Matthew Clay, Crown Yourself King It’s pretty amazing what can come out of the do-it-yourself movement. Matthew Clay appears to be an artist with a new record on an indie label, but it doesn’t take much sleuthing to figure out that the Ottumwa, Iowa-based Freakin Records (as in, “Give me my Freakin Records”) is a one-man outfit, promoting only Clay.

Yet Clay’s Crown Yourself King is a damned impressive record, an all-encompassing mishmash of alt-rock styles that’s remarkably polished, confident, and effective. You’ve got to like a Midwestern guy who seems to idolize Badly Drawn Boy, from the sparkling songcraft to the cheese to the slightly overproduced feel. This is more of a rock record than pop, though, and it sounds for all the world like an album with some major-label muscle behind it.

Clay has several shows coming up in the area – including at Peabody’s on April 25 and Theo’s Java Club on May 3 – and it will be interesting how well this on-record-one-man-band translates to the live setting.

The CD kicks off with three infectious bubblegum rockers that grab you and don’t let go. “What a Beautiful Day to Die” could be a downbeat rallying cry if it weren’t so damned giddy.

The record falters a little when it slows down with tracks such as “Vintage 99,” which has a “More than Words” feel, including finger snaps. Clay has a rich voice – a cousin to Michael Stipe, with a touch more meat, and with some Trent Reznor – but even it can’t carry material that weak. “Rainbow Tree” is a slice of cheese, but it’s more up-tempo and a lot sillier, so it slides down much easier.

Generally, though, those lighter tracks sound forced. It’s clear that Clay’s in love with the electric guitar, and when he uses it, he’s pretty much unstoppable. In its power-pop highlights, Crown Yourself King makes it sound as if Clay could indeed (to borrow from one of his song titles) kill Superman.

Tiffany Christopher

Sometimes, it’s not just a good idea to look beyond the hype. It’s essential.

So it is with Tiffany Christopher, who will be a playing a show on Friday at Rock Island Rapids. Her promo sheet is full of some shocking superlatives. “This young superstar in the making will undoubtedly become one of the most sought after performers in history,” says the PR from Rock Island’s DreamWeaver Entertainment Group. “She is destined to explode worldwide with nothing in her way except arenas packed with eager current and future fans.”

That’s hype that could dwarf all but a few established musical artists, let alone one just trying to make a name for herself.

But Christopher is a talented and charismatic singer, based on a recent untitled CD. Like Jewel with a bit more bite and a little less polish, she shows a flair for country folk rock that often transcends the lack of production and some thin backing tracks.

Of special note is “Cheat,” a galloping little rocker that shows Christopher singing sweetly one moment and having her voice crack with emotion the next. It showcases her versatile voice but also shows that on top of a decent arrangement, she can create something special. That’s also evident on the CD-closing the horn-accented “Bombay,” which features effective backing vocals.

Christopher is definitely worth catching, and if she doesn’t live up to her hype, it’s not surprising. She’s certainly starting off on the right foot, though.

Matthew Clay will play at Peabody’s in Davenport on April 25 and Theo’s Java Club in Rock Island on May 3. For more information on him or his CD, visit (http://www.matthewclay.com).

Tiffany Christopher will perform Friday, April 18, at Rock Island Rapids in downtown Rock Island. Joey Sawyer opens, and the show starts at 8 p.m.

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