Paul Wolanski, a.k.a. the Blow-Up Dolls, works in a Berea car service department by day and, in an unlikely twist, becomes a local version of early Joe Jackson the rest of the time. Sharing the same kind of agitated soulful growl that Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, and Jackson used to define the post-punk new-wave pub-rock genre, Table for Two is Wolanski's three-years-in-the-making project. The payoff is an edgy sound that tosses the Blow-Up Dolls into a similarly offbeat post-punk mutated realm. Overall, Wolanski aligns himself most evenly with the ambitious Jackson, as he has a similarly sharp phrasing and generally straightforward, simplistic rock approach. Therein lies the strength of Table for Two: Wolanski never shies away from his instrument, keeping the piano right up front musically and just a half-step behind the songs themselves. He doesn't bury or overwhelm Table with any look-at-me-I'm-a-piano-player antics, allowing the concise guitar parts and the romping drum lines (provided by Tommy Rich of Donnie Iris's band) to flesh out the sound.
The piano is obvious, perhaps because it's used so little in rock and roll anymore, but it sounds downright audacious and quirky in Wolanski's hands. Missing slightly when he gets too energetic and funky on tracks such as "Self Talk" and "Shout at the World," Wolanski sounds utterly assured on his most lyrically oriented songs, including "Merry Go Round" and "Airbrush Baby." Ultimately, Table never pretends to be something it isn't; it isn't mainstream fare, it's not predictably current, and it doesn't take cues from anything ostensibly hip these days -- and for those reasons, it provides a much-needed dose of diversity in the local rock scene.