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GEAR DADDIES (Buy CDs by this artist)
Let's Go Scare Al (Gark) 1988 (Polydor) 1990
Billy's Live Bait (Polydor) 1990

Hailing from Spam-town (Austin, Minnesota, home of Hormel), the Gear Daddies serve up slices of Americana Norman Rockwell forgot to paint. The low-budget Let's Go Scare Al showcases singer-guitarist Martin Zellar's somber, country-tinged songs. (Although guitarist Randy Broughten often plays pedal steel and a snippet of a Bob Wills tune finds its uncredited way in, this is definitely a rock band.) Zellar's lyrics are populated with small town folks having trouble coping with life: tear-in-my-beer music without the false sentimentality. These guys would get run out of Nashville on a rail, but they'd probably be welcome in the other Austin.

On Billy's Live Bait, the quartet upgrades its sound and rocks more forcefully, with Zellar and Broughten bouncing guitar rhythms off one another. The portraits here are maybe a shade less grim than on Let's Go Scare Al, but it's still no laugh-fest. In fact, the album's only real humorous moment — an untitled ditty about a guy who dreams of riding the Zamboni machine used to smooth an ice rink — comes after the supposedly final song. Alas, even that wish goes unfulfilled.

[Dave Schulps]