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Debolah MorganDebelah Morgan, Dance With Me (Atlantic 2000) - Here is a tale of hard work and determination. Ten years ago, Debelah Morgan shot to fame as Miss Black Teenage World.

Then followed a huge fall from grace that found her working in a department store on the east coast and recording in a basement studio with her brother, Giloh Morgan.

In her triumphant return, Debelah Morgan has shot up the dance charts with the tango-influenced, Dance With Me.

Debolah MorganDebelah's unraveling began when she moved to California and recorded her first LP. Because the record company tried to package her as a "hip hop artist and go after Mary J. Blige's market," her career tanked.

Debelah drifted overseas, gained 90 pounds (which she took off while working a minimum wage job), filed for bankruptcy, and wound up in New Jersey, where she recorded Dance With Me. Now that's a great rags-to-riches story.

Debelah MorganRecalls Debelah, "We recorded the album in our basement. I was able to produce all the vocals. I didn't have anyone interfering, which is great because if this is my voice, my instrument, having somebody telling me what to sing would be like telling an artist what to paint."

The album leans mostly toward slower soul, such as "Take the Rain Away." The highlight is the hit, "Dance With Me," which takes a musical tango groove from the classic, "Hernando's Hideaway" and builds it into a pop delight. Also listen for "Think of You," which borrows a bouncy classical line.

It's great to see an artist rise above adversity. Groove on with Debelah Morgan.

Hardcore SuperstarHardcore Superstar, Bad Sneakers and a Pina Colada (Koch 2001) - Hard Core Superstar is a four-man outfit from Gothenburg, Sweden, that plays hard rock in the style of 80's hair bands. With a ringing endorsement from Lemmy of Motorhead (who declared Hard Core Superstar the "Best Live Act of 1998"), the band has chops and props.

Hardcore SuperstarHardcore Superstar consists of Jocke Berg on vocals, Silver Silver on guitar, Martin Sandvikon bass, and Magnus Andreasson on drums. The band plays to audiences of more than 2,000 a night at regular shows and more than 12,000 per night on the European Festival circuit.

With songs like "You Will Never Know" and "Beat You Down," Hardcore Superstar shows homage to its forbears on the Sunset Strip, while keeping alive the spirit of glam-punk. Rockers should look for Bad Sneakers and a Pina Colada.

Josh JoplinJosh Joplin Group, Useful Music (Artemis Records 2001) - Josh Joplin, a young troubadour imbued with the spirit of Phil Ochs, has cooked up a full-length serving with Useful Music. Backed by a sharp four-piece band, and featuring production help from Shawn Mullins (best known for "Lullaby"), the new album drinks deeply from the cup of Michael Stipe and R.E.M.

Josh Joplin was raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but dropped out of school at age 16 and started looking for his muse, first heading through the Hibbing, Minnesota boyhood home of Bob Dylan, then to El Paso, the birthplace of Phil Ochs, then through Woody Guthrie's territory in Oklahoma.

Josh JoplinRecalls Joplin, "I was becoming a hard-core folk singer, the denim shirt and everything. I was caught in the spell - everything from the Almanac Singers to hootenanny folk. It was the incredible optimism of the music that drew me in."

Joplin eventually landed in New York City, where he found the music of Atlantan's Kevn Kinney and Michelle Shocked. Heading for Dixie, Joplin started hitting the coffee houses, before forming his backing band, including Jeoff Melkonnian on bass and viola, Allen Broyles on keyboard, and guitarist Deb Davis. Explains Joplin, "I began to realize that writing with a band in mind added an entirely new dimension."

Josh JoplinUseful Music has a well-produced rock patina, with songs like "Matter," "Superstar," and "Who's Afraid of Thomas Wolfe?" Producer Jerry Harrison (formerly of the Talking Heads, and hitmaker for such acts as Crash Test Dummies and No Doubt) was brought in to work on two singles, including "Camera One," which has more of a radio-oriented flavor.

Useful Music was originally released by Joplin on his own label in 1999, and picked up for wider distribution. For a cup of Stipe lite, try Useful Music.

SolipsisticsSolipsistics, Jesus of the Apes (Frigidisk 2000) - The Solipsistics are essentially a one-man band consisting of Jeff McGregor. With a career going back more than 20 years, McGregor brings to mind such acts as Graham Parker and Marshall Crenshaw on a disk that ultimately comes closest in spirit to The Happy Club by Bob Geldof.

McGregor has an impressive resume, stretching back to the Screamers in Los Angeles in 1997, and continuing through the Snot Puppies, whose members included Kevin Hunter of Wire Train and Ricky Mitz, now a Vice President of Creative Services at EMI Capitol Entertainment.

As McGregor headed more into a pop sound, he caught the ear of Jon Brion (an excellent producer who has recorded with Eleni Mandell and Aimee Mann) at The Largo in Los Angeles.

Jeff McGregorJesus of the Apes marks the fourth album from the Solipsistics. The album is built around a middle-aged, tongue-in-cheek outlook, from such songs as "(They Tease Me Because) They Like Me" through the more somber "I Guess I Didn't Take Enough" (with overtones of Eels) through the pulsing pop of "Industrial Artists."

Throughout, you will find a sense of playful pop, with plenty of pianos, horns, and catchy guitar riffs. For a slightly demented slice from an experienced pop hand, get a piece of Jesus of the Apes.

PornosonicCream Streets: Music from the Original Unreleased Motion Picture (JBird Records 2001) - Cream Streets is the second in the Pornosonic series - purportedly music from 70's porno films, but actually the work of pretty talented studio hands, headed by Don Argott on guitar.

I've tried to understand Cream Sheets, but just don't get it. There must be some kind of inside joke here. The liner notes set the stage: "The smell of sin hangs heavy in the air. Libidos rage and hormones run through the streets. This is Dick Dagger's world. A world where life is cheap, and sex even cheaper."

With songs like "Peach Pie," "Dick Creeps In," and "Dick Saves Peach," the studio combo lays down a steady instrumental groove. If you've been looking for some Isaac Hayes guitar, Jethro Tull flute, or Peter Frampton talk box, then Cream Streets will be your redlight special.

The musicians include Don Argott on guitar, Bob Karsch on bass, Mike Viggiani on guitar, Bob Giglio on drums, and Nick Kendall on percussion. The musicianship on Cream Streets is pretty decent; I just wish I could figure out what the gag is.

- Randy Krbechek © 2001

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