eclectic up-and-comers

One (self-produced)
Radio-Active Flowers

By Paul Moffett

"That's a great big voice for such a little girl" goes the hook of "Behind Green Eyes."

That line defines just one small part of Radio-Active Flowers, but not all of this six-piece Bowling Green band, whose live performances are drawing wildly enthusiastic responses from knowledgeable music fans. It is entirely likely that no single definition, however cleverly crafted, would serve to encompass this group - and they seem to prefer it that way.

Consider: The band features two percussionists, who trade off on trap set and congas, two women singers, one of whom doubles on flute and piccolo, and a bassist and guitar player. In most groups, the need to find work that pays enough to justify the band serves to trim the personnel to the minimum. Not so RAF.

The presence of a flute pushes the ear in the direction of Tull, but that would just be lazy classification, as the playing style differs. It appears that this band is really about the songs they present. (The CD booklet even notes the month the songs were written.) The primary songwriters are Cathy Allen, Marci Givens-VanDerMeer and Daniel VanDerMeer, but the others in this ensemble contribute significantly to the total sound and arrangement.

The lyrics are rife with odd and curious lines, some of near-poetic obscurity, some of which are head-turning, such as "dream of widows crawling on your wings" from "Spider Song," which probably should have been titled "Spider's Web."

"Bringing the Old Man Down" gets the prize for having the most persistent hook. About a bar where "Harry sits and Harry lives and Harry plays guitar," the tune recalls "Piano Man."

"For Whom the Bell Tolls" owes more to John Dunne than Ernest Hemingway, while "Everybody" is almost a throw-away and has an odd bit of mismatched rhythm between the singer and the guitarist.

Recorded in 1995, with most of the songs written in 1994 and 1995, One points to a future when the "real" Radio-Active Flowers sound emerges out of the mix of personalities and instruments. Hearing them live, it's clear that they have already progressed beyond this CD.

The band has recently been signed by Triangle Talent and has been playing more often in Louisville. Catch them the next time they're at the Butchertown Pub and you can have the insider's pleasure of "hearing them when."

And, of course, buy their CD so they'll have the money and encouragement to make another.