strong debut, strong songwriting

C'est L'Woo (self-produced)

By Mark Clark

The last thing Danny Kiely, Ray Rizzo and Mauriece Hamilton want listeners to do is compare their current band, L'Woo, with their former band, lovesauce & soulbones. Well, too bad. The comparisons are inevitable. After all, Kiely, Rizzo and Hamilton composed three-fifths of the late, lamented 'sauce.

L'Woo was formed shortly after the lovesauce breakup. And when the inevitable comparisons with lovesauce are made, L'Woo rates favorable marks in many columns. Freed from the dominating presence of lovesauce vocalist/force-of-nature Sam Anderson, L'Woo has better realized the lovesauce ideal of becoming a songwriting collaborative.

All three members of L'Woo contribute memorable tracks to this disc. Even though every single track doesn't quite click, there's more than enough strong material here to declare this a remarkably promising debut from three young songwriters.

Kiely contributes five songs, including most of the album's best compositions, plays bass, piano, guitar and sings. His "Bonnie" is one of three songs once performed by the 'sauce and hands-down the finest moment on the album. It's a sleek, jazzy ballad featuring a memorable Bob James-like piano bridge and a smart saxophone solo by Hamilton. If every song on the album were this good, it would be scary.

Kiely's "Shakedown" is nearly as good -- a funky little jam number that allows the group and its little helpers to show off a bit (for C'est L'Woo, Kiely, Rizzo and Hamilton were joined by a veritable all-star lineup of backing musicians including Danny (rain chorus) Flanigan, ex-Domani guitarist/vocalist Todd Johnson and Scott Thomas and David Barrickman, both of whom briefly filled the revolving keyboardist's position with lovesauce).

And Kiely adds another highlight with "Gregory," a touching ballad about the death of a friend's mother. Veering 180 degrees from "Shakedown," "Gregory" is a sparse, unvarnished cut with a vague folkiness recalling early Jackson Browne. It's a startling change of pace from the band's usual fusion/funk fare. "Fire on Louisa," an uptempo number from Kiely built around an ultrafunky bass line, opens the disc with an infectious groove, but it would have been more effective if it were a couple of minutes shorter.

The most pleasant surprise C'est L'Woo offers listeners is the songwriting of saxophonist/vocalist Hamilton. "Windshears" is a joyous uptempo number featuring wonderful, warm, smooth vocals from Hamilton. "Wake Up Call" is another upbeat tune with a message and with a nice sax solo. And with Rizzo, Hamilton also co-wrote "Closer Unknown," one of the album's few misses.

In addition to "Closer Unknown," Rizzo chips in with three songs of this own, including two more lovesauce leftovers -- "Nameless" and "Something in the Water." "Nameless" is a powerful, haunting song written about a friend suffering a miscarriage. The recording is among the album's most polished. "Something in the Water," on the other hand, is something of a mess. Lovesauce couldn't' make this chaotic number work, and for my money, L'Woo doesn't either.

"Verlasta," however, more than makes up for it. It's a snappy, likable tune that's a little short on structure, but there's enough good stuff crammed in here -- a backbeat that makes you shake your rump, a nice melodic chorus, a clever vocal hook through its coda -- to make "Verlasta" a treasure trove, start to finish.

The bottom line is this: No , they are not going to make lovesauce fans forget about the 'sauce. That's okay. Lovesauce was perhaps the finest band ever assembled in Louisville and it SHOULD be remembered. But don't underestimate L'Woo, which has now been together almost as long as lovesauce. Kiely, Rizzo and Hamilton are as talented a trio of players as you're likely to find, and they are maturing as songwriters. In short, they're making memories of their own.