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RECORD RACK

* * * * Great Balls of Fire * * * Good Vibrations * * Maybe Baby * Running on Empty : : ROOTS GET THE BOOT

October 18, 1987|CHRIS WILLMAN

* * * BODEANS. "Outside Looking In." Slash/Reprise. The BoDeans' music is the music of exuberant yearning. The same claim could no doubt be made about a lot of rock 'n' roll--from Donna-less Ritchie Valens to oh-so-restless Whitesnake--but these Wisconsinites make their brand of restless Americana more mature and invigorating than most, kicking up a dust with great car songs that are freeway-ready and, this time out, radio-ready, too.

Apparently fed up with being a "roots" band, the BoDeans have aimed squarely for album-rock radio-land with their second effort, and scored quite a bull's-eye. (Their unlikely comrade in this quest for the charts is producer and Talking Head Jerry Harrison, who relieves the first album's T Bone Burnett.)

Many of the debut's enjoyable quirks have been smoothed out. The country-folk tendencies have been toned down for the times, and Sammy Llanas' distinctive nasal growl gets less vinyl time than the more traditional tenor of fellow lead singer/songwriter Beau Neumann.

With the exception of the quietly disarming closer "I'm in Trouble Again" (one of three tracks included only on the cassette and compact disc), everything here seems a little less intimate, a bit more larger than life.

Which ought to be cause for complaint, but the funny thing is, the BoDeans make about as good a "mainstream" band as a roots group. And if the folkish "The Ballad of Jenny Rae" has Neumann sounding like a certain Jersey boy visiting the heartland, while the rollicking soft-rock "Pick Up the Pieces" calls up nothing so much as Christine McVie fronting Fleetwood Mac--and most of the rest of the tracks have that overly familiar guitar-band kick--you may be too busy singing along to grumble much.

Some of the lyrics might be cliches--but they're truthful ones, at least when you need something in the tape player to turn up high enough to be heard over the roar of the engine and the growling of your stomach and the loud pinings and cravings in your heart. You and 25 million or so other populists.

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