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Life may get better for Branch, Rooney, Firstman

Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass., April 26, 2004

By Jeffrey B. Remz

WELLESLEY, MA - Life's been good so far for Michelle Branch. Very good. She came out of the chute on her first album with the hit "Everywhere" and scored several more hits as well since then with a second good album, "Hotel Paper," released as well.

The Arizona native has been on several high profile tours, including opening for the Dixie Chicks last year, playing her band of mainly self-penned songs in a pop rock genre.

Branch now is headlining the Virgin College Mega Tour, hitting college campuses around the country with several acts (possibly) on the way up.

But Branch may have been upstaged by the middle act of the evening, the popular California buzz band Rooney. Being the favorite of one of the characters on the OC television show hasn't hurt raise the band's profile.

Rooney proved to be a bit more active and aggressive musically in hammering out melodic, catchy pop rock.

Lead singer Robert Camine is a good front man. He sang well enough and displayed enough pizzazz without being over the top during the band's 40 minutes onstage before about 600 students, a small crowd given the quality of the acts (it should be noted, however, that the Wellesley campus has been reeling over the death of a student during the previous week).

And the group's remaining four members do a good job of keeping things moving with drummer Ned Brower setting a good beat.

Closing with the catchy and somewhat different "I'm Shakin'," Rooney proved itself to be a band of promise.

As for Branch, her main problem probably was one of health. She acknowledged well into the show that she suffered from a sinus condition and was not quite up to par. While she proved to be a trooper, one got the sense that this wasn't one of her best shows.

The concert did not have a tremendous amount of momentum. For some reason, Branch took too long in between songs for way too long, changing one acoustic guitar for another.

Branch deserved credit for a different spin on her first hit the crackling "Everywhere" where she kept it softer and acoustic before kicking in several minutes into the song. She also played one song ("Not the Good Kind," which she at first mistakenly labeled country) for the first time and apparently another one she rarely plays.

Branch ended the evening quite well, turning it up a notch. And she did justice with a cover of Oasis' "Wonderwall." And she underscored her limitations by telling the crowd after the final song that while she appreciated them, she also wasn't going to be able to do an encore because her voice had about enough for one night.

Branch certainly wasn't over the top, but she has enough quality songs, strong enough of a warm stage presence and a pleasant voice that may indicate her success heretofore has been no fluke.

The evening started with rangy pianist Joe Firstman. With one album under his belt on Atlantic, Firstman mixed it up musically, but seemed most at home on soulful songs.

Firstman has not penned any killer songs yet, but like the others on the bill, he showed himself to possess some musical chops.

Based on their outings on this one night, life may well get better for Firstman, Rooney and Branch.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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