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SF Seals
 Truth Walks in Sleepy Shadows, Matador CD OLE 162-2, 1996

Silky literate pop

First things first. Veteran songwriter Barbara Manning is both a baseball nut and from San Francisco, so she named her band SF Seals after the city by the bay's old minor league baseball team. Baseball aside, the aquatic name fits the several songs on this disc that draw inspiration from la mer (the shimmering vibraphone in "Ladies of the Sea" beautifully evokes the rhythm of the waves).

This is a catchy collection of pop songs, full of soaring harmonies and sharp hooks. Succulent textures, too, with cello and viola accompanying most songs. A few obscure covers - including the Pretty Things' "SF Sorrow" (will someone please reissue this album on CD?), and John Cale's "Soul of Patrick Lee" (here sounding as though covered by Patti Smith) - show the Seals' good taste in resurrecting buried treasure.

Unfortunately, on several tracks the Seals sound like a carbon copy of their better-known labelmate, Liz Phair. They do a pretty Phair imitation of her sound: jangly guitar songs full of quirky chords and changes, topped with wispy vocals about romantic misdealings. True, Barbara doesn't share Liz's fondness for foulmouthed lyrics, but if Matador somehow mixed up the tapes and put tunes like "Locked Out" or "Pulp" on Liz's album, I doubt many fans would ever be the wiser. -  Scott Boggan


Barbara Manning, vocals; Melanie Clarin, accordian; Brently Pusser, guitar; Margaret Murray, bass.

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.