Out There

Finally in front

Elaine Summers
Loosegroove Records

Pete Droge and his band the Sinners offered up one of the best releases of 1996 in Find a Door, an album of slightly skewed rock. Helping out was the potent voice of Elaine Summers, who also played guitar with the group.

Now the tables are turned on Summers' Transplanting, with Droge playing behind (and producing) her debut while she takes the spotlight. She doesn't disappoint: Transplanting--full of music that's too fresh to be Americana, yet too rooted in tradition to be considered "modern rock"--is practically an instant classic. Full of oddly compelling arrangements and rhythms that are as emotional and expressive as Summers' voice, the music on Transplanting conjures up the intersections of modern America, where the strip mall runs into the desert. It's the spot that Sheryl Crow tries so hard to capture yet seems to miss every time: You just don't really believe that Crow loves that beer buzz early in the morning. Put the same words across in Summers' girlish-but-grown voice however, and you're there.

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Summers and Droge play almost all the instruments on nearly all the songs, but the album doesn't suffer from the stylistic straightjacket that such limited personnel can sometimes impose. Rather, there's an ebullience and enthusiasm behind the songs here that conjures up a block party (a swinging, bouncy remake of the Troggs' "Our Love Will Still be There"), an evening cruise down life's main drag ("Tell Me About It"), or a bundle of best wishes to a former lover that reveals both damage and the ability to forgive ("Laugh"). The songs are full of electric guitars that know exactly when to growl in the background and when to roar to the fore, cushioned by acoustic and slide guitar, Hammond organ, harmonica, and just enough lo-fi to add grit without contrivance. Her approach (the gospel-y chorus on "Real Low Down," the cascading series of Elaines that start "Witness," the oily clockwork that paces "Ain't No Way," a story about final comeuppance) has that just-perfect amount of sonic overstatement--verging on the cartoonish--that is the real spirit of rock and roll.

Whether she's contemplating liberation or loss ("Fly" and "Gone to Stay," respectively) or telling a boy what it takes ("To Be Mine"), Summers captures not only the essence of a song, but the nut of its emotion. Transplanting is a very promising start, and the kind of record that makes you itch to see the artist live.

--Matt Weitz

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