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Weekly Alibi Tiny Tunes

By Michael Henningsen

Alibi Value Scale Formula:
Total minutes of good music @ 50¢/minute minus total minutes of bad music @ 25 ¢/minute = Value

Vallejo Vallejo (TVT Records)
Good Minutes: 40:09 ($20.04)
Blah Minutes: 11:44 (no cash value)
Bad Minutes: 0
Actual Retail Price: $14.97
Value: $20.04

JULY 28, 1997:  Let me put it this way, Vallejo sold 5,000 copies of their independently released debut about as quickly as the records hit the shelves. It was the buzz created by their debut indie single, Just Another Day, that resulted in such feverish demand for a full-length by this Austin-based powerhouse. After said LP sold out, TVT Records swept in and signed the band immediately, catapulting them from local favorites to nationally recognized artists.

Their story begins a decade ago when three brothers--twins A.J. on vocals and guitar, Alejandro on drums and younger brother Omar on bass--formed a band in Birming- ham, Ala., where their family had moved from the brothers' birthplace of Wharton, Texas. Their childhoods included the rich Latin culture of their Guatemalan mother and Mexican-American father, as well as the music of many diverse artists including Santana and the Tijuana Brass. Known early on as the Vallejo Brothers, they dropped the suffix when friend and guitarist Bruce Castleberry joined the group.

Since then, Vallejo has scored a major-scale deal, toured with Seven Mary Three and become a nationwide rage. And with a sound that collectively offers nods to everything from Latin and Cubano music to funk-infused alt-rock, it's not difficult to see exactly why. The record opens with "Shining Sun," a powerhouse rocker that spotlights the formidable technical prowess of the bands members. From there, the listener is slowly captured by increasingly roots-oriented Latino sounds, provided atop percussionist Diego's smart rhythms. Using drums and percussion as the catalyst for their sound, Vallejo succeed in using their solid rhythmic foundation as an anchor for complex songs that travel great distances between hooks, leaving towering choruses and pensive verses in their wake. And there's still plenty of room for pristine improvisation and jam segments that would make Ted Nugent blush.

These guys are young, hungry and capable of setting the room on fire. Their debut is well worth your while and may be just the thing your stereo has been lacking.

Smart Brown Handbag Lullabies for Infidels (Stone Garden Records)
Good Minutes: 32:19 ($16.09)
Blah Minutes: 2:11 (no cash value)
Bad Minutes: 3:57 ($.89)
Actual Retail Price: $12.97
Value: $15.20

The press blurb on the inside of this record (penned by High Society Senior Editor J.R. Taylor) made Smart Brown Handbag sound interesting enough--something akin to the perfect soundtrack to a David Lynch-inspired "roamantic" en-counter. I can see that, I guess, but I'm confused by the sheer diversity and number of images this record inspires in my mind and the fact that few of them have to do with the aforementioned weirdo or romance. Visions of Steely Dan are dancing through my head, for instance, but not because Smart Brown Handbag sound anything like them. There's definitely some '80s "ballad wave" at work here--heavy chorus on the guitars, thick British-sounding baritones intermingled with each other and with vocals of the female persuasion. Whatever else is going on here, and there's plenty (including the best guitar solo I've heard since 1993 on "I Forgot To Call") is beyond cohesive description, which would explain why all of the press that came with the records sounds like excerpts from someone's dream diary.

What I'm getting at here is that I came this close (imagine my fat index finger barely a centimeter from my fat thumb) to hating this record. Usually, when I hear cello in tandem with highly effected guitars I think to myself, "Please, God ... not Cutting Crew!" But Lullabies for Infidels grew on me quite quickly.

And although I'm still not sure how to accurately describe it, let's just say that all those John Hughes films in the '80s and countless remixes of "I'll Stop the World" helped paint a distorted picture of the genre Smart Brown Handbag mines on this record. And out of the ore, they manage to smelt much preciousness. At first glance, even a diamond can look like glass. Think about it.

--Michael Henningsen

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