Small Minds (Watermelon)
As David St. Hubbins once said, "There's a fine line between stupid and clever." A comedy/novelty band making a concept album would seem to fall into the former category. However, such a band managing to pull it off would have to be moved to the latter. Small Minds is indeed clever, even if calling it a concept album is a bit of a stretch. Humor-oriented music, especially of the type descending from the Kingston Trio school of semi-political folk, has always found stupid people to be excellent song-fodder. So a whole set of tunes touching on the various aspects of ignorance isn't beyond the cleverness of a band like the Austin Lounge Lizards. From the simple (the cheap numerical jokes of "Half a Man" and the neo-Gumpism of "Life Is Hard, But Life Is Harder When You're Dumb") to the sublime ("Bonfire of the Inanities"' ponderance on the insignificance of mankind), and off into the savage socio-political swipes of "Gingrich the Newt," they all continue to pack the right amount of jokes and musical surprises into their songs, along with the catchy mandolin/banjo/steel guitar fun they've provided through years of gigs and dozens of changing members. Good stuff. Unless you're a Republican. And/or dumb.
3.5 stars - Ken Lieck
Raisin' Cain (Justice)
Maybe the list of players (Doug Sahm, Floyd Domino, Johnny Gimble, Flaco Jimenez, etc.) set my expectations too high. Maybe the repeated misspelling of Jimmie Rodgers' name on the lyric sheet to "Train of Dreams" just got my goat. Either way, this album seems to me to live up to its name too well; it raises Cain (a nice, acceptable family euphemism) when it oughtta be raisin' hell. Dayton's voice doesn't sink, but neither does it sail on this all-original set. Dayton's country-meets-rock-meets-honky-tonk tunes aren't to blame; they manage to sound current without being plastic and "country radio ready," and while there's no new ground broken here lyrically, there's good, playful handling of cliché, as in "If fools really tread where angels fear/Then what's an angel like you doing here?" (from "Angel Like You.") The playing is fine, too, and there are occasional treats from the various band members, but on the whole, Raisin' Cain never quite rises above just Abel.
2.5 stars -Ken Lieck
Live at the Outhouse
It's always a good idea to record your band's last gig before you break up. It's a better idea yet when the band is still in good form at the time. And if you can get a release-quality recording out of it, then it's a really good idea. A review of the band, included in the liner notes, uses the phrase "Dylan meets Sugar." That may be a bit of a stretch, but on a knee-jerk level at least, it's fairly apt. There's a bit of a Bob Mould edge to the production on this tape, as well as an electric-folk tinge to the band's sound, though it falls much easier into the rock category, and certainly belongs more in the modern world than in Dylan's decade. Potter's Field's music is upbeat, though without mindless optimism in the lyrics. Despite the finality of the tape's concept (if a band's breakup can ever be considered "final" anymore), this is hardly a mope-fest either. The title of the set's opening song, in fact, best sums up what PF offers in its music: "Pockets of Hope."
3.0 stars -Ken Lieck
Backfeed Magnetbabe (Trance Syndicate)
Whither the buzz? It can either catapult you to super-duper-megastardom a la Live or slice your hand off quicker than you can say "Weezer." No band can survive without a buzz, but to invoke Janet Jackson, it all comes down to "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" Sixteen Deluxe has to answer that question every time they play. The young Trance band, best described as Ed Hall's kid sister, have had their asses kissed by the buzz-creators, and while it's still too early to tell if they're deserving of the lipstick, Backfeed Magnetbabe is a sizable step in the right direction. Underneath all the hype, Sixteen Deluxe is a very competent rock band. On their debut, the songs still tend toward the tripped-out jams of their live shows, but they are seldom flat-out boring. Live staples "Fetus," "Baby Headrush," and "Now" benefit from clean production (it's amazing what a nice voice singer Carrie Clark has, when you can hear it) without losing that propulsive Trance throb, and "Idea" is one of those perfect singles every band should be so lucky to write. The record ends with a 15-minute, feedback-drenched version of Alex Chilton's "Kangaroo," but apparently record-closing long distortion jams are mandatory for Trance releases these days. If Backfeed Magnetbabe weren't so solid and full of potential, Sixteen Deluxe would be gone. But this is a band that still has its best record ahead of it, and if they can stay together long enough, maybe they can show all us frustrated musicians in the press a thing or two about the buzz. And really, what do we know, anyway?
3.5 stars - Chris Gray
Blind Hips In Motion (Wide Open)
David Garza has always been too nice of a guy to deserve his status as press whipping-boy, but not saintly enough to merit overlooking the unfocused pop crap he seemed to release as often as the wind changed direction. Now, in a stripped-down trio format, Garza has learned both the merits of pop's simplicity and how to swing complicated phrases around complicated rhythms. At his best - the opening one-two punch of "Core" and "Grab" - Garza juggles both facets superbly. And even when he only concentrates on one lesson, he's a smooth enough balladeer and quirky enough rocker to pull off a genre-jumper that might not be entirely cohesive, but is something far more - part and parcel of his first consistently challenging record.
3.0 stars - Andy Langer
DEEP BLUE SOMETHING
Able to make Jackopierce look punk in a single acoustic strum, Deep Blue Something's approach is to embrace that which their hometown of Denton rebelled against with its noise scene - Deep Ellum fluff. Does that make them alternative? No, just lame. This reissue of their independent Home only supports the theory that their regional hit single "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is not cute after all, just safely stupid. And sadly, after signing The Reverend Horton Heat, The Toadies, and Brutal Juice, Interscope's release of Home mark's the label's first Dallas misstep: waist-deep into shit.
(no stars) - Andy Langer
THE FLYING SAUCERS
Here are five seamlessly executed pieces of cavernous, droning space rock that exude an ever-so-slight hint of Eighties Southern pop a la Reivers. For better or worse, the Flying Saucers refuse to challenge the sedentary listener; their songs simply flow. "Fitting (Come in for a)" leads off with a trace of engagement, but the remaining songs show that the band's propensity for pop hooks is in need of further development. This music works as esoteric background noise, which certainly has its time and place, but it's unlikely to make you step back and invoke superlatives of anger or joy.
2.0 stars - Greg Beets
LOST GONZO BAND
Hands of Time (Vireo)
The Gonzos have always made a big deal about genre-mixing, but is that a virtue in and of itself? Hands of Time is a typical Gonzo scattershot, a little of this and that, but ultimately being less than the sum of the talent on hand (this version of the Gonzos is John Inmon, Bob Livingston, Lloyd Maines, Riley Osbourn, Tomas Ramirez, and Paul Pearcy). There are certainly flashes of brilliance - Inmon blasts some typically hot guitar solos, Livingston's explorations of Indian music are peppered throughout, and the lyrics of Livingston and Reade Wood's title track come off like a Gonzo version of the Talking Heads' "Nothing but Flowers." I certainly commend covering "Big Ol' White Boys," Terry Allen's blistering critique of European imperialism, but some songs, frankly, are just boring, and it never comes together as a cohesive whole, and ends up sounding like a spare-time project from these musicians' money gigs, which, of course, it is. Other Gonzo activities come from the Shakin' Apostles, featuring Inmon and longtime Jerry Jeff Walker drummer Freddy "Steady" Krc. Tucson certainly doesn't lack focus, as it's a concept album telling the story of an Arizona cowboy whose love for a woman results in the murder of her father and a life on the run. It's a respectable effort from Krc, but not really spectacular. As far as country/rock concept albums go, it certainly doesn't compare with Willie Nelson's ventures into the field, or even Alvin Crow's never-released Free at Last (A White Trash Opera). The storyline has potential, but the execution just isn't as compelling as it could be. Once again, however, there are some solid guitar parts, I assume from Inmon, but possibly from Danny Thorpe.
2.5 stars (both) - Lee Nichols
Looking for the Light (Columbia)
As far as overproduced Nashville albums go, this Round Rock native's second effort is not too bad. But that's not saying much, is it? Just like his debut album last year, Trevino alternates some decent country twangers, heavily imitative of George Strait, with those godawful, Eagles-influenced ballads that heavily pollute so-called "country" radio. Trevino's art would be enhanced if he spent some time hanging out at Jovita's listening to Don Walser, but obviously, his bank account wouldn't, so I imagine he'll stay on the Nashville path. He at least covers Merle Haggard, so there's some hope for him, but he certainly won't find the light with those major labels.
2.0 stars - Lee Nichols
BANANA BLENDER SURPRISE
No Shower Week (Secret Ingredient)
This album is far better than it should be. Considering that it's the result of endless hours at the House of Groove (Black Cat to you commoners), it's a tremendous feat that each of these catchy little ditties lasts no longer than three or four minutes (though the repeat and fade choruses hint at how the agony is probably prolonged for the swilling, swirling meat market). Though they kick off the CD sounding a bit like Jimmy Buffet, the band quickly show that it's a little bit country and a little bit rock & roll - circa early Carl Perkins. Actually, they zip all over the place with a ZZ Top sound-alike, a Doors-ish freak-out, and a whistled mess that could be the theme to some Seventies TV drama starring Bill Bixby. The forays into doofy groove (replete with dueling harmonica and guitar) are forgivable and not all that bad since they don't seem to take themselves too seriously. True to their name, they've whipped up quite a mishmash of music here. Some swallows go down smooth, others are a bit chunky.
3.0 stars - Mindy LaBernz
Strange Things (Zanman)
Hey, who let the adults in the control room? It actually sounds like a grown-up wrote and produced these songs. Why, it seems like he's actually developed a coherent musical vision here. But, is it a good vision? Well, he understands it, believes it, and presents it convincingly. While the New-Agey CD cover does his enchanting song-driven sound a disservice, it does convey the overall peaceful aura it emanates. With a voice that is more ironic than the songs' contents (much talk of coyotes and the Rio Grande) and chord progressions that are more subtle and complex than your average country song, he evades traditional genre placement. Actually, he drops squarely into AAA radio; this must be getting mucho KGSR airtime. With less stranger things going on here than the title track would suggest, he'd probably do better to rename it "Soundtracks for Sunsets" and put Peña art on the cover.
3.0 stars - Mindy LaBernz
All the Spanish I know I learned on Sesame Street, and at Güero's. Yet it doesn't matter when I listen to this record. After a blatant attempt at commercialism with last year's predominantly English Destiny's Gate, Hinojosa returns to her roots for the almost all-Spanish Frontejas. She's always had a pure and beautiful voice, but sometimes the passion has been lacking. Not here. She joyously romps through the traditional "Pajarillo Barranqueno (Little Riverside Bird)," and her own drinking song "Otro Vasito (Another Little Glass)" with Santiago Jimenez, Jr., and Eva Ybarra, respectively, on scintillating accordions. Then there's her achingly gorgeous ballads, such as "Dejame Llorar (Let Me Weep)," which can make you cry in any language. Of course the Vegas-meets-Mexico showtune "Polka Fronterrestrial" - a duet with Ray Benson - also deserves a mention. It's a playful celebration that mixes a bunch of different genres yet somehow manages to work. It's a theme that Hinojosa would like us to transfer to people as well, and her message comes across clearly, sensually, joyously, and beautifully, no matter what your lingual or musical preferences may be.
3.5 stars - Al Kaufman
A pop band comprised of ex-Berklee students - yeccch. Musically overeducated pop bands are a generally shady lot; they usually overplay, oversing, over-chorus, and generally overdo it. Our Plum ain't half bad for bunch of Players, but they still lack the guileless wonderment of a truly gear pop band. XTC and Crowded House are unquestionably worthy heroes, but the former suffers from a delicious dementia and the latter suffers no lack of genius songwriting. Plum suffers from nothing but flatness. No wonder they inexplicably brought Steely Dan to mind.
2.0 stars - Mindy LaBernz
Crossing the Line (Unclean)
Exactly what line is being crossed with Stretford's debut full-lengther remains undefined. Is it the line that separates three-chord, fuck-you rock (which they never were, were they?) from full-grown songs of power and emotion which still never abandon punk rock roots? Hard to believe, listening to Crossing the Line, that Stretford once housed a trio of rank amateurs doing their best to undermine the imaginative post-Pete Shelley songcrafting of leader Carl Normal. Now, with only "Zerox Love" remaining from those days, Stretford trademarks a band of Who-like fire and skill, capable of not only the most nimble bashing, but immense drama and subtlety. The horn section's gone from gimmick to a necessary color, a cello pops in for a visit on "Silhouette" (an unheard-of touch from the usually mindless local punk scene), and Sephton's songwriting has developed from being a window of 1977 to a crafty display of bitter rage, melancholy, and regret. Gifts like these and an individual vision like this - as well as an unwavering devotion to protecting and seeing that vision through - could take Stretford on quite a journey.
4.0 stars - Tim Stegall
SANTIAGO JIMéNEZ, JR.
Música de Tiempos Pasados, del Presente, y Futuro (Watermelon)
If ever there was an accordion dynasty, it would have to be the Jiménez triumvirate founded by the late Santiago Jiménez, Sr. Although no longer with us, he left two capable sons to carry on the squeeze box banner. The elder son, Leonardo "Flaco" Jiménez, is already a living legend. Bearing his father's name, the younger Jiménez is certainly less high-profile but no less a legendary heir to the great Santiago Jiménez, Sr. And it is with the sincere hope of preserving his father's yesteryear sound while forging forward with a spirit that is inspired by the timelessness of music, that Santiago Jiménez, Jr., offers his latest. Produced by conjunto junkie and Bad Livers bassist Mark Rubin, Música de Tiempos Pasados, del Presente, y Futuro takes traditional conjunto into uncharted territories. "Chief," as he is often called by his friends, is in fine form on a record which includes Jesús "Jesse" Castillo on bajo sexto, Rubin on tololoche, tuba, and valve trombone, Erik Hokkanen on violin, and Abel Rocha on the harp. The eclectic instrumentation alone makes the album a curious throwback with no recent base in the kind of popular conjunto that evolved through the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties. Instead, Santiago and his friends have created an endearing "chamber conjunto." While the songs bear the mark of traditional styles, among them rancheras, corridos, and boleros, there's an unmistakable old-world charm running through each tune. Far from a crooner with honey pipes, Santiago is a spotty, hard-working vocalist whose voice reeks of sincerity and long hours spent learning styles that most conjunto musicians tend to stay away from such as the redova, the chottis, and even a German-style polka complete with tuba and valve trombone. While the spirit of the cantina can be faintly detected in polkas like "La Nopalera" and "El Satelite," or a corrido such as "Gabino Barrera," the songs hearken back to a time before the accordion was considered a working-class expression. They are much more reminiscent of the 19th-Century orquestas típicas, small anteroom ensembles, salón-era entertainment provided for guests in the interest of musical taste and good breeding. Unsurprisingly, some of the best songs are purely instrumental. Past, present, future, or a clever synthesis of all three, this is a lovely homage to the truest beginnings of border music. The record is vibrant and warm, a splendid addition to any serious Tex-Mex musical collection.
4.0 stars - Abel Salas
Right On Time (dos/Antone's)
Jack-of-all-trades Stephen Bruton is set on mastering one: his career as a solo artist. On his second solo effort, this producer (Sue Foley, Jimmie Dale Gilmore)/guitarist (Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson)/songwriter (Willie Nelson, The Highwaymen) certainly has his credentials in order; all that's missing is the accolades for winners like "Bluebonnet Blue" and the hip-grinding "Day Drinking" or a well-chosen Percy Mayfield cover such as "Please Send Me Someone to Love." Bruton's talents fall somewhere between Tom Petty's facile grace and Joe Ely's promise to deliver; with backing musicians that include his current touring band of bassist Chris Maresh and drummer Brannen Temple, Bruton has assembled a patchwork of well-crafted material of brash blues, barroom ballads, and pure-dee rockers that wraps you like a warm quilt on a cool Texas night. "Sometimes you get to watch when your dreams go up in smoke," he sings on the title track. Yeah, but sometimes you get to watch them catch fire, too.
3.0 stars - Margaret Moser
Modernday Folklore (Capricorn)
This wouldn't be the first record where the lead-off song is also the best - hell, the only song. There are fragments of others, a verse here, and melody there, but the record most certainly meanders through nearly all its 55 minutes. And to its credit, it almost doesn't matter. You see, Ian Moore wants to be an R&B singer, somewhere along the lines of Aaron Neville or Stevie Wonder, and frankly, he's got the voice for it: His falsetto is beautiful and the croon is pure polished chrome. When he sings the first verse from "Society" or "Daggers," suddenly the lights go mood, and candles alight. But that only lasts the length of a verse, or line. None of the many mid-tempo wanderings here hit their mark the way "Blue Sky" did on Moore's debut. Mostly, it's underwritten material, but there's also no guitar pulling the caboose. Surprise! This record isn't even trying to be a "guitar album." Should it be? Only when your lead-off song "Muddy Jesus" is the best radio spot for Texas tourism since Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top. When Flaco Jimenez' psychedelic accordion clears the way for Moore's delirious feedback intro, and he hits the tumbling riff, which later liquefies into a perfectly fluid funky solo - all the while singing of Jesus crossing the Rio Grande - there is only one direction this record should have gone. Back to Texas for more SRV and Billy Gibbons. Bring the Neville wannabe, too, he's pretty good.
2.0 stars - Raoul Hernandez
Unshaven: Live at Smithe's Olde Bar (Zoo)
Either someone at Zoo knows what they're doing or they struck paydirt the old-fashioned way: by sticking to formula. It's here in the handbook: "Follow commercial breakthrough (and/or career rebirth) with live album. Include hits from last record." Easy, right? Naw, most of those records suck. Not this one, though. Nope. Billy Joe Shaver is from Texas, boy, and if you cain't cut it live there, you're S.O.L., son. And after close to three decades of playing hot, smoky, character-building "dives" like, say, Antone's or the Continental, Shaver can burn the house down, no problem. Which is exactly what he did over three nights this past January in Atlanta while Brendan "The-Name-Alone-Sells" O'Brien rolled tape. Turn the fatten nobs a bit, and serve hot. Hot like Eddy Shaver, whose guitar cuts a swath through the album like David Grissom's did on Ely's Live at Liberty Lunch, which is pretty much what this record will be compared with. And rightly so.
4.0 stars - Raoul Hernandez
Rocks Your Lame Ass (London)
Welcome to the umpteenth installment in the new wave of record company punk. In other words, welcome to punk rock stripped of threat, sweat, and aggression, manicured to order as a radio programmer's wet dream. Like every other wish-we-were-the-Descendents band alive, Dallas' Hagfish are long on adrenaline and pop, and short on the other necessary punk rock ingredient: rage. Not a bad loud & fast pop record, but it never lives up to its title - as great as it is. Which means, overall, we welcome you to punk rock that sounds like it was made by a band that wears suits. And remember the words of Wire: No more Mr. Suit!
1.0 stars - Tim Stegall