an auspicious debut

Push Down & Turn (Gary James Productions)
Push Down & Turn

By Allen Howie

Push Down & Turn's self-produced debut comes out of Indianapolis with a nice British Invasion buzz. With its tight vocals and plenty of space in the mix between players, this disc could easily compete with anything produced by a major label.

The band gets down to business quickly with "Jaded," a jangly bit of power pop that grabs your attention right out of the chute. Hard on its heels is the R&B tumble of "Stitch in Time," sounding for all the world like a juiced-up Nineties B-side to Donovan's "Season of the Witch." Tight as the playing is, the song manages to sound loose and limber, working up a groove like the Spin Doctors', but with the players more sharply defined.

"Laughing" highlights Matt DeVore's drumming, one of the band's real strengths. DeVore's playing is consistently inventive and engaging, but never gets in the way of the song. Lead singer Ezra Hale, whose ageless voice often recalls Cat Stevens, contributes a melancholy vocal that brings to mind REM in its haunted, bitter tone. "Where True Love Grows" is nothing short of lovely, with Hale's hushed sincerity sweeping gently across the soft wash of Jason Barth's keyboards.

The only cover included is a marvelous take on the Stones' "Dead Flowers," an energetic honky-tonk version that would have felt right at home on the Band's Music from Big Pink. A similar nostalgic shiver accompanies the forlorn folk of "Napalm Song," a protest number that compares well with Creedence's "Who'll Stop the Rain." Let me hasten to add that, if the retro references seem to be flying fast and furious here, it shouldn't imply that Push Down & Turn is simply recycling old rock chestnuts. Rather, they're playing fresh new music that is anchored solidly in rock's finest traditions. Even doo-wop is explored here, in the luminous a cappella arrangement of "I Wanna Fly," one of the album's most delightful tracks.

The band works up a sweat on the frantic funk of "Mama Said," a rhythmic workout with some smokin' boogie woogie piano. All of which leaves you unprepared for the cool cocktail jazz intro of "Doyawannaiguana," a largely instrumental piece led by Barth's soulful, restrained piano. All of the other players eventually stroll in, say their piece and saunter out, the only vocal a brief, mantra-like chant near the end that fades out as quietly as it drifted in. Finally, even the piano falls away, leaving only the sound of raindrops falling and the soft rumble of distant thunder. It seems a perfect ending somehow to a set of songs as sparkling as the nine on Push Down & Turn's eclectic and charming debut.

Push Down & Turn is available at ear X-tacy and select other music stores, or directly from Gary James Productions, 5353 N. Tacoma, Indianapolis, IN 46220 (phone 317-251-5357).