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January CD Reviews

Various ArtistsThe Altercation Punk Comedy Tour: Metal Up Live
(Altercation Records)

The term punk comedy will likely hit a lot of folks as being an oxymoron. After all, they might very well be thinking, punk is the province of angry, invective-spewing bands like the Sex Pistols and Black Flag—people not exactly known for their sense of humor. But in punk there’s absolutely a tradition of humor—largely irreverent humor, of course—it’s just that sometimes it’s not at the forefront. Then again, often it is: Think of the cartoonish fixations of the Ramones, the political lampoons of the Dead Kennedys, the surrealist satire of Devo. So okay, punk rock can be very funny at times, but that’s music; this is an album by stand-up comedians. How does this shtick have anything to do with punk?

Well, in truth, stand-up comedy does have its punk-scene antecedents, like pioneering British spoken-word artists John Cooper Clarke and Attila the Stockbroker, who shared the bill with many a live band in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And controversial, thought-provoking comics like Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, and even George Carlin certainly foreshadowed the probing ethos of punk. But the four 30-ish performers on Metal Up Live—Richie Stratton, Ruby Collins, Chris Cubas, and Altercation Records chief/zine publisher/ex-Kingstonian JT Habersaat—are more in thrall to the screaming, in-your-face antics of Sam Kinison, Lewis Black, and Bill Hicks; they just replace the politics of the latter two with a healthy dose of sneering, cable-surfing suburban sarcasm. Sick and funny in a Did-they-really-just-say-that?-kinda way, Metal Up Live recaps the material explored on the foursome’s recent Vans Warped Tour dates. But with its profanity-smeared bits about funerals, frat parties, and pornography, it’s probably not one to spin for Mom. Unless, of course, she’s had a few.—Peter Aaron

Seth DavisPrettier Than Blue
(Karma Roads Records)

Prettier Than Blue is an embarassment of riches in more ways than one, an album stocked as full as a grocery store endcap with mostly mid-tempo songs evoking the Beatles and the quiet moments of Bruce Springsteen’s career at various turns. And if you like that sort of thing, there’s 16 songs here, all but one written by the artist.

Davis sings with an earnest voice, emotion often delivered with dramatic flair. “I Hope it’s You” is a curious exercise in which Davis sings of a man who wants to come back as a woman, more specifically the one he loves. “Two Birds,” with its spare drum track, strings, piano and overdubbed vocals personifies the overall theme, though maybe its best song is “Tommorrow (sic) at the Door,” with slide guitar enhancing its dark imagery. “I hope she’s okay,” is whispered by a woman’s voice as the song fades away, a subtle but gorgeous touch. The lone cover—“Friday I’m in Love,” originally performed by the Cure—succeeds in turning a bright pop tune into an intimate and deep tale of love. Like Sparklehorse, Davis’ music is sparse and lovely, using subtle rhythms to carry the many layers found in the songs.—Crispin Kott

Roberto PitreVivo en Vida
(Candy Ear Music)

Vivo en Vida is a light and pleasurable stroll through city streets set to the sounds of airy Latin jazz. The band, led by flautist and tenor saxophonist Pitre, is tight and solid, letting the music take the lead.

“Samba in Prelude,” one of two songs with vocals by Cote de Pablo, opens the album, stating its intent to entertain warmly. The music that follows is light enough that a restaurant might put it on, but with enough intriguing elements that patrons are going to be distracted enough from their dinners to wonder just what that is. Covers of “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “A Night in Tunisia” bring familiar songs into new and exciting neighborhoods, but the albums most engaging songs are those written by Pitre himself, including “The Bronx Zoo,” a splendid instrumental. Unfortunately there are only three originals among Vivo en Vida’s nine songs. Perhaps on the next release, Pitre will showcase more of himself.—Crispin Kott

Princes of SerendipWhat She Said
(Jaiya Records)

If rolling piano and violin with enthusiastic folk vocals sounds like a good time, you really can’t go wrong with What She Said by Princes of Serendip.

What She Said boasts 18 songs, every one sounding like they’d be heard in an Irish pub at any time over the past century, though most contain unexpectedly delightful twists and turns. “The Morning After” throbs like a Devo cover, while “What the Man in the Mirror Said to Me” is an entire single-actor play rolled into a song that clocks in at under four minutes. T.G. Vanini and Julie Parisi Kirby share vocals at though they’ve been doing so all their lives, and Don Yacullo’s piano is a voice unto itself.—Crispin Kott

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