Going Legit 

With a new album and a new label, Kevin Bacon might finally be taken seriously as a musician.

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Let’s face it, Kevin Bacon has balls. He couldn’t be happy just being Hollywood’s six-pack-sporting everyman for the last 20 years, playing everything from a dance-aholic to a see-through psychopath to a worm terminator. No, he had to go and pick up a guitar. He had to write songs. He had to be a rock star. And worse yet, he wants to be taken seriously.

Sound AffectsTHE START Shakedown! (The Label) Blondie (or No Doubt) is the standard reference point for any band featuring a spunky female fronting boys with guitars, but The Start’s new-wave electroshock owes far more to vintage Divinyls—pre-“I Touch Myself,” that is. Singer Aimee Echo has Christina Amphlett’s sexy rasp ‘n’ coo nailed, and with those synths pumping just below the guitar grind, Shakedown! is a hooky ’80s party for the big-pants generation. If radio stations would play more of this wacky “alternative” music, the kids might get a kick out of The Start.

KELLY HOGANBecause It Feel Good (Bloodshot) Former Rock*A* Teens singer Kelly Hogan turned to heartbreaking honky-tonk torch songs because, well, she’s so damned good at it that only the untouchable Neko Case comes to mind as being in the same alt-country zip code. Simultaneously sweet, erotic and commanding, Hogan opens her third solo disc with the haunting “I’ll Go to My Grave Loving You,” and you sure as hell believe it. Ten tracks of absolute heartbreak perfection—if there are truck stop jukeboxes in heaven, they probably only cue this album. OK, and maybe a little Neko Case.

ISLEY BROTHERS Eternal (Dream Works) This is how it’s done, son: Ronald’s silky soul pipes and Ernie’s tangy Strat licks holding court over 14 slow jams, most over five minutes long—a real lover-man wouldn’t even consider taking any less, ladies. R. Kelly and Chanté Moore drop in for the smoldering “Contagious” single, but the heat gets turned up even higher when neo-soul diva Jill Scott slips between the sheets on “Said Enough.” But, even without the new-school R&B cameos, the Isleys are still the Kings of Smooth—now if only the guitar-man would have cut loose more on “Eric’s Jam.”

BUTTERFLY JONES Napalm Springs (Vanguard) Is it fair to hold the all-too-familiar ’92 Dada hit “Dizz Nee Land” against Butterfly Jones, consisting of guitarist Mike Gurley and drummer Phil Leavitt? Yes and no: Dada churned some cheese, but they were a rock-solid power-pop trio, and Gurley could peel off brain-melting guitar heroics when the mood stuck him. Butterfly Jones doesn’t completely abandon the cheddar, but the musical surprises fly faster and denser now than they ever did with Dada, especially on the burning “It’s Alright,” the perfect fusion of Gurley’s axe-slinger and pop-maestro tendencies. Sorry, no threats against “President George” included on Napalm Springs.

—Bill Frost

“Legitimacy has been the biggest hurdle we’ve had since we started this band,” Bacon says, trying to ignore the screaming of his kids and wife Kyra Sedgwick in the background. “That’s been our cross to bear.”

Thing is, you should take Bacon seriously. While not the most successful crossover in recent years—sadly, J.Lo and her booty have that honor wrapped up—Bacon is by far the best. He writes introspective songs about love and life, smothering it all in the classic rock he grew up on and the country he discovered on the set of Tremors. Throw in older sibling Michael’s quirky tracks and subtle string arrangements—his day job is writing scores for Hollywood flicks—and the Bacon Brothers will more than surprise you. Sure, Kev probably won’t ever plop down a Grammy next to all those acting awards. And you’ll never be able to transfer that silly game over to the music world. But as far as good time rock—the kind that goes best with beer, burgers and jalapeno poppers—the Bacon Brothers have it down pat.

It’s taken a while for people to realize that, though. When the group started seven years ago, playing a charity gig at one of the Bacons’ old hometown Philly haunts, the band was seen as merely a novelty act: Come watch Ren MacCormack put down his dancing shoes and pick up a guitar. Keanu had more musical cred. But when the group’s first record, Forosoco—short for folk, rock, soul and country—came out in ’97, people realized the band wasn’t some goofy method-man joke. This was legit. Critics grudgingly gave out good reviews. Fans started showing up for the music, not the singer.

“I think people realize that this isn’t about feeding egos or getting more adulation,” Bacon says. “Sure, it’s a blast to play in front of people and hear the screams and stuff. But this is really just about the music. We think these songs are good and that we have something to offer. You can either play in the living room for your wife or you can take the risk that people will throw tomatoes at you. I wanted to take the risk.”

It was a gutsy move. Most would-be Hollywood rockers have watched their careers disintegrate quicker than a ballistic missile treaty—anyone remember 90210’s Jamie Walters? Sure, it’s natural for pop stars to show up in Hollywood fluff. Entertainers from Sinatra to Snoop Dogg have tried their hands at acting, some actually pulling off the permanent switch—see Marky Mark Wahlberg. But the door rarely swings both ways. So even though the Bacon Brothers have left the self-financed ranks, inking a deal with indie Rounder, there’s still a stigma that follows the band like a stale fart. “In all honestly, it hasn’t gotten any easier as we’ve gone along,” Bacon says. “And part of it is because all these actors are out playing music.” Playing bad music, Kev.

That hasn’t been the case with the Bacon Brothers, though. Doubters need only to check out the group’s third disc, Can’t Complain. While not as strong as their ’99 offering, Getting There, the record is full of folked-up, thought-provoking numbers that rival anything Matchbox Twenty is banging out these days. From the hook-heavy “Paris” to the just plain goofy “Don’t Leave the Lava Lamp on for Me,” the Bacon boys prove that they can handle pretty much anything. “Grace” is full of dusty backroads and subtle twang. “Bus” is the kind of groovy acoustic brew frat-boys drink by the gallon. The group even manages to pull off the symphonic “She is the Heart” without sounding overblown and pretentious.

“Mike was really excited about doing that,” Bacon says. “He always felt that the band and his arrangement work were two totally separate things, so he was really happy to bring those two together. I think it worked out really well, too. It just made the song go way beyond what I ever heard.”

Bacon is hoping Rounder will pull off the same stunt. While the band has always been able to pack clubs around the country, the group has never been able to rack up any serious sales numbers. Blame it on the fact that, until now, you couldn’t even find a Bacon Brothers disc in most record stores. Rounder should change that. Hell, the band might even get some radio exposure. But even though scoring a deal could seriously benefit the band, Bacon’s also a little leery. He knows the entertainment business. It’s not pretty.

“Let’s face it, the business side—it all sucks. Music, movies, it all sucks,” he says. “That side of it just isn’t fun. But hopefully this will mean we can get in front of more people.”

If it doesn’t all work out, at least the band has given Bacon an idea for a movie. “I’d love to do a documentary on guitar techs,” he says enthusiastically. “They’re such an unusual breed. All the things they do behind the scenes. And they all have one thing that seems to connect them: Every guitar tech I’ve ever scene seems to have an incredible amount of hair. What’s that about?”

The Bacon Brothers. The Bite of Salt Lake Downtown Food & Music Festival, Gallivan Center, 239 S. Main, Friday Aug. 31, 8:30 p.m.

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Jeff Inman

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