TWENTY YEARS AGO an idealistic young songwriter named Dave Del Conte adopted the performing name Damon, gathered around him an assemblage of wandering minstrels, and created a mystical, folk-psych song-cycle entitled Song of a Gypsy. The album disappeared amid the marketing vagaries of the hippie underground, but collectors would go on to rank it alongside such icons as It's A Beautiful Day, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead.
Resurfacing recently, Damon now has a long-overdue follow-up in the bins, and he's started performing live as well. Gypsy Eyes is astonishingly true to its predecessor, both stylistically and philosophically. Not only has the singer's voice -- a resonant, precise tenor that suggests a cross between Neil Diamond and David Crosby -- not diminished with time, his ear for supple, flowing arrangements implies a more sensual approach to music-making than so-called "mature" '90s productions can offer. From the title cut's pastoral, flowing folk rock -- it sounds like an outtake from Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name solo debut, with its Jerry Garcia-like guitar spirals, tribal percussion and subtle keyboards -- to the gently rolling bluesadelia of "Song Of Love" (here, the understated fretwork is uncannily like that of Jorma Kaukonen's) to the more up-tempo, almost Moby Grape-like garage rock of "Listen To The Voice," it's hard not to listen to the album with a welcome sense of wayback-machine relief, a vacation from today's harshness and apocalyptic angst. And Damon's message is simple and timeless: faith in oneself, the healing powers of love, and how we must hold and support one another to make it through life. This message is easy to receive, harder to employ. But with this soundtrack as inspiration, give it a try. (Contact: 27525 Via Valor, Capo Beach, Calif., 92624) -- Fred Mills
No Place Fast (Norton)
IN 1978, ALONGSIDE the Modern Lovers and DMZ, the Real Kids were one of Boston's premiere alternative acts, years before the meaningless term was coined. Led by powerhouse singer-guitarist John Felice, the Real Kids melded a Rolling Stones-meet-New York Dolls rock swagger with the punchy bar-band trash pop of the Flamin' Groovies and injected this dynamite formula with the boundless energy and devil-may-care posturing of a then mushrooming U.S. punk explosion. These two stellar reissues exhume the Real Kids' classic pop 'n' roll that was all-but-forgotten (except for the group's reformation in 1993 and subsequent sporadic touring) stressing Felice's gritty, terminally teenage lyrics with highly contagious melodies and an attacking guitar sound. This winning combination catapulted the Real Kids above the ranks of the dismal skinny ties and Day-Glo pants hype of new wave (which thankfully died a quick, painful death) into the high echelon of being one of the finest pop-oriented garage punk bands to emerge from the East Coast. Although both albums are astonishing pop masterpieces, "Better Be Good" is slightly more intriguing because of its gathering of previously unreleased demos, alternate takes and the rare Sponge Records single from 1977 featuring the Real Kids' finest moment: the infectious, high-octane fervor of "All Kindsa Girls." "No Place Fast" packages together two out-of-print vinyl endeavors, the "Outta Place" album from 1982 and the 1981 "Taxi Boys" EP. Felice's distinctive lead warble, immaculate production and a revamped line-up gave the group a rougher edge here that is reinforced by consistently good song writing and spirited performances. The Real Kids were the real deal. -- Ron Bally
Q: WHAT HAS Nels Cline done? A: What hasn't he done? Not only has he played with many a jazz great, including Charlie Hayden, but also with Thurston Moore, as the guitar player for the Geraldine Fibbers and now Scarnella, as well as an axe-man for Mike Watt. He is currently regarded by many in-the-know as one of the top guitar players in the world. But despite his chops, his spirit is even more admirable. He refuses to be pigeon-holed as a jazz performer for the benefit of jazz purists, or as a jazz-influenced rocker. So why cover a Coltrane record with friend and drummer extraordinaire Gregg Bendian? Well, as the liner notes state, to pay homage to a beautiful record, rather than as a pretentious endeavor to show off. Note for note, the two pull it off without sounding pretentious. They leave enough room for improvisation, which makes this an interesting disc to have, especially if you believe that great jazz must be performed at Lincoln Center in order to be taken seriously. -- Brian Mock