- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

"That thing has been everywhere," Dick Dale says of "Miserlou," his much-licensed 1962 hit, which found new life in 1994 as the "Pulp Fiction" theme. Mr. Dale brings "Miserlou" and some new songs to the Birchmere on Monday. His latest album, "Spacial Disorientations," is Mr. Dale's most personal, with eight electric and eight acoustic tracks heavy on Spanish and Middle Eastern sounds.

Mr. Dale's loud, fast electric guitar has brought him an overwhelmingly male fan base; the acoustic, romantic music on the album is a departure for him. "It's a female friendly CD," he says by phone from a Colorado Springs, Colo., hotel room.

But the opener, "HMFIC" (Marine initials for "big boss," which contains a word unprintable here), is designed to reaffirm his 40-year reign as king of the surf guitar. A steady bass rhythm and Mr. Dale's trademark warp-speed, amp-blowing picking seem made for an X-Games soundtrack. Mr. Dale even says as much in the liner notes.

The spooky opening to "The Eliminator" and its slow, Duane Eddy beat suggest a James Bond movie. A surf version of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" is as rollicking as an old Ventures song and includes a drum solo in the spirit of the Surfaris' "Wipe Out."

An awards performance with John Lee Hooker inspired "Front Porch Blues" and "Baby Left Me." Aside from a few staccato surf notes, the hymn "Silent Night" is wisely played straight and acoustic with little jazzing up.

Middle Eastern music has always influenced Mr. Dale; he's even recorded a version of "Hava Nagila." His Lebanese uncle played the traditional "Miserlou," and Mr. Dale watched belly dancers perform it during his Boston childhood.

"Haji" continues Mr. Dale's exploration of his Middle Eastern roots. Its electric version recalls the Casbah, while the acoustic version mixes in Spanish guitar, including a vamp you'd expect to hear at a bullfight.

Because the Birchmere is a sit-down place, Mr. Dale says it makes him feel "like Bobby Darin playing the Lounge." Mr. Dale never has a set list, but "Miserlou" is a safe bet.

He says, "Every time I do an album, I say, 'That's the last one.'" Yet he enjoys describing reactions to the new sound, telling of one "rocker kid" who wants to "turn the reverb down a notch and buy an acoustic guitar."

Mr. Dale no longer surfs but not because he's too old. "The water's too damn polluted now. That's the reason some of my songs are angry."

Carbon Leaf, the only unsigned band ever to play the American Music Awards, which led some to call it the best unsigned band in the United States, plays the DC101 Chili Cookoff on Saturday.

The five-man Celtic-rock group out of Richmond "unsigned" insofar as it has no record label beat out nearly 1,000 other bands to win the first Coca-Cola New Music Award, presented at the AMA show in January by pop legend Dick Clark, who was also a judge of the contest.

"Maybe it was the Irish in him" that led Mr. Clark to give his nod to Carbon Leaf, lead singer Barry Privett says as he drives to a Norfolk gig. Could be; the band's "ether-electrified porch music" mixes rock, bluegrass, and Celtic, but it's the Celtic in their hit song "The Boxer" that earned them the chance to play it for the AMA's TV audience of 20 million.

The first track from the self-released last year "Echo Echo," "The Boxer" written, as were all the songs, by Mr. Privett was everywhere on D.C. radio in March, contributing to a raucous sellout crowd at the 9:30 Club in March, when the band opened for Great Big Sea.

"The Boxer" opens with Carter Gravatt's dancy mandolin, then adds his solid bodhran thumping. Pub-style call-and-response vocals and rollicking acoustic guitar set up Mr. Privett's tin-whistle solos, creating an addictive Celtic pop song.

Mr. Privett cites few specific Celtic influences other than his time in Ireland (the setting for the characters in "The Boxer") and Mr. Gravatt's being a Pogues fan. The band's punk-styled treatment of the traditional "Mary Mac" shows Mr. Gravatt's influence; they've also played the goofy pub song "Big Strong Man" live.

Mr. Privett admits that "Echo Echo" is "not pop like radio pop; it's just a little bit more accessible, without losing its integrity." Most of the songs are introspective but usually not too whiny. The most interesting is "Torn to Tattered," with its line "You walk the path like Charlie Brown/You're full of hope but with your head down."

"Tattered" also features Mr. Privett playing a few Charlie Brown theme bars on harmonica. "Yeah, a little riff on the Vince Guaraldi set there," he admits, alluding to the jazz musician who composed the Charlie Brown theme music for "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and other TV specials.

"I've always been a big Peanuts fan," Mr. Privett says.

The single-ready "Shine" features power guitar and drums but also a strong mandolin rhythm, not to mention lead and harmony vocals with a strong Irish inflection. The lyric "I'd like to teach me to sing in perfect harmony" is ironic, as the voices here meld excellently.

Now that they have sold 8,000 to 10,000 album copies, Mr. Privett says, "We've finally been able to pay for all that gear" all the instruments and amplifiers bought on credit.

Now what?

"We hope to be able to quit all of our jobs by the end of May."

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