The Travis Allison Band; Ben Folds 

Coming to Town

Who: The Travis Allison Band
What: "Colors"
Where: CD release party at Alley Katz,

Nov. 30, $6-$10, 9:30 p.m.
Why: Drenched in blues and grays and aptly titled, Allison's latest is a passionate effort filled with doubt and hope. His acoustic-based songs reflect the complexities of winning and losing while keeping the faith, and there's a fearless spirit throughout that portrays a refreshing positive stance. It's clear that there is no room for self-pity. Allison's sincere vocals are a fine medium for the message. Recorded in Carytown at The Recording Studio Annex, Allison gets terrific support from his band mates. Electric guitar solos are particularly concise, tasteful and well-placed, and during the set one can hear vague echoes of the Allman Brothers, the Doobie Brothers, and even the Stones on a less raucous day. Arrangements are heavily rhythmic, and perhaps the best cut, "Long Time Gone," features a steady bass and drum heartbeat under fine mandolin figures and acoustic guitar. The ballad of regret "Let Me Down Easy" captures a romantic soul in all its gorgeous fragility; it is a beautiful tune sung with a truckload of heart. Of course, that's not to say everything is perfect. Allison can get wordy at times and swallow his words at others. But this hard-working band has a great feel for song and dynamic variation. "Colors" is a strong effort that will please fans and new listeners alike. — Ames Arnold

Who: Ben Folds
What: "Rockin' the Suburbs" (Epic Records)
Where: The Canal Club, Nov. 25, $20, 7 p.m.
Why: Fans may lament the breakup of Ben Folds Five, the acclaimed (and ironically titled) trio fronted by piano player-singer Ben Folds. After all, with its romping piano-based pop, that group turned out some of the freshest sounding music of any band during the last half of the '90s. But any such sadness will fade quickly upon hearing Folds' solo debut.

Where the music of B.F.F. had grown a bit too restrained and serious on its third and final CD, this disc immediately recalls the sunnier sounds of the band's first two CDs.

For instance, "Gone" is built around booming drums, a bold piano melody and some Beach Boys-like harmonies. "Annie Waits" and "Losing Lisa," if not quite as brash, are still brisk, highly melodic tunes that could be described as power-pop on piano. Another track, "Still Fighting It," takes Folds into midtempo territory with a sweet melody that works well with lyrics mixing wistfulness and humor.

The humor that typified the first two Ben Folds Five albums has also returned: "Not the Same" describes a drug-fueled friend who climbs a tree at a party only to come down the next day transformed into a born-again Christian. An even more blatant example of Folds' sharp sense of humor comes on the title song, which wickedly tweaks white-boy suburban rockers who wallow in their imaginary pain in order to cash in on trends.

Clearly, Folds — unlike many bandleaders who go solo — has not shied away from writing music that recalls his former band. Considering the consistently high quality of this disc, playing to the strengths of his established sound was the right way for Folds to launch his solo career. — Alan Sculley


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