover: a scene you might find while wandering through an Aztec jungle and coming across your maker, who sits on the edge of forever. Charged with influences from Black Sabbath and other purveyors of doom--and equal parts of hard rock a la Led Zeppelin and Soundgarden--the 11-song disc opens with quick rocker "Cattle Call," featuring screaming leads by Mike Anderson. "Crone," at more than seven minutes, has singer Mat Fitzsimmons belting out long wails from the psychic cauldron. Just when you are settled in, the uncanny acoustic "Pickin' Apples" snaps the sonic assault. "Wonderlust" is a breakneck thrill ride that drummer Steve Isle pushes to a stellar level. The bass assault of Mason C. on the epic "Locust Rain" shows a matured Herbert covering a lot of ground. (Release date: April 25.) (VF)

Sista Monica
People Love the Blues
Mo' Muscle Records

Like most bandleaders who start out playing clubs, Sista Monica has long had a dance-floor consciousness that doesn't stray far from a 125-beats-per-minute groove. So it's a tribute to her savvy as a record producer and songwriter that her studio forays evince a strong sense of subtlety and a sharp ear for fine gradations of timbre. Her third full-length CD, People Love the Blues, is a tour de force with a solid grounding in blues tradition and a pronounced funky feel (no doubt the influence of Monica's hot-shot rhythm section of bassist Skylark and drummer Ron E. Beck). It's big with Danny Beconcini's piano and Hammond B-3 backdrops and punchy with horn-line kicks led by Ken "Big Papa" Baker. Everyone gets a chance to stretch out on solos, but special attention is given to Baker's Junior Walker­ and Gene Ammons­sounding improvisations. Though the saxman died a year ago, his influence is great; interludes of him blowing 16 bars of blistering licks are peppered throughout. As a singer, Monica has never lacked vocal ability, her voice limber and strong over two and a half octaves. For the songs on People Love the Blues, however, Monica really gets busy, turning out sophisticated and soulful melodies that show off both her seemingly boundless technique and her gorgeous, dramatic phrasing (most notably on "Baby Workout"). High points have to be her comic-tragic tale "Honey, It's Your Fault," the throw-your-hands-in-the-air anthem "People Love the Blues" and any of the slow-burn-to-bonfire ballads. On People Love the Blues, Monica's sound has both the cosmopolitan glitter and sophistication of a worldly woman and the welcoming feel of a Sunday dinner at the family homestead. More than a notable local release, it's a worldwide contender, the work of a performer who crafted her sound locally and who now acts globally to get people moving. (Rob Pratt)

Jayme Kelly Curtis
In a Rushing Stream
PurrGirl Music

Relaxing guitars, rain sticks and mystical singing characterize the first few tunes off this delightful 12-song album by longtime singer/songwriter Jayme Kelly Curtis. After that, Curtis follows her folksy blues and finger-picking background, from the vaudevillian "Lifeline" to the C&W-leaning "Big City Blues." Thanks to guest musicians like Bruce Argyle and Walter Bankovitch, the tracks all sound different. Like many contemporary folksters, such as Karen Savoca, Curtis substitutes other percussion instruments like congas, chimes and shakers for a trap set--sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. On "Sideshow," the pingpong sounds get in the way of mellow accordions and Curtis's singing. Speaking of her voice, some might compare Curtis' to pop star Jewel's, with all its sultriness and lightly peppered gusto. In reality, it's the other way around--Curtis is much more woman than Jewel. (David Espinoza)

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From the April 19-26, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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