Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

Bent to the indignities of a multibillion-dollar industry, music is no longer a meritocracy. The eccentric mediocrities of an Andy Pratt land him top billing at the prestigious Cellar Door Wednesday night, even when he's not on tour; while the highly infectious and original Spats is offhanded even by their own record company.

The Washington-based Spats is the best thing that ever happened to Rio rock, that samba-seasoned, conga-whipping melange most widely recognized, via Peter Allen and Pablo Cruise. But while both those acts, and the majority of their imitators, harken back to the Gotham/gay/cabaret tradition - a soft, self-conscious tendency toward parody - Spats' music recalls a stronger rhythm 'n' blues past, the Philadelphia sound bolstered by the Doobie Brothers.

Spats is also blessed with stagewise personnel who manage to be completely natural at the same time. They have faith in their material, both the Rio rockers and the more straightforward rollers, and well they should. It's high time Washington came up with a bank strong enough to follow D.C.'s adopted Little Feat.

Pratt, on the other hand, is a showpiece of wasted potential. Like the writer with only one novel in him, Pratt has written nothing as intriguing as "Avenging Annie" since, and that's five or six years. Worse, he seems unable to detect the difference between his more interesting material and the excruciating pretentiousness that dominates his work ("Dark piano, be mine tonight"). There's nothing wrong with religious lyrics, either, but religiosity is a consummation devoutly to be avoided.