Random acts

Of note

The sounds of scavenging: Local producer and sound engineer Doug Mitchell of Scavenger Studios has recently been recording new material for local pop-punkers Zombie Attack, Brodeo (featuring former members of Red Penny Arsenal) and Maverick Saints (featuring former members of Bro-9). Although no release dates for any of this material have been confirmed, fans can reasonably expect to see these respective albums on local shelves by late summer.

All in the family: Local rap all-stars/aptly named collective Fist Family are also recording new material. Fans of Fist can expect at least two new releases by early summer, Blue Collar Rapfist (featuring Philo and Blisterfist) and a new Ironfist album. According to the group’s Web site, plans for at least three other albums featuring Fist Family members are also in the works. For more information, visit www.fistfamily.com.

The eerie sounds of summer: Theremin-loving jam-rockers The Royal We recently wrapped up recording their second album at Silvermine Studios in Madison County. Though no release date has been announced, sources close to the band suggest a late-spring or early summer release. For more information, visit www.theroyalwe.com.

Third time’s the charm: Asheville-based blues-rock group The Laura Blackley Band will soon unveil their third studio album. No title has been announced, but the Michelle Malone-produced CD is currently slated for a June release on SBS Records. For more information, visit www.laurablackleyband.com.

Listening room (CD reviews)

Matt Lambert, Matt Lambert

The first thing Matt Lambert said upon handing me his homemade debut CD is that it wasn’t perfect. He remarked then on the album’s inconsistent recording quality, the result of experimentation with a new digital home studio a friend had let him use. He next pointed out the photocopied cover — taken from a hand-drawn original. And inside the case was a simple, unlabeled CD-R holding 11 tracks.

“It’s not much,” he said with a toothy smile and a shrug. But Lambert couldn’t have been more wrong.

In spite of a few minor, home-recording production issues, his self-titled debut is a remarkably good collection of folk tunes ripped right from the best of his street-savvy busking set.

As a songwriter, Lambert doesn’t flinch from bleeding his heroes, invoking Woody Guthrie’s folksy sarcasm (the college-taunting “Talking Higher Education”) and Bob Dylan’s metaphor-infused poetics (“The Ballad of Sophia”). Even a listener uneducated in the giants will feel Lambert’s influences seeping through in his uncluttered playing.

At the core of the album, though, is the local musician’s own lucid lyric writing.

“I’m the only person that I’ve ever known/ And I’m as cold as a Himalayan stone,” sings Lambert on one lugubrious, thoughtful song, before finally reflecting that “the smile on my face is scribbled paint/ I’m a single, solitary, sad complaint.”

Other songs bring to mind more modern folkstrionics, from the broken-down, whiskey-soaked waltz played by a George Glass- and Aaron Gunn-backed Lambert on “Ain’t Gonna Cry” to the gritty, urban imagery of the elegantly romantic ode “Outshined the Moon.”

Even with these songs’ variable recording qualities and the album’s homemade feel, Lambert never delivers anything but a solid — and often faultless — performance. Rating: 4 out of 5.

Under the radar (demo reviews)

Rollercoaster, Fantastic Life

If there’s a single selling point to the music of local alt-rockers Fantastic Life, it’s that they faithfully document the sounds and sensibilities of mid-’90s college radio. Their four-song demo — from their soon-to-be-released full-length album — doesn’t hold much that is new or unexpected.

In that respect, at least, Rollercoaster is not a bad recording. Song hooks show that the group has been sneaking sips from the same well from which Collective Soul, Live, Stone Temple Pilots and The Foo Fighters have drunk deeply.

The best moments arrive in the first two songs, “Pretty Rebel” and “Sun Ra,” which boast the kind of energetic playing that could easily masquerade as a forgotten single on a found lost mix tape from the late days of the first term of the Clinton presidency. The remaining two tracks, “Long Daze” and “S. Belle,” are of decidedly lesser quality; yet in spite of their further lack of musical surprises, neither are worse than merely forgettable.

If anything, Fantastic Life’s Rollercoaster draws a deep line in the sand of radio-oriented rock, loudly proclaiming: “Past 1996 you shall not go.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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