WASHINGTON-AREA rock bands continue to release albums on their own labels and those of small, independent companies. While these records rarely have the production pizazz of big league efforts, many exhibit a fair share of talent, creativity and ambition. In fact, the major restraint on local bands these days is the lack of live music clubs, which means few have the opportunity to work enough in front of audiences.
THE WANKTONES -- "Have a Ball Y'all" (Midnight MIR 108). As the hepcat alter egos of the Slickee Boys (at the 9:30 Club Friday and Saturday), the Wanktones are a labor of love that allows the Slickees to mine the sound and spirit of classic rockabilly. The Wanktones easily outstrip their nouveau rockabilly competition because their fun-filled approach keeps them from feigning attitudes or mimicking legends. They simply play 15 rockabilly originals and covers spare and clean, proving they can bop with all the kinetic efficiency and goodwill of classic rock 'n' roll.
MADHOUSE -- "Madhouse" (Fountain of Youth 012). Song titles like "Repulsion" and "Fear" reflect the dark, neo- psychedelic rock this young quartet favors. The most intriguing element in the group's angst-ridden sound is the ominous fuzz guitar lines that shoot through the songs like heat- seeking missiles. Unfortunately, both the songs and Monica Madhouse's overwrought, caterwauling vocal style tend to wear thin on repeated listening.
JONATHAN KUPERSMITH --
"Two Cute" (Droop Dro 185). This is a debut album by Kupersmith, a talented singer-songwriter-guitarist, whose ringing guitar pop is every bit as melodic and romantic as the power pop style demands. While Kupersmith's faithful cover of the Raspberries' "Go All the Way" clarifies his roots, his breezy originals really recall everyone from Buddy Holly to Marshall Crenshaw. The album shows he's mastered the power pop conventions, but it will take a more striking and instrumental approach to make his music compelling.
NEON HARI -- "Out of the Shadows" (Broken Promises/Lie 006). This punk-informed rock band features vocalist Alyce Read, whose throaty, emotive delivery grants a moody feel to this group's original material. At times, Neon Hari plays it folksy, coming over a little like Robin Lane and the Chartbusters. A murky mix keeps some decent originals from taking off, but the comic and punky "Bad Poetry" jumps out of the grooves anyway.