No Room (What Are Records?)
The Samples

Live at the Bottom Line (Disappear)
Disappear Fear

By Jeff Beavin

Lyrics are probably way overrated. Heck, if the melody's there, the instrumentation's tight, and there's even a measure of competence in the vocals, who needs cogent lyrics?

Well, apparently not The Samples, who traverse the galaxy on their recording No Room in search of all things overly vast and too broad. Full of references to wind, rain, the past and the future, the album's lyrics belie an endearing sound, eerily similar to early Police tunes.

Lead vocalist Sean Kelly does his best Sting routine throughout, backed up by Al Laughlin on the band's trademark keyboard. Some cuts, such as the opening track "When It's Raining," or "Did You Ever Look So Nice," almost make the listener forget the lyrical shortcomings.

But not quite. With jewels like "Maybe nothing lasts forever/Not the mountains or the sea/But the times we had together/They will always be with me," the music had best be flawless. It isn't; there's just not enough diversity on this recording to compensate.

The Samples are wielding a double-edged sword. The trick seems to be in attracting curiosity seekers drawn by the Police comparisons without losing the audience after the novelty wears thin. Lyrically, the group may need to set its sights a little smaller.

Disappear Fear's recording Live at The Bottom Line, in contrast, is a happy marriage of message and music. As the title suggests, this Maryland-based duo tested the mettle of its acoustic work before an appreciative live audience at New York City's The Bottom Line.

The sister team of Sonia and Cindy Frank successfully blend harmonies on issues of the heart, moving from numbers like the Dylanesque folk arrangement on "16 Roses" to the rollicking "Hey" that wraps up the album. The cornerstone of the duo is Sonia, who penned all the selections and provides the acoustic lead. The songs at times are almost painfully private and biographical, as in "Box of Tissues," but avoid the syrup that so often suffocates musical diaries.

Disappear Fear is able to pull off what The Samples cannot. In providing through the lyrics a snapshot of simple candor and authenticity, Disappear Fear brings a truth to its music. The Samples, in trying to bring too much to the party, offer only a pleasant, ethereal emptiness.