Compelling Cincinnati-based singer/songwriter Beau Alquizola has worked with R&B musicians, acoustic pluckers and rockers in his decade-plus career. The cross-section of cohorts is indicative of the diverse tone of his latest solo album, Keep the Door Closed, but the album is more the sound of a journeyman who seems to have finally landed home, in his own distinct aural bed of emotive acoustic Pop. His vocals are commanding, with a tinge of rasp and a tickle of quiver, resulting in a warm and familiar timbre that comes off like a voice-meld of Sam Cooke, Seal and Michael Stipe. The songs themselves are sturdily structured though not always instantly "catchy." But Alquizola's strength is the soulful weight he gives each track, creating an inviting aura that should keep interested listeners returning like cold hands to a fireplace in an arctic winter. In other words, Alquizola's a fine craftsman, but the impact is in the inviting décor as much as it is the outward architecture. Alquizola is assisted in the construction by a large cast of local music aces (including members of The Newbees, Kohai's Shaun Henry and Jeff Conner), and each does a good job of helping to add the proper atmosphere and mood for the singer's affecting vocal excursions. The album moves fluidly from rootsy Pop ("Play That Song," "Hard Workin' Woman") to uncomplicated but regal acoustic plaintiveness ("Seek What I'm After," "Time of Never") to songs that could be considered "Neo Soul" with a little tweaking (the fantastically smoldering "Ask Me Why"). Alquizola is at his finest in why'd-you-go ballad mode, where he best shows off the emotive nuances of his instrument.
The sumptuous, cello-laden mini-epic "Unsightly" is the album's best track, while the pining, ultimately hopeful heartbreak song "Call It A Day" closes the disc in dramatic, climactic style. Alquizola sounds like he's singing into a telephone on the last track, adding a cool, theatrical effect. But know this -- there's nothing phoned in about Please Keep the Door Closed. Alquizola's passion bleeds through in every note sung. Alquizola hosts CD release parties Friday at Jekyll and Hyde's and Nov. 10 at The Viper Room. (Mike Breen) Grade: B+
· BLACK TIE BOMBERS -- ART IS EASY
It might sometimes seem like Punk Rock has been sufficiently deflated and a shell of its former self with the glut of diary-writing, shiny, contrivedly unhappy Pop bands masquerading as "Punk" these days. But the Black Tie Bombers are a part of the noble army of diehards who keep the pace high, the snarl front and center and the energy unbridled, restless and reckless. On their second release, Art Is Easy, the band blows through 13 tracks (in a respectable 34 minutes) of oi!-conjuring, breakneck Punk that straddles the old and new school. The band makes great use of their dual-vocal approach, the fervent call-and-response ping-ponging around the hyperactive rhythms and relentless, creative guitar slashing on every track (though they never give into "screamo" tendencies, one voice is mercilessly sneering while the other is smoother but no less intense). Lyrically, the topics are mostly playful post-adolescent fodder, spun through a more poetic filter than most of their peers manage. They fare best when getting political -- the roaring clash of chords on "Bible According to Sinners" fits the searing anti-war message perfectly ("The few, the proud, the ones left rotting in the sand/Plastic pawns on a table top being played by greedy hands"). With Art Is Easy, the Bombers prove to be a great Punk band with the potential to be a phenomenal one. Black Tie Bombers play Friday at Top Cat's. (MB) Grade: B
· GERALD'S RAINBOW -- CALLING YOU
Local band Gerald's Rainbow is eager to head out of the Tristate and share their music with a larger crowd, as shown in their widely varying album, Calling You. In this release is a little bit of everything that could fall under the Rock category and, although it's a plus to be versatile, this flexibility can also hinder a band by hiding their stronger points in a crowd. "Run Away With You" pulses with a funky bass line and "Master" is touched with a World Beat feel. "Bleed," one of the album's ballads, sounds like the softer side of Metallica before billowing into an emotive climax. As a result, Calling You is most certainly a good album, but consistently feels scattered, like it's lacking the defining perspective that would make GR stand out. The band would be more effective if they found and focused on what they do best instead of attempting to go down all of the possible avenues that a Rock band can take. It would benefit everybody, both the band and the listeners, if a solid foundation was established and more unique flourishes decorated their obvious talents. Otherwise, lacking a core will only serve to keep their future as flat as their sound. Gerald's Rainbow performs Friday at The Viper Room. (Jacob Richardson) Grade: C+