taking musical matters in their own hands

Killing Floor (Fingerprint)
Vigilantes of Love

By Cary Stemle

If you aren't seduced early in the first song of Killing Floor, it could be bad news. You could be a cadaver.

With influences running the gamut from Bob Dylan and The Band to Jim Morrison to U2 to Led Zeppelin to Mellencamp -- and add a pinch of Loudon Wainwright III, Neil Young and Timbuk 3 for good measure -- songwriter Bill Mallonee and sidekick Billy Holmes have crafted an urgent, compelling album on a tiny Athens, Georgia record label.

Mallonee has obviously absorbed much of the lexicon of seminal modern music, but his considerable blues streak indicates he has clearly had ideas of his own along the way as well. Call it an intellectual fusion of rock, folk and blues.

The opening cut, "Real Down Town," is the most electrified, with the bulk of the songs relying on Mallonee's voice and the sparse, melodic arrangements.

A prime illustration of Mallonee's sensibilities is "I Can't Remember," a man's poignant remembrance of his female train companion who has just been swept into Heaven after the train crashes:

I saw Jesus in the air

Now that's a face you can't miss

I saw Him brush away the snowflakes

And bestow on you a kiss

He gathered you up in his arms

God, you looked so fine

That white dress you were wearin' darlin'

Like a million stars did shine.

Holmes contributes solid acoustic guitar, perfectly timed and delicately beautiful mandolin fills, and teams with Mallonee for memorable vocal harmonies. Mallonee's "psycho"-ukelele, which moves between frantic and touching, adds a nice offbeat touch.

If there are drawbacks to the band, it may be Mallonee's voice, which after a while, tends toward nasally. Also, his lyrics, which are intensely sardonic and sometimes preachy, might tend to grate. Overall, however, the verbosity is interesting, and those complaints are nitpicky.

Mallonee is clearly a burgeoning musical force, and this is a potent effort.