December 14, 1987 12:00 PM

The dB’s

Hoboken, N.J., birthplace of Frank Sinatra, sits right across the Hudson River from New York City. Earlier this decade, before the pricey plague of sprawling gentrification struck, Hoboken was an affordable alternative to Manhattan and attracted many artists and musicians. There was even a so-called Hoboken school of music, centered around bands with catchy names like the dB’s, the Bongos and the Feelies. These groups scavenged through the graveyard of ’60s and ’70s rock and found a lot of melodic sensibilities worth salvaging. Barone is the leader of the Bongos. His solo record, Cool Blue Halo (Passport), which was recorded live at the Bottom Line in New York, contains sad-pretty melodies and simple, predominantly acoustic arrangements. There is a sensitive yet baleful Botticelli mood to this record, which is deepened by Jane Scarpantoni’s broad-bowed cello playing. Yet Barone’s stark, original songs are curiously affecting, particularly Tangled in Your Web. Barone also scores with some ingenious choices of covers, such as the Beatles’ Cry Baby Cry and Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World. If Barone’s ambitious folk-pop expressions are slightly depressive, the pop-rock bent of the dB’s is joyous. The Sound of Music (IRS) is the band’s most sophisticated and attractive offering to date. Peter Holsapple’s song-writing, abounding in pop hooks, has become wonderfully focused and catchy. Influences such as the Move, the Kinks and Todd Rundgren shimmer in the background of many of the songs. But compositions like Any Old Thing and Think Too Hard can stand proudly with any of the dB’s stylistic progenitors. The Sound of Music ranks right up there with the Replacements’ Pleased to Meet Me as one of the year’s most unexpectedly accomplished and powerful rock records.

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