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Rained-out performance doesn't dampen Jah Works' enthusiasm

When Jah Works broke into Baltimore's local music scene 10 years ago, the group was eager to pay tribute to Jamaican music legends - it didn't matter that the band wasn't ready for the spotlight.

"We really should have stayed in the basement for the first couple of years, but we were so fired up about reggae, and we wanted to get out there," said guitarist Kevin Gorman.

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Just five or six songs were penned and practiced before the enterprising band - which was to open the Baltimore Books Festival before the threat of Hurricane Isabel led to tomorrow's events being canceled - started looking for gigs.

They landed a few spots as an opening act at the old 8x10 Club, where the group's traditional reggae sound fell on the ears of parents, siblings and acquaintances.

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"We threatened and cajoled all of our friends to see us," said singer Scott Paynter.

But the guilt trips only got them so far, and the band realized that it needed to offer a real show, something that would separate them from the fray of other local acts.

By broadening its musical frame of reference, the band allowed its members to pull from their individual and diverse inspirations, from the soulful rhythms of Motown and R&B; to the live energy of classic rock n' roll.

"You have to have your own sound. So we decided that it was cool to let these other influences come in," said Gorman.

That choice has made all the difference for Jah Works, which now plays more than 225 gigs each year.

"We didn't have to beg anybody to come to see us" anymore, quipped Paynter, who, with a few other Loyola College students, formed the band after graduation in 1993.

To date, the seven-piece outfit has sold more than 55,000 copies of its five independent releases and regularly tours - both across the country and in Jamaica. Recently, the band played a USO show for American troops in Greenland and is scheduled to perform a few dates in Amsterdam this fall.

Though Gorman and Paynter are both excited about the prospect of reaching out to a new set of international fans, the ever-modest rockers said they still look forward to performances at the local level.

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In fact, Jah Works is just happy to play to energetic crowds and loyal fans, wherever they are.

"We're extremely blessed. To be honest, we're still doing it because people are still coming out to see us," Gorman said.

Upcoming dates

Saturday: The Recher Theatre in Towson -- 512 York Road, Towson. 410-337-7178.

Oct. 1: The 9:30 Club -- 815 V St., N.W., Washington. 202-393-0930.

Oct. 3: Mick O'Shea's -- 328 N. Charles St. 410-539-7504

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Baltimore Book Festival

When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Mount Vernon Place, in the 600 block of N. Charles St.

Details: Rain or shine. Free admission. More than 120 literary exhibitors, music, food, children's activities and a Storybook Parade.

Information: www.bop.org


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