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RECORD REVIEWS : Whether Soft or Loud, the Songs Are Fine Tuned

June 22, 1995|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

From the soft-rock stylings of Dan Yablonka to the noisier modern-rock fare of Lutefisk and Supernovice, today's lineup of new local releases focuses on acts who know their way around a good pop melody. Ratings range from * (poor) to **** (excellent). Three stars denote a solid recommendation.

** 1/2

Dan Yablonka

"Traces of Blue"

Angel on My Shoulder Productions

(Cassette only)

Yablonka has been kicking around the Laguna Beach scene since the early 1980s as a songwriter-guitarist, and he makes a belated album debut with the help of some of his hometown's most notable singers and players.

"Traces of Blue" lives up to its name with romantic sketches that are mostly melancholy and nuggets of gentle philosophic advice culled from sad experience.

The style is essentially the smooth, Southern California harmony sound developed by the Eagles and Crosby, Stills & Nash, with some departures into middle-of-the-road pop balladry. Yablonka delivers his sweet laments in a voice akin to early-period Jackson Browne--which means he doesn't impress with great range or authority but does prove up to the emotional and melodic requirements of his songs.

Yablonka is a stronger melodist than lyricist; his sketches are on the familiar side, with no twists of phrasing or narrative to separate them from many another treatment of similar material.

Among the highlights are the fervent and delicate closing ballad, "She'll Be There," in which Yablonka invokes a source of love so dependable that he seems to be pointing to a heavenly "she," perhaps the Virgin Mary, rather than an earthly one.

"The Last One to Know," in which the protagonist poignantly recalls how he never showed up for his wedding day, would have worked better as an internal solo reverie than the duet it turns into, almost as an afterthought.

At times, the production (by Yablonka and Steve Wood) gets a bit too lush for its own good, with chiming or whooshing synthesizers filling out songs that would have worked better as simple, sturdy acoustic folk-pop performances.

Setting aside the shinier studio flourishes, Yablonka comes up a winner on the simply played, straightforward soft country-rock arrangement of "That's Exactly When I Fell in Love With You."

The key players are Wood on piano and Greg Leisz on slide and steel guitars, both of whom will accompany Yablonka in his upcoming Coach House performance, along with several other Laguna regulars who participate on the album.

While sensitive became a term of derision when it was attached to the Southern California sound of the mid-'70s, Yablonka never over-emotes and brings a welcome gentle touch to the frazzled mid-'90s.

(Available from Angel on My Shoulder Productions, P.O. Box 4144, Laguna Beach, CA 92656.)

* Dan Yablonka and Eden play July 2 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. 8 p.m. $10. (714) 496-8930.

*

***

Lutefisk

"Deliver From Porcelain:

Theme & Variations"

Bong Load Custom Records

The Lutefisk method is to take the clean lines of pure-pop that leader Don Burnet gets from his Beatles and Bowie guidebook and blur them into something fractured and modern. As noted in a previous review of Lutefisk singles, the approach brings the noise modern-rock fans want, while doing justice to the pop sources.

"Deliver From Porcelain" serves up the three songs previously available on vinyl, along with some worthy additions. "Scorching and Clean" hammers out a catchy but zooming look at relationship collapse, and the manic "Center of the Universe Syndrome" calls to mind the surrealistic night-sweats of Neil Young's acoustic epic "Last Trip to Tulsa."

A crunching version of T. Rex's "Baby Strange" and a closing, countrified addict's lament, "In the Place of Dreams," show that Lutefisk maintains some of the diversity of Burnet's old pure-pop band 3D Picnic.

Not everything works. "Hug Me (Sexy Revolution)" produces the noisy grind but omits the pop liftoff, of Lutefisk's better stuff, and the 18 dithering minutes of abstract sound-collage called "Mindless Criminal Activity" cries out for the Rosemary Woods treatment.

(Available from Bong Load Custom Records, P.O. Box 931538, Hollywood, CA, 90093-1538.

* Lutefisk opens for Beck on Sunday at 8 p.m. at Music City, 18774 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley. $9. (714) 323-8683 (taped information).

*

***

Supernovice

"Well-Fed"

Onset Records

Supernovice sings songs of irony and complaint--the typical modern-rock posture. But it also does more. It freshens up that familiar stance by relying on a subtle tone of bemusement rather than a full-on yowl of outrage.

Singer Dave Turbow and band have kept up a busy round of shows on the local small-club scene since forming in 1992, and this, their second CD, shows that they've mastered enough angles to avoid the same old alternative guitar-rock rock thing, even if they don't come up with a truly original sound.

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