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RECORD RACK

CHECK LIST * * * * Great Balls of Fire * * * Good Vibrations * * Maybe Baby * Running on Empty : : Firehose Covers the Musical Waterfront

December 20, 1987|KRISTINE McKENNA

* * * FIREHOSE. "if'n." SST.

Like Husker Du and the Replacements, Firehose is a scrappy little post-punk combo with unassailable street credibility. This, its second LP, should do much to expand its devoted cult following as it synthesizes such a diversity of musical styles and periods that there's surely something here to appeal to every taste. From a tribute to Elizabeth Cotton complete with country harmonies to an extended drum solo to a finger-wagging lecture directed at R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, this record covers the waterfront. The unifying element in this mixed bag is the fierce idealism that courses through every song.

As with the Meat Puppets (whose sound bears marked similarities to Firehose's), the thing that gives this L.A. trio a leg up on the average garage band is the superior musicianship of singer-guitarist Ed Crawford, bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley. You have to know your way around your instrument in order to segue from the fragmented, herky-jerky rhythms of Captain Beefheart to rock 'n' roll's classic "Gloria" riff to the fluid, freewheeling melodies one finds in jazz; Firehose manages all of the above with impressive grace. Most importantly, "if'n" does a serviceable job of capturing the terrific energy of Firehose's live shows, which are never less than good.

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