Last night at the Cellar Door, Taffy Danoff of the Starland Vocal Band introduced her fellow members as "Bill Danoff, Jon Carroll and Margot Chapman Carroll Kunkel." Kunkel has returned to her maiden name. "New names, new songs, new hairdos," continued Danoff, "but the same old clothes." And in their first Washington show in more than a year, the same old problems frustrated the Northern Virginia quartet's still attractive potential.
Last night was the public premiere of songs from the album the group recorded with producer Barry Beckett in Muscle Sholas, Ala., this summer. The still untitled album is due out on RCA next February. Last night, though, too many of the songs sounded like highly promising basic tracks waiting fro a distinctive personality to be added. Too often the group sounded like four talented harmony singers in search of a lead vocalist.
"I'll Love You Until I Die" was typical of the songs that blurred the voices in frothy but indistinct harmonies. The lyrics for "Apartment for Rent" reminded one of the slick, shallow writing in glossy city monthlies. f"Nothing's Too Good for My Baby" was the exception to the rule, as Kunkel crooned the trembling ballard while the others scatted arching harmonies. The group was strongest, though, when it turned to traditional material like the Latin dance tune, "La Bamba" or its a capella doo-wop encore of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?"
The starland Vocal Band's backing quartet was graced by pedal steel quitar ace Danny Pendleton. Comedian folksinger Larry Rand opened the show with routines that sometimes worked and sometimes missed.
All these performers will be at the Cellar Door through Sunday.