able Eclectic Records [11/3/09]
Morning quivers like a Theremin.
-- Ken Flagg, "Those Socks Have Secrets"
On his 2006 debut, San Francisco multi-instrumentalist Ken
Flagg was mired in Paralysis and Denial. Now he seeks The
End of Suffering. On first track "Pieces," the sinking feeling
sets in that Flagg is yet another in a long line of sensitive sing-
er/songwriters, but then he rocks the hell out of "Mountain
Girl," and the feeling passes (I've just spent too much time
with heart-on-sleeve balladeers more interested in making
ladies swoon than in doing any serious emotional excavation).
Flagg continues to alternate between the soft and quiet, the fast
and loud, proving himself an eclectic talent who moves between
genres with grace. Whistle-infused closer "When the Sun Sets in
the Eastern Sky" is a particularly sublime take on bossa nova.
The Vivs, Mouth to Mouth, self-released [9/22/09]
Jonathan Richman lives on the astral plane. The
same one where I go to meet you again and again.
-- The Vivs, "Take It on the Chin"
Led by Karen Harris, a mother
of two, this Boston quintet de-
livers harmony-laden pop-
rock with vivid guitar work
and subtle piano embellish-
ment. The most distinguishing
characteristic: Harris's clear, authoritative voice, remini-
scent of the singers in the Concretes and Bettie Serveert, which is ironic as they're Scandinavian, while the Vivs are American.
On first listen, Mouth to Mouth was too clean and bright for
my taste, but subsequent listens reveal hitherto undetected nuan-
ces, especially in the literate lyrics. Plus, it's hard to resist songs
that reference Jonathan Richman, Tom Verlaine ("Take It on the
Chin"), and the Damned ("I Just Wanna Show You My Garden").
Endnote: For more information about Ken Flagg, please click
here; for the Vivs, here or here. Emblazoned with bizarre ani-
mation, Flagg's disc serves as a reminder not to judge a CD by
its cover. Images from his MySpace Page and Planetary Group.