THE FACT THAT Washington expatriate Richard X. Heyman's album is called "Living Room!!" -- with double emphasis -- suggests a vanity collection of ironic, overstuffed homilies about modern life in suburbia -- something like the Go-Betweens' "Streets of Your Town" take on Thornton Wilder. The fact that reviews tend to toss in references to Tommy Keene or Marshall Crenshaw makes it sound even more worrisome, since that often signals a cleverness that only partly compensates for languid musical inclinations: hook writer as hack writer.
Well, okay, so Heyman writes neo-Beatlesque pop. He also writes neo-R&B, neo-folk rock and neo-rockabilly. In fact, he's produced a 14-track survey course of rock 'n' roll from about 1958 to 1968, all authentically under four minutes, and several under three; and it's a lot of fun to roll down the road listening to Heyman flash chord and key changes like a card shark cutting decks. The cheeky "Call Out the Military" is a prime example -- one mindless radio gulp and it's Frito-Lay time (bet you can't hum it just once).
If Heyman had enough sleeves for all the '60s bands he wears hearts for, he'd look like the original motley crew. But he also is smart enough to know that imitation need not be the sincerest form of fatuity. "Night Ride Rail" may be a direct descendant of "Homeward Bound," for example, but it's perfectly realized on its own terms. "Oh No Elaine" could pass for an outtake from "Pet Sounds," and "Oh Johnny Oh!" is a rocker Bobby Fuller might have written (and Marshall Crenshaw would have covered).
Some of the best songs -- "Collides in Front of Mine," "Learn to Love," "Catalina" -- have a restless tempo and a somehow treble layer of over-tracked vocals (longtime partner Nancy Leigh assists Heyman here) that suggest the voices in the narrator's head rather than some studio backup trio. Some of the less successful songs remind you that over-intellectualizing was a common failing of late-'60s songwriters: The rhyming of "challenge in her eyes" and "palace of Versailles" has been admired, but it seems designed more to impress the listener than express an emotion.
Heyman, who started out in New Jersey, moved here for several years and answered a want-ad for a drummer in the classified section and wound up working for Link Wray. He also fronted the locally popular new-wave Rage before making the move to Los Angeles, and then back to New York.
Heyman produced "Living Room!!" as an eight-track indie effort in 1988, and released about 2,000 copies directly to radio stations and music reviewers; it was remixed and rereleased by Cypress a couple of months ago. The name actually refers to the converted recording studio on West 93rd Street where the album was eked out on the pay-as-you-go system. Getting there required Heyman and Leigh to haul drums, guitars and what-all uptown on the subway, but most names memorializing that process probably would have been unprintable.
The original "Living Room!!" cover featured a rather distinctive vintage lamp that was previously the property of the Bethesda Mama Rose, Helen Goldberg, who had packed it off with Leigh. The new cover is almost the same, but neater and with a new lamp. Who knows? Like "Yesterday and Today," the original may be worth something someday.
Heyman and the Owls (in honor of his beloved Byrds and the Who, a bird that goes Whooooo) perform Thursday at the Bayou ($5; 333-2897).
TWILIGHT ZONE: One of downtown's best late-night music spots and one of its most adventuresome, d.c. space kicks off a regular Wednesday night appetizer course of "Jazz at Twilight" performances showcasing area bands. The concerts, each lasting from 7 to 8:15 and with minimal covers, will feature jazz artists of all styles, from trio to big band and swing to avant-garde. On the last (or more accurately, the fourth) Wednesday of each month is an open mike/jam session hosted by series manager Michael Flaherty; Flaherty's trio will act as house rhythm section for singers or solo instrumentalists.
The series begins this Wednesday with Pocket Change, an astonishing quartet of Fairfax County guys in their late teens with time-warp classic '50s imaginations and a rookie all-star in stand-up bassist Ryan Welch: His hands haven't quite caught up to the speed of his ideas, but the way his mind works is wonderful -- inquisitive, restless, respectful but not reverential. And definitely not predictable. Cover for Pocket Change is $3; call 347-1445.
Among upcoming Jazz at Twilight acts are vibraphonist John Cocuzzi & Friends Aug. 8 ($2); tempo-fusionists Fearless Jazz Trio Aug. 15 ($2); and the first of the jam sessions Aug. 22 ($2). Since it's a long month, there's an Aug. 29 date with the straight-ahead New Breed Quintet, too ($2).
UPPER DECK: Most jump bands tend to look back toward swing-boogie or blues; Marked Deck will remind you that the earliest rockabilly was grafted on to the established big-band lineup -- trumpet, saxes, and trombone along with harmonica, drums, guitar and bass -- and that it cultivated the experienced vocal style of the black veterans before it took on the hyperkinetic adolescent dementia of the next wave. Marked Deck is celebrating its self-produced EP cassette Saturday at Fins in Arlington (486-3467).
BARGAIN PRICE: Fans of Billy Price & the Keystone Rhythm Band will be proud to hear that Billy Joel (you know, the short piano player Christie Brinkley talks about) dropped in to play their farewell show at 8 X 10 a couple of weeks ago.