JUDY SMALL has been called the "Holly Near of Australia," and she seems to share the strengths and weaknesses of that California feminist, singer and songwriter.
Like Near, Small has a big, sturdy voice that is lit by an obviously sincere commitment to peace and feminist causes. Yet, like Near's, Small's songwriting often subordinates every other consideration to her earnest messages. Small delivers her messages stylishly but with no sense of irony or ambiguity.
Her third album, "One Voice in the Crowd," released on Near's Redwood Records, showcases Small's knack for packaging her causes with a rousing, singalong chorus. The title tune, backed by a jaunty folk-rock band, mocks middle-class political apathy. With its poignant details about the death of a high-rise construction worker, "Just Another Death in New York City" could have been a powerful song if Small hadn't insisted on drawing the conclusions for us.
In two songs, she confers unstinting sainthood on a veteran feminist and an unmarried schoolteacher; in a third, she makes a facile connection between E.T. and the CIA. With her gift for melody and description, Small could be an excellent singer-songwriter if only she'd trust her listeners to sort out life's contradictions for themselves.
JUDY SMALL -- "One Voice in the Crowd" (Redwood RR8503); appearing Friday night at the Commerce Department Auditorium.