Reviews of CDs by Punk-O-Rama #5, Sonia of disappear fear, Austin Lounge Lizards and Christian McBride Band 

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Punk-O-Rama #5, Various Artists, (Epitaph Records) — Leave it to Epitaph Records to make available a compilation of 28 of the nation's best and most recognizable punk bands for release as an inexpensively priced CD. They've gotten pretty good at this formula considering they've done it four times already, and volume No. 5 is just as good as the others. The list of artists appearing reads as a roster of Epitaph's latest signings and stable veterans. Songs from well-established bands such as NOFX, All and Agnostic Front mingle comfortably with those from upstart punk groups such as Union 13 and Bombshell Rocks. This installment of "Punk-O-Rama" also hints at things to come from some of the biggest names in the business. Songs appearing on recently released albums by Rancid and the Dropkick Murphys also make their mark on this compilation. The musical outings from these two major acts ("Poison" from Rancid and "Good Rats" from the Murphys) only whet the listener's appetite for more to come. No mess or fuss with "Punk-O-Rama," just a lot of great music at a price even struggling college students can afford. — Angelo DeFranzo

Sonia of disappear fear, "Me, Too," (disappear) — Everything about this CD makes me want to smile. I don't normally go for message songs that so relentlessly press their agenda, but Sonia performs with such an upbeat grin on her face and with such utter belief in what her songs say that I can't help but buy in. Overflowing with joy, these 12 songs deliver messages of love and belief in life with a varied and friendly, acoustic-based rock style that really lets the sunshine in. Sonia is dead serious but her lighthearted vocals never allow these funky little tunes to turn into sermons. Urging us to embrace fear and to speak our minds, she shows how a singer can be passionate without the overbearing angst popular with some young artists. Even when things aren't so rosy, Sonia keeps her head up with a gentle conviction that says life really is OK.

There are many terrific moments on this independent disc such as the anthemlike "Postcard from Texas" and the Latin-flavored freedom tune "Shake It." But "My Baby" rocks with such a cheery groove that it's this listener's favorite. This is a happy little project that just won't be denied.

— Ames Arnold

Austin Lounge Lizards, "Never An Adult Moment," (Sugar Hill) — Somebody help me because I just don't understand why so many folks I know find these guys hilarious. I keep hoping I'll finally get the joke every time a new Lizards CD comes around, so I'm real keen to get the thing in the player. But every time around it's the same old same old and this time is no exception. I'm just not amused by tales of 81 hillbillies in a haunted house or the guy driving through 100 miles of dry counties looking for a beer. They pick and sing OK, the tunes get my foot tapping, and there's no doubt this is a creative bunch of fellas who doesn't take themselves too seriously. I also like that a gang of former lawyers chucked it for the uncertain future that music holds. But for me, the funniest part of the CD is the title. If you like the Lizards' humor, you'll no doubt love "Adult Moment," but I don't get it.

— A.A.

Christian McBride Band, "Sci-Fi" (Verve) — Recorded shortly after McBride's February appearance at the Modlin Center, several of these selections were previewed as the band prepared for the recording sessions. The concert was full of informal energy — balancing influences from Cannonball Adderly to James Brown, with strong affection for '70s jazz-rock fusion. McBride's youthful band — featuring Ron Blake on (mostly soprano) sax, Shedrick Mitchell on piano and the phenomenal Rodney Green on drums — is too young to have experienced fusion in it's heyday. They obviously aren't affected by the conventional wisdom that it is a stylistic dead end.

Which is a good thing, because "Sci-Fi" works. Opening with the Steely Dan dinosaur "Aja," the band moves easily between the arch pop melody and improvisations that unfold in unexpected directions. Guest pianist Herbie Hancock, a first-string fusion player, sits in on "Xerxes," a free-blowing piece that is as far from fusion as anything on the album. The centerpiece, "Science Fiction," is solidly in the '70s groove, with a Bitches Brew bass riff, Weather Report soprano sax, a Mahavishnu solo from Pink-Floyd guitar player David Gilmore and lightning runs on the bass. (The fun of playing these bass parts must be part of the appeal for McBride.)

"Via Mwandishi," a reference to Herbie Hancock's seminal '70s outfit, closes out a set that pays tribute to a style that hasn't been revisited this effectively for years. Maybe it's the first-rate players with obvious affection for this material as a springboard for invention. Maybe it's the acoustic piano rather than the screaming synthesizer. Whatever the reason, "Sci Fi" simultaneously embodies and transcends its sources.

— Peter McElhinney


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