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BETTER THAN EZRA (Buy CDs by this artist)
Surprise [tape] (Swell) 1990
Deluxe (Swell) 1993 (Swell/Elektra) 1995
friction, baby (Swell/Elektra) 1996
How Does Your Garden Grow? (Elektra) 1998
Closer (Beyond Music) 2001

After more than half a decade, the Louisiana-bred Better Than Ezra — an unwitting beneficiary of the sine wave of musical style which can come along and lift flotsam right out of the water — suddenly found a beachhead in 1995 for its clean-cut pop. Although marketed as alternative (hah!), the earnest trio has a generic sound blander than Toad the Wet Sprocket — if singer/guitarist Kevin Griffin had a stronger voice, a substantial resemblance to Hootie and the Blowfish would be worth noting. On Deluxe (self-released and then given a major label reissue), Better Than Ezra plies its inoffensive craft with the dedication of well-behaved students, doing their own work but peeking around the room to crib a little folk-anthem passion from Live, a melody from Cat Stevens (compare the chorus of "Teenager" to "The First Cut Is the Deepest"), a song title ("The Killer Inside") from Jim Thompson and a heavy grunge joke (the untitled bonus track, following the equally unconvincing country fakery of "Coyote") from some band they must have seen on MTV.

[Ira Robbins]