post-grunge, universal appeal

El Producto (Atlantic)
Walt Mink

By Kory Wilcoxson

Let's go to the time machine, Peabody. Set the date for December of the year 1992, when a young, slightly dazed reviewer was asked to wax rhapsodic over an album titled Miss Happiness, from an obscure new band called Walt Mink. That green reviewer marveled at the record's grunginess (hey, it was 1992) and fine songwriting.

Fast-forward to 1996, where our now seasoned, still dazed reviewer works on El Producto, the newest from Walt Mink. What's changed? Not much and a lot, if that is possible. Firstly, the lineup is different. Guitarist John Kimbrough and bassist Candice Belanoff have been joined by drummer Orestes Morfin. Gone also is the aloof grunge, replaced with a sound holding more universal appeal.

Still the same, however, are Kimbrough's songwriting abilities and Donovan-esque vocals. But there's nothing mellow or yellow about the music; it is edgy and up-front, as Kimbrough challenges his vocals to keep up with his frantic guitar work.

He does enviably, and El Producto shines. "Little Sister" and "Betty" both rock with a feeling that moves beyond Walt Mink's grunge roots. The band is adept at switching gears, moving from the crunch of "Listen Up" to the acoustic-flavored "Love in the Dakota," without losing the atmosphere or sounding trite. In the end, it is Walt Mink's versatility that makes the album stand up.