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Eleventh Dream Day

LONG BEFORE CHICAGO TOPPED the list of fertile' "alternative" hot spots ripe for the picking by money-grubbing, bandwagon-jumping, cash-advancing, creativity-choking, hole-digging, resentment-inducing record-industry big wigs, a wise man spoke: "JUST SAY NO!"

The messenger was, of course, taste-making recording engineer Steve Albini. His message of abstinence from tempting major-label contract offers was firm and decisive. But who among us would bite the hand that might feed us, and, with a little luck, feed us well?

Eleventh Dream Day took that chance, signing to Atlantic shortly after releasing its debut full-length offering in 1988. Subsequent releases, while superb, did not receive the necessary marketing support to reach a significantly wider audience. Departing from the label with no love lost, EDD backtracked to the independent landscape and has since issued three albums of uncompromising honesty, both musically and conceptually.

Stalled Parade made its low-key appearance recently, assuring followers that despite its reduced record production, the band is still a formidable yet fragile entity. After nearly 20 years coexisting as musicians and/or spouses, primary songwriters Rick Rizzo and Janet Beveridge Bean have separated. It has been theorized that artists produce some of their most inspired work during times of trouble, trauma and transition. Stalled Parade is evidence of that theory's merit.

Playing like a soundtrack to dying desire, the title track foreshadows the inevitable. Bean's deliberate drum beat plods along, pushing Rizzo's distorted guitar noise; Rizzo's hollow lead vocal is eerily echoed by Bean's elegiac tenor: "If you save yourself / You might save me." Harboring a soulful but rugged rootsiness and taking cues from Neil Young, Rizzo's guitar proceeds to squeal and squall its way through an emotional "Ice Storm."

"Interstate" finds Rizzo fleeing the turmoil, only to be reminded he must return to reality: "I thought of you as I turned on the dial / Scanned for a station as I searched for denial."

"Valrico74" layers plaintive acoustic guitar, quaint keys (provided by engineer John McEntire, also of Tortoise and The Sea and Cake) and Bean's lamenting vocal. Working with longtime bassist Doug McCombs (also of Tortoise), Bean and Rizzo purge the truth without apology, resentment or self-consciousness.

On "Way Too Early on a Sunday Morning," McCombs' rippling low frequencies, Bean's scattering Keith Moon-like splashes and Rizzo's lunging, feedback-sustained notes coalesce to deliver a declaration of uncertainty matched only by the song's lyrical content.

Ultimately, Stalled Parade is a metaphor for the roadblock delaying what was once a celebration of a special personal union. Fortunately for the listener, a special musical union keeps Eleventh Dream Day together.

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