- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2002

Buzz can be a two-edged sword for some bands. Just ask Clare Quilty, a Charlottesville group that went from having its first album praised by music critics and college radio stations to seeing its followup, a more polished effort, fall by the wayside.
"The band started as something to do during graduate school," says Michael Rodi, guitarist and principal songwriter, by phone. "And it started to work really well."
So well that Lightyear Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, picked up the group's 1997 debut, "Sugar-Lik," after the D.C. label DCID first released it. Positive reviews came in from around the country, leading to high expectations for the group's followup.
In between, the group changed its lineup and toured heavily, leading to the 2000 sophomore effort "Strong." The present lineup includes Mr. Rodi, lead singer Jenn Rhubright, bassist Chris Ruotolo and new drummer Jay Amburgey. Old drummer Stuart Gunter left the group last year.
"We all felt the bar had been raised," Mr. Rodi says of the second album. "We were being watched and taken seriously."
"Strong" opens with the ominous "Anger is Beautiful," as Miss Rhubright sings like a sedated Liz Phair to a trip-hop style backdrop. The tone shifts often, from the angry, distorted guitars of "Secret Sharer," to the power pop of "Angel of the Odd" and the edgy yet melodic "Comfort Me."
Though external and internal pressure weighed heavy on the group, Mr. Rodi says the end result is still a quality record, with contributions from more members of the band.
"The response was muted," he says. "People who found it thought they had discovered some hidden treasure, which says a lot."
Without the glare of public expectations, though, the band has been able to return to truly enjoying recording and playing, Mr. Rodi says. A new "quieter" album of material, focusing more on samples, grooves and trip-hop beats, will likely be released in the summer.
The group plays the Velvet Lounge Friday.
Though the band has matured significantly in the last several years, Mr. Rodi says he only "occasionally regrets" the group's moniker, the name of Humbert Humbert's rival for the affections of Lolita in Vladimir Nabokov's controversial book.
"Now that I'm a dad I sometimes go 'What was I thinking?'" he laughs. "We were a lot punkier, a lot more playful then."

A car ride without a radio or CD player might be uncomfortable for some, but for the duo Mercy Creek it's an opportunity.
"As we drive we always have the guitars out," says drummer Jim Ball over the phone. "When we come up with a musical idea, we chronicle the idea and put it to tape."
Mr. Ball and singer-guitarist Cheryl Nystrom bring their country-tinged folk from their home in Weems, Va., to Bistro Bistro in Reston tonight.
Their collaboration together began after the band they were in, Genghis Angus, broke up after more than 12 years together. Miss Nystrom was a backup singer for the roots outfit and began writing songs with Mr. Ball three years ago.
Those efforts resulted in 1999's "The Name of the Record is Mercy Creek," of which they burned copies for fans and distributed at shows. The positive response has led them to record a followup, "Dirty Water," which was released in December and is available via the band's Web site at www.mercycreek.com.
Miss Nystrom's voice sounds a bit like those of Sarah McLaughlan and Natalie Merchant, with a more bluesy, organic feel. While the duo plays alone at shows, they bring in electric and bass guitars, additional percussion and other elements onto their studio recordings.
"We feel like 'Dirty Water' is more of an aggressive record, a little less innocent," Mr. Ball says. "Just playing and playing has hardened us a bit."

The British music press seems to pick a new favorite band every week, so it's easy to take reports about Starsailor with a grain of salt. The British band had a top 20 hit in the United Kingdom last spring with a demo song, earning it raves before the quartet even released an album.
That song, "Fever" is fleshed out on the group's long-awaited debut, "Love Is Here," only recently released in the United States. It's a bit hard to classify the band's sound, as the influence of more than a dozen artists can clearly be felt on its debut, including Radiohead, James and a host of '70s songwriters (think Neil Young, Van Morrison and Tim Buckley).
Hype aside, the group is still worth checking out, even if they probably won't have the same impact as their fellow Brits Coldplay did here last year. Starsailor open for the Charlatans UK at the 9:30 Club Wednesday.

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