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* * * * Great Balls of Fire * * * Good Vibrations * * Maybe Baby * Running on Empty : : CRUZADOS EXCEL

July 19, 1987|STEVE HOCHMAN

* * * "AFTER DARK." Cruzados. Arista. Small town lives, big dreams and bigger disappointments--sounds like Springsteen-Mellencamp-Petty territory. And that's exactly the ground this L.A.-based quartet walks on this fine follow-up to last year's promising debut. But Tito Larriva has developed into a good-enough singer and songwriter in the Little Steven/Southside Johnny vein that the record transcends its obvious reference points.

With the direct touches of producers Rodney Mills, Greg Ladanyi and Waddy Wachtel, Cruzados excel in the several types of settings in which the earnest lyrics are placed: "Time for Waiting" and "Blue Sofa" (originally recorded by Larriva and Cruzados drummer Chalo Quintana in 1981 when they were the Plugz) are sultry and soulful; "Last Ride" is a Texas burner worthy of ZZ Top; and "Bed of Lies" is an indelible guitar-rocker that could provide the group with its radio breakthrough. Contributions were made by background vocalists Don Henley, Pat Benatar, E.G. Daily and the Williams Brothers and by the late blues harmonica wizard Paul Butterfield, but the quality of the album rests on the strength of the band.

The one flaw is "I Want Your World to Turn," an out-of-place, effects-loaded, Madonna-esque number written and produced by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, the team that perpetrated "Like a Virgin." Still, it's not nearly enough to drag down the whole package.

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