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WIRE TRAIN (Buy CDs by this artist)
In a Chamber (415/Columbia) 1983
Between Two Words (415/Columbia) 1985
Ten Women (415/Columbia) 1987
Wire Train (MCA) 1990

Like former 415 labelmates Translator, San Francisco's Wire Train plays exceptional, character-filled modern folk-pop, using strong songwriting as a basis. (The two groups also shared producer David Kahne, whose brilliant efforts contributed greatly to both's records.) Wire Train achieves its style with a full-blooded guitar attack, echoey vocals and strong, rushed drumming. In a Chamber has wonderful, memorable tracks like "Chamber of Hellos" and "I'll Do You"; lesser creations at least sound just as good. A great debut album.

Between Two Words, despite Kahne's absence and a version of Dylan's "God on Our Side" that unintentionally trivializes its earnest concerns, is equally memorable. Not all of the songs work, but those that do — "Last Perfect Thing," "Skills of Summer," "Love, Love" — exhibit folk-derived melodic beauty and an uneasy emotional perspective that is not easily ignored. The writing/singing/guitar-playing duo of Kevin Hunter and Kurt Herr doesn't display a lot of range or depth, but gives the group an unmistakable, invariably pleasing identity.

Herr was replaced prior to Ten Women and his absence from the record is immediately evident. While the crystalline pop production and Hunter's sandy voice give the record a familiar patina, the slower-paced songs are pretty but routine. Where the band once soared on rich guitar interplay, Wire Train here lacks character and conviction.

The sudden arrival of a new album in 1990 ended whatever-happened-to speculation as the same quartet, assisted by Pettymen Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell and others, returned with Wire Train. Hunter's Southwestern Dylan affectations predominate: at the low point, "Oh Me Oh My" fits an obnoxious vocal imitation into "Rainy Day Women"-style carousing and pointedly includes "Is it rolling, Bob?" However, "Simply Racing" is a Stonesy chugalug and the record's most striking song ("Should She Cry?," a catchy breath of pop air) owes no stylistic debt outside the band's own past.

[Ira Robbins]