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POP ALBUM REVIEW

Visiting a Model Neighborhood

May 03, 1997|JOHN ROOS

***

JIM QUEALY & THE NOISY NEIGHBORS

"Songs from the Stoop"

Mudfram Records

The cover photo for Jim Quealy's new album captures the singer-songwriter seated on his front-porch steps, blowing his harmonica. It's a perfect snapshot because Quealy projects the sense that he enjoys making music so much that he could play happily all by his lonesome.

Fortunately for fans, though, the Rancho Santa Margarita resident got a little help from his friends--the Noisy Neighbors--on this, his second album. The follow-up to his impressive 1995 debut album, "Far From the Real World," is a winning 10-song collection of heartfelt songs played by a tight, hard-working ensemble that shows no signs of sophomore slump.

At the heart of the seven-piece band's sound is Quealy's expressive, grainy vocals and a melodic, freewheeling style that roams between roots-rock, folk, country and rock 'n' roll. The players are equally strong whether revving it up for such rockers as "Design Yourself a Love" and "Life Goes On" or slowing it down for the concluding, piano-based ballad "Just Walked Away."

As a lyricist, the 43-year-old Quealy offers a voice smarting from struggle and pain, yet hopeful for love and redemption. He's willing to delve into the complexities of the human experience and brings an insightful, seasoned edge to the material.

*

Consider the way Quealy examines paths of desperation that lead to far different destinations. In one number, the somber "Just Walked Away," a woman finally walks out on her husband because he's unwilling to be a responsible family man.

The engrossing "Man in Stanville" goes one disturbing step further. Here, a woman plots to kill a "selfish and cruel" husband for his money. She hires a hit man, and sometime after he commits the dirty deed, she falls in love with another man who only has money on his mind. Her fate is sealed when Quealy deadpans: "He knew a man in Stanville / Who could make it look like suicide."

Still, Quealy doesn't just wallow in darkness; he embraces the good in life as well. The mood brightens considerably in "These Two Lives," which celebrates an enduring love that triumphs over numerous obstacles. He rejoices: "They put two lives together / From two lives alone."

Standing out among the backing musicians is pedal steel guitarist and Dobro player Greg Leisz. The Fullerton-based string ace, known for his solid work with Dave Alvin, Matthew Sweet, k.d. lang and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, adds his distinctive, folksy touch to the cinematic "Man in Stanville" and "Walkin' Tall," which effectively exposes one cowboy's vulnerability.

Sitting for a spell with these noisy neighbors is quite rejuvenating.

(Available from Mudfram Records, P.O. Box 80915, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688.)

* Jim Quealy & the Noisy Neighbors and Sue Hart play tonight at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. 8 p.m. $12-$14. (714) 496-8930.

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