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Paladins Still Charging Right Along in 'Million Mile Club'

September 28, 1996|MIKE BOEHM

***

Paladins

"Million Mile Club"

4AD

The travels of a hard-touring blues and roots-rock band are apt to land it in some strange, unexpected situations. But in 12 years on the national circuit, the Paladins probably never expected to end up where they are now: on a label known for introducing the world to such alternative-rock innovators as Throwing Muses and the Pixies and to those ethereal, sonic watercolorists, the Cocteau Twins.

Could "Million Mile Club" be an experimental record our hearty, gin-joint tested trio has been longing in its hidden heart to make, a la Los Lobos? Hardly. It's the group's label, 4AD, that's extending itself here; the Paladins are right where you'd expect to find them, barreling through an hourlong live set of high-impact blues numbers culled from their previous studio releases.

The album's 10 tracks are drawn from five club dates the Paladins played last spring along the West Coast. The live setting lets guitarist Dave Gonzalez stretch out, flex muscles and add extra sizzle. Bassist and co-founder Thomas Yearsley and drummer Jeff Donovan form a rhythm section that charges into the excitement yet keeps its bearings.

The Paladins are not innovators. They can sound like a tougher Robert Cray (the tense, inward-looking "Every Time I See Her") or, on the high-energy shuffle, "Keep Lovin' Me," recall the Cesar Rosas-led, aggressive blues side of Los Lobos. Mainly, they go for the heft and swagger of Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble.

Gonzalez doesn't try to match Vaughan's playing in imagination and daring (which could lead to some serious brain and finger cramps for anyone who doesn't have Vaughan's extraordinary gift). Instead, he keeps his playing simple, relying on crackling reverb and wah-wah effects to color and vary his consistently brawny, presence-filled tone.

"Big Mary's," with its furtive, noir-ish Latin groove, lets the Paladins simmer awhile before coming to a boil; it's one of those unusual 10-minute numbers that changes moods and dynamics enough to sustain interest. Pressing their luck, the Paladins pull off 11 minutes of successful buzzing, thrumming and jamming on the set-closer, "One Step."

On "15 Days Under the Hood," a wry complaint about a broken-down car, the band's revved-up playing eats the sonic pavement so hungrily that it almost undermines the message carried by the lyric and Gonzalez's hangdog vocal. But no fan of charged roots music is going to complain about that.

* The Paladins, D/Railed, Los Infernos and Joe Wood play tonight at Club 369, 1641 N. Placentia Ave., Fullerton. 9 p.m. $10. (714) 572-1816.

Tasty Pure-Pop Directions ***

Baby Lemonade

"68% Pure Imagination"

Sympathy for the Record Industry

This talented Los Angeles band recaptures many of the charms of '60s smart-pop, while also getting caught up in a few of its excesses.

The eccentric, exploratory side of Brian Wilson--think of the period just after "Pet Sounds"--and the pop-baroque side of the Beatles are the fountains from which this Lemonade pours forth.

While unabashed about showing its influences, the singer-songwriter-guitar player tandem of Rusty Squeezebox and Mike Randle does modernize a bit with garage-y, distorted guitars to go with lush harmonies and elaborate arrangements.

Even on the songs that feature those abrasive guitars, Baby Lemonade has a dreamy quality that makes "68% Pure Imagination" play like a languid dip in a warm, delicious sound-bath.

The creamy-voiced Squeezebox and the more sandpapery Randle both have an airy cast to their singing; they write inviting pop hooks for songs that take a close-in look at romantic mishaps and their aftermath.

Bassist Dave Chapple takes a turn fronting the band on "The Medicine," and goes for a brisk but, again, dream-like, feel.

By blending textures and structuring songs to go off in unexpected but tasty directions, Baby Lemonade keeps most of this 68-minute extravaganza a delight for those hungry for pure pop. The extra-dense, kitchen-sink production swirl of "Tailor in the Making" renders it hard to penetrate, despite a lovely refrain.

Baby Lemonade first received attention backing '60s rock hero Arthur Lee on stage a few years ago and was instrumental in helping him reinvigorate the sublime catalog of his original band, Love. Here, a faithful rendition of Love's grand, haunting "You Set the Scene" serves as a loving homage to Lee. Baby Lemonade's Randle reports that Lee's life recently took a terrible turn when he received a 12-year prison sentence for a weapons-discharge incident in which nobody was targeted or injured; Lee, 51, who had a prior felony record, is expected to seek a sentence reduction on appeal.

(Available from Baby Lemonade, P.O. Box 5380, Santa Monica, CA 90409, or e-mail at:bblemonade@aol.com)

* Baby Lemonade and Brazil 2001 play Monday at the Blue Cafe, 210 Promenade North, Long Beach. 9 p.m. $5. (310) 983-7111.

Ratings range from * (poor) to **** (excellent), with *** denoting a solid recommendation.

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