By William Michael Smith
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Any fan of quality-tested singer/songwriters is obligated to reserve a little empathy for Marshall Crenshaw. If the sky is truly for the stars -- as Crenshaw proclaimed in his 1987 role as Buddy Holly in the Ritchie Valens biopic, La Bamba -- then certainly he has logged sinfully little flight time. By many counts, Crenshaw is one of the most underappreciated figures of rock's last 15 years. A jack of one trade, sure, but a skilled craftsman within those limits.
Seven releases into his career and settling in with his third label (the niche-sensitive indie, Razor & Tie), Crenshaw's boundaries are still as defined as ever. In fact, his Holly portrayal in La Bamba couldn't have been more telling or more appropriate: The Michigan native's creative output has often been compared to -- and, at times, measured against -- the King Cricket. Crenshaw's preference for simple pop hooks laced with rockabilly flavorings continues to dominate his music to this day, as does his penchant for tackling traditional expressions of love, longing, regret and confusion in tight verse that usually comes to fruition in some ridiculously catchy chorus. Such bittersweet themes also are tethered to the work of Holly and the other master songwriters he admires, from the unheralded indie-rock cult hero Alex Chilton to the much-heralded John Lennon.
Like his toiling in relative obscurity, it almost seems fated that Crenshaw should maintain close connections to his heroes. After all, he started in the music business playing Lennon in the touring cast of Beatlemania. It got him noticed, and by 1982, he'd released his national debut, Marshall Crenshaw, which is still considered his greatest effort by many critics.
As is not unusual for artists who specialize in one sound and do it well over and over again, Crenshaw has spent the years since trying to outrun the legacy of his auspicious start, and perhaps score a hit in the process. So far, he's come up short on the latter, and it's debatable whether he's succeeded in doing the former. Live, Crenshaw is at his best in a club setting where he can relax and connect with his audience -- which shouldn't come as any shock, seeing as he's spent much of his touring life in small venues.
Every Crenshaw enthusiast, it seems, has his or her own favorite release (mine, for instance, is his glossy-edged 1991 "comeback" release, Life's Too Short). As for non-enthusiasts, many (including Rolling Stone's esteemed former editor Dave Marsh) contend that Crenshaw has essentially been humming the same old tune since 1982. His new Razor & Tie CD, Miracle of Science, is not likely to sway their opinions. Quite frankly, it's more of the same old tune, though with Crenshaw in full control of how it is hummed, as writer, multi-instrumentalist and producer. And if you happen to make Crenshaw's Friday show at the Satellite, don't be surprised if you find yourself, well, humming right along. -- Hobart Rowland
Marshall Crenshaw performs Friday, November 22, at 9:30 p.m. at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $8. Victor DeLorenzo opens. For info, call 869-COOL.
Everything but the Girl -- Over their 13-year career, Ben Watt and Tracy Thorn of Everything but the Girl have done their share of style-hopping, from jazz pop to Brit pop to orchestral pop to contemporary R&B to jazzy R&B. Lately, though, the duo has taken to the dance floor; this year's Walking Wounded CD is a batch of songs based around techno-derived beats. The move to electronics may seem extreme for a group that seemed increasingly geared toward VH-1 -- or even adult contemporary -- audiences. But given the huge success of their 1994 beat-driven remix single, "Missing," and their fruitful collaborations on Massive Attack's breakthrough trip-hop release, Protection, maybe it's not all that odd. Since debuting in 1983, EBTG has always focused itself on Thorn's lush, soulful voice. With its new sound, she and Watt introduce a second focal point in the intricately sculpted beats of a jungle offshoot called drum 'n' bass. Still, EBTG retains a maturity that shouldn't alienate old fans, and the more pronounced sense of rhythm should make its live show a good deal more propulsive. At Numbers, 300 Westheimer, Thursday, November 21. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $22.50. Frente opens. 629-3700. (Roni Sarig)
Dave Koz -- If most contemporary jazz strikes you as music fit for elevators, hearing saxophonist Dave Koz wafting through those muffled speakers overhead should be enough to change your mind. Ever the romantic, Koz cozies up to his listeners with a brilliant and varied palette of musical colors. On his latest and third release, Off the Beaten Path, that palette emphasizes acoustic folk instruments -- mandolin, accordion, fiddle, even tin whistle -- as well as some decidedly rock-oriented flavorings. But as always, Koz's distinctive reed work thrives throughout, even when going up against the well-known vocals of stadium rock diva Stevie Nicks. A natural showman, Koz has never shied away from attention. He was a frequent guest musician on the Arsenio Hall Show, has blown his sax in the studio for everyone from U2 to Celine Dion and has made appearances on a handful of TV dramas and sitcoms. Koz also has his own nationally syndicated radio talk show, Personal Notes, which airs locally Sunday nights on KHYS/98.5 FM -- more proof that Koz, for all his stylistic shifts and turns, is still, at heart, an entertainer. At Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 23. Tickets are $19.50 to $32.50. 869-TICS. (Joyce Austin
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