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CD showcases major talents who don't have major labels

Published Sep. 16, 2005

As a host of Florida bands celebrate the sudden flurry of major-label product on tap by home-grown talent, Rob Keith has a slightly different perspective.

"Major labels suck. . . . Ninety percent of the rock stuff they release is bad," says Keith, known as Baskervil Rob to his friends, after his band, The Baskervils. "The best thing to do is do it yourself."

That's why Baskervil Rob, working with a few friends in the area's underground scene, assembled Young Savage Florida _ a 23-song compilation from some of the best bands you've hardly heard.

"This was a chance for these bands to get major-label packaging without dealing with major labels," adds Keith. "The cost of CDs is so prohibitive, we figured getting them all on one disc would be cost-effective. Half the bands on here don't want to be signed (to a major label) _ either they know the labels wouldn't be interested or don't want to get into the debt trap."

Ranging from Loco Siempre's rootsy modern rock vibe on Tell the King the Killer's Here, to the Leonard Croon Band's mix of angular punk attitude and Southern rock swagger on Queen City, the material on Young Savage Florida presents an intriguing peek at a host of area rockers.

In a small coup, Keith also persuaded Badfinger drummer Mike Gibbins to contribute two solo tunes, a rocker about the American Revolution called Dream Harder and a midtempo tune _ sounding kind of like a classic rock Warren Zevon _ dubbed Layaway. According to Keith, this marks the first time the British-born drummer has released any solo material.

"He records with a bunch of Orlando bands that we know, so we asked him to contribute a couple of things," Keith says. "We hope that will sell a lot of CDs out of town for us."

Almost willfully low-key and homemade, Young Savage Florida even features two songs by Winter Park roots punkers The Vodkats that sound like they were recorded on a ghetto blaster left running in a rehearsal room.

The vibe is alternative in a truly different way, ofering material that doesn't seem likely to spark a major-label feeding frenzy anytime soon.

Edison Shine frontman and Alternative Fest? Organizer Gerald Hammill will likely organize the next compilation, tilted more toward conventional indie rock, Keith says.

But for now, the guitarist/singer can bask in his own unorthodox vision _ and those of 11 like-minded artists, including Car Bomb Driver, Rancid Polecats, and The Surf Kings.

"A lot of these bands are truly alternative _ playing stuff that's not on MTV and that record labels aren't actively looking for. It's the stuff I'm most interested in _ weird rock. It's the alternative now."

In many ways, Randy Crawford is the perfect purveyor of that genre known as "smooth jazz."

With a supple, slightly soulful voice, Crawford (appearing Sunday with Bobby Caldwell at the Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg) adds a distinct R&B flavor to everything she sings, while remaining straightforward enough to keep things from getting too passionate.

For evidence, check her latest album, Naked and True, a collection of cover tunes ranging from George Benson's Give Me the Night to Prince's Purple Rain and Dinah Washington's What a Difference a Day Makes.

In each of the CD's 12 selections, Crawford rides the "smooth jazz" ethic well, providing just enough vocal flair to catch your ear, but never enough to challenge or mystify listeners.

It's the perfect stance for a genre so obviously aimed at soothing fans instead of inspiring them, but a surprise coming from a vocalist known for her work with such august names as The Crusaders (that's her voice on their 1978 hit Street Life), Cannonball Adderley and Quincy Jones.

Still, there are a few high points, most notably her textured, funky version of J.J. Cale's Cajun Moon, featuring funk legends Bootsy Collins on bass and keyboardist Bernie Worrell on Fender Rhodes piano.

But overall, Crawford's effort simply serves as yet another example of how the washed-out nature of commercial jazz is forcing so many legendary artists to work below their talents.