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Despite Title, Singer Still Packs a Punch

George Fryer, "Decaf" (Salih Records) *** 1/2

September 06, 2000|JOHN ROOS

Has George Fryer, the singer-songwriter-guitarist who for years has vented his frustration in the rock groups Tub and Peace Corp., gone soft?

True, unlike those Orange County/Long Beach bands' hard-charging, garage-y alt-rock, Fryer's folk- and pop-based solo debut, "Decaf," is quieter and far more introspective. But worry not.

This excellent recording is nothing like the wimpy fare associated with the mellow singer-songwriter movement of the '70s.

Fryer instead draws inspiration mostly from his '60s influences, with the Beatles' "Rubber Soul" and Bob Dylan's "Nashville Skyline" the key points of reference.

In fact, the splendid "Registers and Receipts"--the CD-closing hidden track--pays tribute to Dylan's classic "Subterranean Homesick Blues."

Also exceptional are the Simon & Garfunkel-like "You Make Me Happy" and "(I'm in Love With the) Waitress," two feel-good numbers that would be bona-fide radio hits if there were any justice in the world.

With the exception of a couple of heavier tunes, the 13-song collection is hopeful in tone, a radiant work from a romantic who has learned to roll with life's punches.

"Decaf"--a word used here to express an anti-corporate philosophy and nearly unplugged musical approach--draws listeners in with shimmering melodies, soaring harmonies and crisply played guitar licks, all wrapped around Fryer's warm yet emotionally charged lead vocals. In a rock era dominated by crude language and monolithic, grinding soundscapes, these blissful pop confections are as refreshing as a cool breeze on a warm summer night.

"Decaf" is nourishing ear candy, but it's more than that.

One tune, the bittersweet "Teenage Lovesong," recalls innocence lost as Fryer sings, "So many losses framed the edges of my heart / It's been perplexing from the start." Another thought-provoking number, "People," takes a fresh look at how humanity is often flawed and unpredictable, while "I Remember (When We Used to Be Friends)" sadly relates how a deep friendship splinters apart when politics get in the way.

The impressive material is woven around Fryer's dexterous acoustic guitar playing, but several detours add musical color and variety. For instance, "Lonesome Gal" features a melancholy flute solo; a Grateful Dead-like guitar solo ripples through "(I Guess This Is) Goodbye"; and the Spanish-flavored "She's in Love" uses mariachi-style horns to create a spicy, south-of-the-border feel.

You can practically smell the rich aroma wafting through the air. Unleaded in name only, this "Decaf" generates a potent buzz.

(Available from Salih Records, P.O. Box 306, Corona del Mar, CA 92625; Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).


George Fryer & the Decaf Junkies play Saturday, 7 p.m. at Starbucks, 5166 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 487-9226; Sept. 22, 7 p.m. at Starbucks, 4545 Campus Drive, Irvine, (949) 854-2301; Sept. 23, 7:30 p.m. at Starbucks, 2 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Dana Point, (949) 248-5231.

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