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Like a Whirlwind

[whitespace] Stormin' Norman and the Cyclones

Stormin' Norman and the Cyclones have no reason to stop on new album

By Nicky Baxter

Before Bob Dylan and the Beatles decided it was time for the music to grow up, rock was a simple pleasure. Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Buddy Holly crafted tunes whose sole intent was to coax bottoms up on the dance floor. Zippy numbers like Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" got fans good and giddy, while slower ones green-lighted a little more intimacy. Simple, uncomplicated fun. Stormin' Norman and the Cyclones have inherited that tradition. The band's new release, Why Stop Now!, is crammed full of feel-good rock and rhythm.

Norman Louis and company have been kicking around the South Bay for at least a decade, mostly rocking clubs and bars in the Santa Cruz area. The band's background is impressive: bassist/guitarist and vocalist Tiran Porter is a longtime member of the Doobie Brothers. Lead guitarist Ken Kraft played with underrated Santa Cruz outfit Snail and co-founded the Cyclones. Guitarist Pete Clark and drummer Jim Norris (another ex-Snail man) round out the group. Also on hand are some special guests.

Stylistically, Why Stop Now! bops all over the place with romping, testosterone-fueled classic rock, honky-tonk numbers and a couple of tear-jerkers tossed in for good measure. The five-man outfit even takes a stab at reggae.

"My Sweet Baby" is a beery, country-flavored track delivered at a casual gait. Louis' sandpapery vocal is refreshingly free of pretense; his plaintive cawing is well suited to the love-stricken lyric. Frank Reckhard, who handles half the lead-guitar duties, checks in with some appropriately twangy picking, but it is keyboardist Gene Barnholt's garrulous, trilling piano that nudges the tune a notch past average.

Barnholt, who passed away before the disc hit the racks, shines on the rough-and-ready "Borderline" as well. His rollicking, two-fisted key-punching and Stormin' Norman's good-natured rasp combine to make this spirited travelogue one helluva trip.

"Do You Believe in Love" is a Tex-Mex-inflected ditty grounded by Porter's sonorous bass and Norris' nifty stickwork. John Weston's wonderfully sensual pedal-steel guitar enhances the song's starry-eyed lyric, weaving its way through the cracks left by a three-guitar front. On the tune's final chorus, Louis, Porter and Kraft join forces for a little harmonizing, recalling the Doobies' trilling on charmers like "Without You."

Obviously adept at playing it fast and hard, Stormin' Norman and his confederates aren't afraid to try a little tenderness. "Wish List" is an affectingly rendered ballad, all lilting guitars and soaring, harmonies. It's the sort of morsel one might easily imagine Roy Orbison wrapping his prodigious chops around.

The unplugged "On Your Wedding Day" is a fond, if somewhat maudlin, sendoff to a buddy on the verge of tying the knot. Saxophonist Scott Wright takes a turn in the spotlight with a solo roiling with emotion.

Fittingly, Why Stop Now! concludes with a hard-nosed, honky-tonkin' rocker, "April Fool." Riding the Cyclones' steaming boogiemobile, Stormin' Norman recalls a roller-coaster love affair that went awry. Barnholt's feisty piano reinforces the groove, while Kraft's lead matches licks with Weston's stabbing lap steel. Louis may have gotten suckered, but he sounds like he's having the time of his life. With his merrymaking bandmates kicking up such a ruckus, how could it be otherwise?

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Web extra to the March 11-17, 1999 issue of Metro.

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