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Bluest Souls in Pieces

Waiting for a Bitter Rain: Love's fatalism weighs heavily on Malford Milligan (lower left) and the rest of Storyville on their bleak new album.

Storyville looks for love in all the bleakest places on its newest album, 'A Piece of Your Soul'

By Nicky Baxter

ON THE GROUP'S 1994 debut album, The Bluest Eyes, Storyville wrapped Texas-styled roots-rock around tales of triumph and tragedy, love and disillusionment. These fiery hymns that spoke eloquently to the survivor in all of us were delivered by frontman Malford Milligan, a supremely gifted vocalist whose gut-wrenching style suggests that he's walked with saints and partied with sinners.

It was Milligan's raw, authoritative wailing that turned a solid album into something approximating the sublime. Perhaps the fact that Milligan is of African descent while the rest of Storyville is Euro-American sparked a yin-and-yang tension vital to the creative process. Whatever the case, that first album was a minor masterpiece; the group's newest release, A Piece of Your Soul (Code Blue/Warner Bros.) is a competent, if less striking, second try.

Like its predecessor, A Piece of Your Soul presents a blasted landscape littered with characters betrayed by friends and foes alike; here, love is just another four-letter word, and settling for whatever comes along is a way of life. But the mule-headed defiance of The Bluest Eyes has been displaced by fatalism.

"The Reign of Love" that Milligan gloried in on the first album has given way to the ultimately bleak outlook of "Bitter Rain." Now optimism, however cautious ("Call it wishful thinking/That you would extend your hand/Let the sound of one heart breaking/Inspire you to take a stand"), succumbs to defeat: "Another tragic story/About a fool who lost his place."

A Piece of Your Soul is not wholly bereft of hope. "What Passes for Love" harks back to the socially aware tunesmithing of The Bluest Eyes. Penned by guitarist David Grissom, it is a well-intentioned, if awkward, populist call to action.

In fact, though too few in number to qualify as an effective rescue mission, a couple of numbers attempt to lift us out of the mire. The rapturous "Solid Ground" and "Share That Smile" certainly qualify as uplifting. On the latter, Milligan reminds us that reality does indeed bite, crooning, "What appears to be the real thing ain't always what it seems/Sometimes the light will play tricks on your dreams."

Finally, it is not its borderline defeatism that undercuts Milligan and company's effectiveness, but rather their sometimes unimaginative sonic vision. For instance, "What Passes for Love" has Stevie Ray Vaughan written all over it (attention, lick lifters: let the man rest in peace). "Good Day for the Blues" also suffers from a decided lack of ambition with its John Mellencamp-style American heartland vibe.

Interestingly, on "Can't Go There Anymore," Storyville rides Living Colour's jock much more credibly, primarily because drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon sink their mitts into the chunky rhythm like starving wolves at a kill.

A Piece of Your Soul represents a holding action, a transitional record to get Storyville over the hump. If you're willing to settle for less than everything from this Austin, Texas, band, then this Soul's for you. If, however, you want it all, by all means go out and re-connect with the power of The Bluest Eyes.

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From the November 14-20, 1996 issue of Metro

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