there's a good band here somewhere

HipEponymous (Hit A Note)
Stranger Than Fiction

By Mark Clark

My CD player had just finished its latest tour through Stranger Than Fiction's last album, HipEponymous. As the final notes of the album's last cut faded away and my player whirred back to track one, it occurred to me that despite repeated listens to this disc, I still had not a clear picture of what Stranger Than Fiction are about. i Who are these guys? Are they the rock band, fronted by guitarist Lee Faith, who recorded bright, melodic tunes like "She Said" and "My Mind Is Out of Frame?"Are they the fun but inconsistent dance band fronted by singer Sharon Ferguson that cut numbers like the terrific "Secret" and the terrible "Path of the Lovers Few?" Or are they the crappy synth-pop wannabes led by keyboardist Randall Hill who recorded dismal selections such as "Look for Me?" Unfortunately, the answer appears to be "All of the Above." Stranger Than Fiction is a band desperately searching for a personality. HipEponymous reflects both the strengths and weaknesses of the group's currently splintered psyche. It also boasts some fine supporting performances — quirky, inventive guitar solos by Dan Trisko of Velvet Elvis and soulful work by saxophonist Mike Murphy foremost among them.

This record's best cuts are as good as anything anybody from Louisville has recorded in a long time. The problem is that there are only about four of those and eight other tracks that range from mediocre to unlistenable.

Another drawback is that the band's three vocalists have radically different and incongruous styles. Faith is throaty and rough hewn, given to understatement. Ferguson is flowery and sometimes overwrought. Hill sounds like an Englishman with clogged nasal passages. It wouldn't hurt the band to pick a single, primary singer — preferably Ferguson, if she would relax and not be so dramatic, or Faith.

Stranger Than Fiction should also decide if it wants to be a rock band or a dance band (and forget synth-pop entirely). Charged with a unified sense of purpose and wielding the technical skill obvious throughout HipEponymous, the sky would be the limit.