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Room to Roam Ranges Far, Wide : Room to Roam: "Oblivious" 71FO Records ***

February 14, 1996|MIKE BOEHM

With its first full-length CD, this veteran Fullerton band qualifies for an advanced degree in the brawny art of guitar-driven rock.

Pat and Paul Gallagher divide the singing, the songwriting and the guitar playing. The brothers are anything but oblivious when it comes to writing and executing cannily structured, well-thought-out but satisfyingly hefty and messy-sounding guitar music that takes cues equally from the grungy early '90s and the psychedelic late '60s.

The band's roaming is stylistically roomy as it touches on such classic sources as Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young and such neoclassic ones as Soundgarden, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth.

The discussion has to start with Pat's "Fall Again." Risky as it may be to estimate what the public wants, this one has the makings of a modern-rock hit.

By far the catchiest thing on the album, it rides a grabbing core riff that Collective Soul would deem a keeper and strikes an energetic but hangdog mood that Pavement fans will recognize. The marks of solid craftsmanship include a bright, hooky vocal refrain in which Pat's high, stringy proclaiming is set against nothing but a drumbeat, creating tension until that inexorable riff comes bursting in again.

Pat Gallagher is the rangier, more exuberant singer, the stronger melodist and the more concrete lyricist; Paul sings in a flatly intoned, Hendrixian blues-rock drawl that fits well with his hallucinatory visions of quietly desperate lives on verge of losing a precariously maintained equilibrium.

Themes and subject matter include barroom lust ("Nicotine Tan"), spooky Gothic-Romantic fantasizing ("Jane Rides") and the general pain and weirdness of living in isolation ("Slow Burning Fire").

In "Breeding Ground," Pat sings about being a struggling rocker who can't find a spot in the mainstream, but the song also evokes the lot of any self-aware misfit, including the anomie and alienation that come with living in this here territory if your outlook and temperament don't swing wide to the sociopolitical right.

Room to Roam takes an admirable stance, acknowledging the likelihood of futility and defeat but refusing to give in.

Feeling anesthetized and marooned in life ("sometimes I need a kick in the head just to keep me off the ground"), Paul Gallagher still is able to reach for the "slow burning fire"--be it carnal attraction or a redemptive taste of rock 'n' roll--that will keep his life-force stoked.

Pat sums up his determination not to succumb in "Breeding Ground":

The streets are lined with vultures

Waiting for our horses to die.

We keep on riding,

Sometimes I don't know why. . . .

But if you don't got dreams

You're just a nightmare.

Room to Roam, which released a 1993 album-length cassette and contributed three songs (including two reprised here) to the appealing 1994 compilation "Homespun: A Collection of Fullerton Artists," has room to grow.

The songs all have melodic value but could benefit from consistently stronger hooks on a par with "Fall Again." Joel McDaniel's loose, splashy and energetic approach on drums goes overboard at times; basic, stripped-down clout would better serve some songs.

This is still a meaty and appealing effort, founded on the band's bleak but game outlook and its ability to wield those guitars not like grunge cavemen with bludgeons, but like a .300 hitter with a Louisville Slugger.

(Available from Room to Roam, [714] 262-7626.)

* Room to Roam plays a free, all-ages concert tonightat the Anthill Pub and Grill in the UC Irvine Center, Pereira Drive and Bridge Road. 8 p.m. (714) 824-6175. The band opens for Salt on Saturday at Club 369, 1641 N. Placentia Ave., Fullerton. 9 p.m. (714) 572-1781. It also plays Feb. 24 at the Hillside, 3099 Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach. 11 p.m. (310) 597-2354.

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