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Gear Daddies Have a Liberating Vision : Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to five (a classic). :

November 11, 1990|ROBERT HILBURN

1/2 GEAR DADDIES "Billy's Live Bait" PolyGram

When Martin Zellar, the leader of this splendid new Minneapolis-area band, hears the Gear Daddies hailed as the next Replacements, he probably gets as annoyed as all those singer-songwriters did in the '70s when they were called the new Bob Dylan.

But one of those singer-songwriters--Bruce Springsteen--did prove to be the new Dylan, and in song after song on this album, the Gear Daddies offer the ragged independence and heartfelt vision associated with Paul Westerberg and the Replacements.

"I don't want to wear your crown / 'Cause I'd only let you down," Zellar declares in the best tradition of writers--from Dylan to Westerberg--who seek to inspire but fear being forced to live up to their own ideals.

Yet almost every one of the songs on this major-label debut touches on matters of dreams and doubts, guilts and disappointments with the youthful innocence and anxiousness that made the Replacements' "Tim" a contemporary classic. It's as if Zellar has taken the lonely introspection of that album's best moments and expanded upon them, though there's nothing here that suggests "Billy's Live Bait" is anything more than an inventory of one's own emotions.

The Gear Daddies' basic, garage-rock style is brightened by a touch of country-music color and twang, but the heart of the quartet's vision is in the passionate, liberating edge of Zellar's songs and in the warm, almost conversational tone of his vocals.

This is music that sounds so familiar on first listening that you think you must have heard it before somewhere--only to finally realize that what makes these songs seem so familiar is that Zellar is dealing with universal emotions that everyone from Tommy to Tim have shared. (The band opens for Soul Asylum on Wednesday night at UCSD and Thursday night at the Whisky, and will headline Friday at Club Lingerie.)

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