HiTown keeps the "Brown Bags to Stardom" tradition spinning.
THE "Brown Bags to Stardom" tradition is still close to Kid Leo's early "Island Love" albums - one languid synthesizer ballad after another. However, the symbiotic relationship between HiTown principal Matt Young, I-94 Program Director Alan Oda and Brown Bags "title sponsor" Post Cereals provides a budget that Leo could only dream of.
Even the weak songs generally have instrumental presence; music programmer Ronnie Esteban has outdone himself as Young's one-man synthetic band.
The two most memorable songs depart from the format. "I'll Be There (Turner's Song)," is sung a capella by Tenderoni (formerly West Side Harmony), an act that never participated in Brown Bags teen talent competition.
The quartet won Oceanic Cablevision's "Road to Fame" contest last fall and was signed by Young .
Young is using "I'll be There" for at least the third time on one of his projects. (He co-wrote the song with Freddy Von Paraz as a requiem for their friend and business associate Turner Pe'a.) This version is the keeper. Co-producer Timmy Gatling adds a hint of bass; it's Tenderoni's best work ever. The group is clearly learning to focus on harmonies and not strain so hard to sound soulful.
Sunway's "I'm Over You" is the only high-energy song. She sings it well; it's a fine showcase for Esteban too. Esteban was a Brown Bags also-ran in the '80s but debuted as a recording artist with Johnny J. Jamm in 1990.
The other tracks are fodder for I-94's teen audience. The liner notes reveal that the Emotions' minor 1977 hit, "Don't Ask My Neighbors" is Tenderoni's all-time favorite song. Their remake naturally gets major play on I-94.
Teens with no knowledge of Stevie Wonder are likewise the prime market for Damon Williams' extremely close copy of Wonder's 1981 hit, "Lately."
Williams won Brown Bags as Best Recording Artist this year and has two songs on the disc. The second, "I Need You More," isn't an obvious remake but shrewdly echoes pop hits.
Williams is the notable male on the album. The remaining females are presented as interchangeable voices-of-the-month.
Sharon Sanchez scores as composer of "If Only You Were Here," another song inspired by a premature death.
Anne Aquino lucks out with Gatling's catchy arrangement of "Make it Like it Was" - it could have gone to Lorie Salvatera or Sara Siu just as easily. Siu got a Fugees-style remake of Melissa Manchester's 1975 hit, "Midnight Blue," that finds arrangers Gat-
ling and Young doing to Manchester what the Fugees did to Roberta Flack. Salvatera's "Music & Me" was recorded without Esteban; as a result, it sounds very thin .
K-Dean's "Gimme Love" is a throwaway; it proves Jawaiian posers aren't yet extinct. However, give album overseers Oda and Young credit for including extensive annotation. If this album is an indication of the future, the 1997 Brown Bags album will be one to watch for.