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Change of Taste? It's Her Pleasure : Music: Despite warnings, romantic singer Katy Moffatt will put her sincere style aside and join ranks with the Barons, who play at the Rhythm Cafe tonight.

March 12, 1993|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tasteful and sincere, wistful and well-crafted, quietly romantic and oriented toward heartfelt ballads--that's a capsule summation of Katy Moffatt's recent recorded output.

But for the rest of this month, this talented folk, rock and country singer will take a fling and leave good taste behind. Moffatt has up and joined the Pleasure Barons, a traveling revue in which Southern California roots-rockers apply good musical chops to songs of scant sincerity and questionable taste.

Moffatt knows what she is getting herself into: She's heard the recently released album, "Live in Las Vegas," an in-concert document of the Pleasure Barons' lone previous touring excursion four years ago.

If Country Dick Montana's epithet-laced version of "Take a Letter, Maria" doesn't make her squeamish, if Mojo Nixon's mad ranting on "Elvis Is Everywhere" and "Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child" can't scare her away, if she isn't taken aback by the fact that their saner cohort, Dave Alvin, contracted meningitis during the previous tour, perhaps Moffatt has what it takes to be a Pleasure Baron, after all.

"A baroness, please," she cheerfully amended, speaking over the phone recently from snowy New England, where she was shivering through a series of solo acoustic dates as a prelude to hotter and wilder times as a Pleasure Person--including a show tonight at the Rhythm Cafe in Santa Ana.

Montana, a member of the Beat Farmers, Nixon, known for his rabid novelty songs, and Alvin, the ace songwriter-guitarist whose pedigree includes hitches in X and the Blasters, as well as two very good solo albums, were the front-line Barons on that 1989 tour.

For the upcoming jaunt, they've added John Doe of X, as well as Moffatt and Rosie Flores, both transplanted Texans who walk the line between rock and country.

Moffatt was roped in by Alvin, an old friend who sang a duet with her on a track from her 1990 album, "Child Bride." That album shows a tougher-rocking side which should allow her to hold her own with bounders like Nixon and Country Dick.

"(Alvin) called and gave me all the appropriate warnings," said Moffatt, who laughs richly and easily and hasn't lost her Texas twang despite having lived in Los Angeles since 1979.

"He said, 'This could possibly ruin your career, and other things too.' "

Moffatt isn't sure what those "other things" might be. But threatening her with career ruination is a little like threatening Zsa Zsa Gabor with a divorce petition.

By now, the business side of music has dealt Moffatt so many setbacks and disappointments that the prospect of making a potentially wrong career move can't hold much terror.

In the mid-1970s, Moffatt enjoyed a fairy-tale rise, as a Columbia Records scout discovered her playing a coffee house circuit in Colorado and quickly signed her.

This fairy tale had no happy ending: After four years of consternation, Moffatt was dropped--even though she'd won acclaim for a powerful, emotive voice that some critics likened to Linda Ronstadt's.

"I started six albums, finished three, and two were released," Moffatt said of her time with Columbia, a label that couldn't decide whether it wanted her to be a country singer, a rocker, a blues-mama or a pop diva. "By the time they dropped me, it was 'Thank you very much.' It was like purgatory."

By that time, Moffatt had moved to Los Angeles, thinking it was the place to "build a business structure."

"Slowly, I realized that wasn't the answer. It wasn't what I needed to be doing," she said. "I needed to divorce myself from this whole business cycle I'd been in and get back to the roots of the music.

"Something about that experience (on a big label) seemed completely disjointed to me. It seemed to have no relation at all to the musical process, to any kind of artistic growth. It seemed very unrelated to what had drawn me to music in the first place."

Moffatt had started out in Ft. Worth, inspired by the Beatles' 1964 invasion to get her first guitar. She later came under the influence of such folk singers as Phil Ochs and Leonard Cohen, and country rock's Flying Burrito Brothers. She began performing in coffeehouses--"anywhere they'd let me play."

After her quick rise and subsequent frustration in the big leagues, Moffatt began to find a place in Los Angeles' burgeoning alternative-country scene during the '80s. There were more business disappointments in store.

A mid-'80s album recorded for an affiliate of MCA Records was never released, although three singles did emerge--enough to win Moffatt an Academy of Country Music nomination as Best New Female Vocalist in 1985.

Eventually, Moffatt found a niche in the music business, albeit one on a smaller independent label. Since 1989, she has released four albums on Philo Records, a subsidiary of the Boston-based Rounder label.

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