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ALBUM REVIEWS

Good-Time R&B With an Alt-Rock Twist, and a Laid-Back Fusion Exercise

June 03, 1997|MIKE BOEHM

** 1/2

TEX TWIL

"Silver Mine Adventure"

(no label)

**

WEST COAST HAREM

"Introducing . . . West Coast Harem"

(no label)

Tex Twil is back with its second CD of danceable roots music, played wryly but spiritedly by guys who don't pretend to be virtuosos or serious inheritors of funky R&B tradition. Still, they never fall into the common trap of turning their songs into superciliously ironic genre exercises, and they manage to make the music groove and serve as a fun backdrop for hot times. Which is what funky R&B essentially is about.

The singing is rough and creaky and the guitar playing terse, except when the band from Corona del Mar decides it's not a very distant relation to Ike Turner after all, and plays garagy alt-rock instead. The wheezy, wan, offhanded saxophone sallies are little better than David Bowie's unqualified honking, but with these guys, it's the spirit that counts.

Some of the better songs are holdovers from the band's debut CD, "This Is Stone Gas" from 1995, but that makes the hour-plus "Silver Mine" a good bet for fueling a party in a sweaty basement (a backyard would be a bit too upscale for these amiably scruffy folks).

West Coast Harem, on the other hand, plays it sleek and cool on its first CD, a five-song sampler of the band's '70s-style jazz-funk fusion, which follows in the footsteps of the Crusaders, Brian Auger, Herbie Hancock et al.

The Harem, from Long Beach and O.C., begins promisingly with "Jade," a coolly flowing piece with a liquid gleam. Guitarist John Basil plays clipped, wet-sounding chords a la George Benson, while keyboard man R. Scott (a veteran of National People's Gang and Factory) deftly supplies an assortment of electric piano, Moog-like synth textures and a digitally reproduced sitar that colors the music atop a churning groove.

"Open Door" maintains the cool vibe and active rhythmic approach and the interesting keyboard textures, but as the EP progresses it begins to meander with less focused stuff. A live version of the Meters' "Cissy Strut" doesn't have the heat and funk needed to balance the CD's overdone sense of urbane smoothness. About half of "Introducing" is cool in the good sense, and the rest is a noodlesome reminder of why fusion grew so tiresome so fast the first time around.

* Tex Twil and West Coast Harem play Wednesday at Kona Lanes, 2699 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa. 9 p.m. Free. (714) 545-1112 or (562) 439-7975. Both bands also play June 16 at the Blue Cafe, 210 Promenade, Long Beach. 9 p.m. $5. (562) 983-7111 or (562) 984-8349. West Coast Harem also plays Monday at the Rhino Room, 7979 Center Ave., Huntington Beach. 9 p.m. $5. (714) 892-3316.

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

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