Posted on Wed, Nov. 05, 2003

Talent scouts should check out local artists on charity CD

By Brad Kava

Mercury News

It started with a plea in this column asking local artists to contribute songs for a charity album. It's ended up as an amazingly strong and diverse collection of music by unsigned artists from the Bay Area -- mostly the South Bay.

The 15 songs on ``Sounds for Hope,'' which benefits the Santa Clara County AIDS Coalition, range from pop to blues, from jazz to ska, from country punk to heavy rock. The judges had a tough time winnowing down the 70 submissions.


Music clips from "Sounds for Hope" CD:

Listen to The Wendels' "Keep Us In Mind"
Listen to Jeff Gutman's "(You Were) On Your Way"
Listen to Megan Slankard Band's "Give Life"
Listen to Johnny Lee Hooker, Jr.'s "Keep It Real"
Listen to Sage's "Till I Found Your Love"
Listen to David Ladd's "I Juz Wanna"
Listen to Valerie Rose's "When a Mans in Love"
Listen to Habanero's "Surrounded"
Listen to The Cowlicks' "Stateline"
Listen to Thump'r's "Since My Youth"
Listen to Dave Barrett and John Garcia's "Chicago Style"
Listen to Tub's "Oh Boy"
Listen to Sherry Austin's "I Wouldn't Lie to You"
Listen to Sara Furrer's "One More Page"
Listen to Rachel Lauren's "Miracle of My Life"

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It could serve as a holiday gift. Or it could be a demo for the Los Angeles record companies to hear that there's more to Silicon Valley than computers and rap-metal. There are hints of the next Norah Jones here, the next Sublime and maybe even the next Tom Petty or Old 97s.

Any of these performers could help get San Jose back on the musical map.

Some standouts: The Cowlicks' guitarist Todd Novak is a clerk at Rasputin Records on Bascom Avenue. He recognized me from my column picture and handed me his demo CD, a regular occurrence in this job. But instead of landing on the leaning pile of discs in the living room, this one made it into my car stereo. By the time I reached the office, I was a Cowlicks fanatic.

The song writing was so sharp and focused, the performance so tight, the harmonies so smooth, I couldn't believe this was a band that still had day jobs. This quintet, which includes former Waybacks drummer Peter Tucker, is equally comfortable with Hank Williams-inspired country and Petty-flavored rock. The group's contribution, ``Stateline,'' is a mid-tempo road song that could be an FM rock radio standard.

Rachel Lauren is a 17-year-old with an unlikely passion for jazz standards. The high school student -- her friends at Archbishop Mitty know her as Rachel Udall -- got her start in musical theater and singing the national anthem at sports events. She has honed her chops in a regular gig at Maggiano's Little Italy at Santana Row. She's been scouted by more than a few big-name producers. Her contribution, ``Miracle of My Life,'' was written by Campbell studio owner and musician Robert Berry, and inspired by Kaitlyn Langstaff, a 9-year-old Saratoga girl suffering from a rare disease.

The five members of Habanero started playing together in high school but now are freshmen in colleges stretching from Sonoma to San Luis Obispo. They still manage to meet almost weekly for shows in San Jose, sometimes earning just enough money for the gas to get back to school. Their song, ``Surrounded,'' got good feedback when it was played on Live 105's ``Fast Forward'' show. Unlike a lot of younger musicians, these guys are remarkably proficient at their instruments, and charismatic singer Patrick Lynch, like a latter-day Bradley Nowell, knows how to take things over the top and bring them back again.

You can tell by his name that Johnny Lee Hooker Jr. is the offspring of one of the forefathers of rock 'n' roll. His ``Keep it Real'' precedes his coming debut album.

Hooker is backed by guitarist John Garcia, who adds a blues song of his own, ``Chicago Style,'' to the album. Garcia and harp player David Barrett teach the blues at San Jose's School of the Blues, and their effort is a lesson in smooth, funky modern blues.

With experimental roots somewhere between Radiohead and Garbage, Tub is an offshoot of the former San Jose IBOPA. Their dark, weighty ``Oh Boy'' shines with achingly beautiful originality.

Sherry Austin is a deejay at the countrified radio station KPIG-FM and is a talent in her own right. The Wendells make bouncy, jangly pop, as does Jeff Gutman. David Ladd is an internationally appreciated San Jose jazz man.

To buy the $15 disc, call (408) 451-9255 or visit www.walkforaids.org/sounds_for_hope.phtml.