WHILE RECORD INDUSTRY heavyweights continue to believe that New York, Los Angeles and Nashville are the centers of the music industry, Washington continues to sneak up from behind. Already the area has produced Marvin Gaye, Roberta Flack, Emmylou Harris and Nils Lofgren. Still on the verge are Roy Buchanan (though it's becoming more and more obvious that his albums will never match his stage presence), Happy the Man, Tim Eyermann and East Coast Offering, Andrew White, and the Nighthawks, whose recent collaboration with Greg Allman could make them the new Cher. Or Something.
Now there are five recent releases from area artists. They span the stylistic and musical spectrum and they prove that, if nothing else, a lot of different sounds are going down in the federal city.
ROBERT GORDON with LINK WRAY: Fresh Fish Special (Private Stock, PS 7008). This is not only the best of the five locals, but so far it is one of the best records of 1978. Artist denials to the contrary, Gordon does sound a lot like prime Elvis Presley but he is no parrot. His rockabilly approach is distilled from a variety of sources and he manages to blend the ingredients in his own unique way. The proof of Gordon's adaptability is that his throwback rocking works as well with Bruce Springsteen's "Fire" as it does with the old Huey Smith hit "Sea Cruise."
Once again, Link Wray adds his rolling and tumbling guitar to the mix and former "Rolling Thunder" members Rob Stoner (bass) and Howie Wyeth (drums) anchor the rhythms. With the Jordanaires singing background doo-wops and harmonies, Fresh Fish Special shows Gordon to be one Bethesda/Chevy Chase High School grad who made good.
WALTER EGAN: Not Shy (Columbia, JC 35077). Egan, former leader of the Georgetown band Sageworth and Drums, got buried by overhype (especially locally) the first time around and is now back for another try. Not Shy suffers from the same ack of clarity that hurt Fundamental Roll (Columbia PC34679). That is, too much Fleetwood Mac cloning and not enough pure Egan. The fact that Lindsay Buckingham co-produced the record and that he and Stevie Nicks are all over it is not bad in and of itself. In fact, Nicks' harmonies on "Magnet and Steel" and "Just the Wanting" highlight the album. Nicks, Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood make "Star in the Dust" a hot track; but by then, who really needs Egan?
Egan does have a supple vocal quality and natural rock 'n' roll insticts. What he needs is a more individual focus. Not Shy is not bad but a bit too underplayed to succeed as a major achievement.
STARLAND VOCAL BAND: Late Night Radio (Windsong, BXL-I-2598). Believe it or not, the success of "Afternoon Delight" may have been the worst thing ever to happen to the Starland Vocal Band.
At best, it was a mixed blessing because, though it earned them a lot of money and recognition, it also raised succeeding expectations much too high. Now, SVB is home again (this album was mixed here at Sounds Reasonable) and expectations seem to have leveled off.
Late Night Radio presents the band exactly as it has always been: four exceptional voices who like to work together performing material that is occasionally banal ("Akron," "Don't Go to Oregon"), occasionally outstanding ("Fly Away," "Friends With You"), and never flashy.
The Amazing Rhythm Aces' "Third Rate Romance" is the closest thing to a rocker on the album, but the quarter's collective heart really isn't in it. However, Margot Chapman gets better with each song, and sometimes that is enough to make Late Night Radio a listening pleasure.
ROOT BOY SLIM AND THE SEX CHANGE BAND WITH THE ROOTETTES (Warner Brothers, BSK 3160). The Root has gone big-time but his act hasn't changed a bit in over two years. That makes his debut album too predictable for his local following and too incomprehensible for everyone else. All his "hits" are included here. "Boogie 'Til You Puke," "I'm Not Too Old for You," "Heartbreak of Psoriasis," "Mood Ring," etc., but the fact seems to be that either you've heard these already or you're not going to shell out $7.98 to hear them now.
The Steely Dan all-star production duo of producer Gary Katz and engineer Roger Nichols (a Grammy winner for "Aja") have done about what was expected. They make the Sex Change Band's already tight, hard support even tighter and harder and give Root Boy's gravel-pit vocals a clean, agressive punch. The band sounds terrific, but it is painfully clear, now that they are out of the Psyche Delly and into the mainstream, that Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band are more a novelty act than a musical act.
LITTLE FEAT: Waiting for Columbus (Warner Brothers, 2BS 3140). LIttle Feat is not from Washington but its following here is enormous (as evidenced by the band's recent four-night, eight-show run at the Warner Theater) and this two-record set was recorded live at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium. Besides, Feat leader Lowell George used to hang out nearby with Emmylou Harris, and any band that mentions local promoter Mike Schreibman and area rock personality Cerphe in its liner notes must be considered native.
Waiting for Columbus is a good selection of Little Feat's combination of southern boogie and West Coast cowboy. "Oh Atlanta" and "Time Loves a Hero" have a touch more impact and a touch less funk than their studio counterparts. "Dixie Chicken," "Rocket in My Pocket," and the classic "Willin" are all as pleasing as ever. "Sailin' Shoes" is neither better nor worse than the original, but bluesier and more aggressively delivered.
Only "Don't Bogart That Joint" and "Apolitical Blues" sound flat, not so much because the band drags (which it does, to an extent), but because the tunes themselves have not dated well. Overall, though, the Feat don't fail us now.