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FEAR OF STRANGERS (Buy CDs by this artist)
Fear of Strangers (Faulty Products) 1982
Lonesome Val (Bar/None / Restless) 1990

Fear of Strangers, an Albany, New York quartet, was known as the Units until a dispute with the San Francisco band of the same name led to a new handle. Fear of Strangers mixes simple, melodic rock with clever topical lyrics (making the group an early entrant in the neo-protest revival), drawing strength from the presence of three songwriters. The music is fresh and catchy if a bit načve; Val Haynes, a strong, clear-toned vocalist showing traces of Joan Baez amid the rock stylings, provides most of the band's (and album's) character.

Going solo with a mild country twang, Haynes (and Fear of Strangers bassist Steve Cohen) relocated to New York City, where years spent working local clubs brought widespread critical acclaim and, finally, a recording contract. Lonesome Val begins with an uplifting, infectious charmer ("To Be Young") and continues with a defiant rocker ("You Won't Say You Love Me"), but the remainder of Haynes' songs plod along slowly and cautiously, lacking the exuberance that would have given them real life.

[Ira Robbins]