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Pop Music Reviews : Some Well-Told Tales From Storyville

October 25, 1994|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Fronted by charismatic vocalist Malford Milligan and backed by seasoned pros who've supported the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Ely and Arc Angels, the Texas quintet Storyville unleashed a torrent of authentic blues and soul Saturday night at the Coach House.

From the opening chords of the propulsive "Wings Won't Let You Fly" through the signature but sad "Bluest Eyes" and culminating with a stark a cappella number, the 90-minute set covered a wide-ranging landscape, musically and emotionally.

Drawing songs primarily from its debut album, "Bluest Eyes," the band was as equally convincing and comfortable whether unearthing feelings of intense longing ("Water") or just kicking out playful riffs ("Writing on the Wall").

At his best, the 35-year-old Milligan--who possesses a creamy, soulful voice--explores his own deeply felt emotions in exorcising some past demons. His pain and rage burst out when he sang during "Bluest Eyes": "How many times did I bury my feelings/Silence my wounded cries/But if I had the bluest eyes/Maybe she'd notice me."

On this tour, the frequently intrusive keyboard playing heard on the record has been wisely scrapped. Instead, the twin guitar attack of David Holt and David Grissom supplies a far more muscular, grittier sound. During several songs, the two players alternated solo turns while bringing a playful competitiveness to the mix.

While the concert's numerous compelling moments were not a surprise, the reaction of the Coach House audience was.

Throughout Storyville's set, talkative, seemingly uninterested patrons flocked for an early exit. There were fewer than 100 people left in the house when the band finished its excellent set--a performance certainly worthy of a better response.

The second-billed Chris Duarte Band played an impressive 45-minute mix of blues-rock-jazz that included songs from its new "Texas Sugar Strap Magik" and choice covers of Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix and Howlin' Wolf.

Sounding like a cool hybrid of the Allman Brothers and Firehose, this Austin-based power trio showcased a welcome willingness to improvise and dabble, kind of like meshing a hippie-like casualness with some serious chops.

The opening act, Heads of State, despite celebrating the release of its new "Monumental Event," offered little to cheer about. Locked into generic-sounding riffing and loaded with cliche-ridden songs, this Orange County band lies uncomfortably closer to '70s arena rock than sincere bearers of the blues.

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