Texas Records

URBAN ROOTS

Gentle Flowers (Urban Roots)

Urban Roots have gamely persisted for over three years and, frankly, occupied the taxi squad of Austin's hunkered-down but remarkably good reggae scene. There's a long way to go before they punch through with a distinctive sound, but the passions and thoughts are aroused. Following a cluster of light (even vaporous) pop-reggae tunes, Roots gets down to "Rastaman Alien," an eye-opening slap at the pretenders in Rastafarian culture who use a dreaded disguise to prey on others; and "Victory Cafe" where miscommunication reigns between a band on the make and the poor cul-de-sac of entertainment, restaurant workers. Guitarist Lynette Perkins resurrects the Freeport-bashing "Irian Jaya" off the playlist of the sorely missed Irie Jane to remind detractors that Urban Roots has some steel in their consciousness. A good effort led by Dharana's notable song-smithing. 2 1/2 stars -- Stephen McGuire

8 1/2 SOUVENIRS

Happy Feet (Continental)

One of the Continental Club's `Big 4' happy hour acts has just released its first CD and now all can hear the hubbub 8 1/2 Souvenirs' Euro-swing jazz has created. This is a town whose ethnocentric music roots do not take readily to outside influence, but this band can dance. And with Todd Wulfmeyer's bass and Adam Berlin's drums, there's a strong rockabilly gene pool that mates well with the hillbilly-on-speed and big back beat that constitute the creatures from Austin's id. No wonder, then, that Reinhardt, Gainsborough, and Conte can hang with Tubb, Wills, and Hopkins. Only occasionally do the complexities of Glover Gill's piano and Olivier Giraud's guitar harmonies get a little sideways in tight turns. Otherwise, the melodies soar transcontinental to the smoky dens of Europe and Kathy Kiser's sultry voice. (Alas, she's no longer with the Souvenirs.) Notable is how well the band pulls off their four originals. "Kazango" evokes a touch of Ellington and "Mozzarella Rag" hints at everything. This is party music for the huddled masses. 4 stars -- Stephen McGuire

DANGEROUS TOYS

The R*tist 4*merly Known as Dangerous Toys (DMZ)

From the moment the processed guitar starts reverberating on "Share the Kill," the lead-off track from Dangerous Toys' fourth album (the Austin band's second on the local DMZ), one thing is eminently clear: This is no longer a hair band. The long locks have been left on the Sunset Strip, and the 'dos are now short and cropped -- halfway between industrial crews, and the girlfriend-cut-it alternative chop. The look becomes them, especially main Toy Jason McMaster. Hey, there's a pic of him in the CD booklet, and wait, his hair's... Damn. There goes the metaphor. Well, no matter what length his hair is, it seems McMaster can do little wrong, whether it's with short bursts of burp-gun guitar and guttural vocal menacing ("Take Me Swiftly" "Words on the All," "New Anger") or with mid-tempo, creeping foot-tappers like "Better to Die," or the John Lennon-ish "Transmission." In fact, the only real fault here is that the two distinct styles alternate about every other song, playing havoc sometimes with the album's overall rhythm. Fortunately, the material is strong enough to compensate, and the album artwork puts the whole thing over the top. Long live Prince! 3 stars -- Raoul Hernandez

THE ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS

Live

The Spankers are smart to realize that little can replace the firsthand Spankers experience, whereby witnessing nearly a dozen musicians collaborate so tightly actually results in acoustically making the point that their takes on traditional country/blues material are truly more difficult than they're making them appear. So for take-home product, this live tape is virtually unbeatable. Side one is actually a beautifully recorded KUT "Live Set," while side two features a slightly busier Continental Club taping, and together both sides are consistently challenging in influences (Gershwin to Dixon) and delivery (the lethal voices of Christina Marrs and Guy Forsyth). But while there's nary a dull moment in between, it's how Live starts and ends that makes this tape so instantly memorable; by introducing the band one-by-one on the opening blues stomp, "Mama Don't Allow," the listener feels the comfort of knowing the Spankers intimately by the time Wammo ends the tape with the show-stopping anthemic sarcasm of "Children of the Cornuts." Nothing officially Unplugged ever sounded this much fun. 4 stars -- Andy Langer

MITCH WATKINS

Humhead (dos)

Fusion in general, and fusion guitar in particular, have always been knocked for having no heart. The men who play it can blaze, but it feels like they're doing it by rote -- like they learned it in a class, memorized it, and then spit it back out just the way it was in the book. Replicant guitar. A good, sometimes great, facsimile, but icy cold and mechanical underneath. Mitch Watkins is not in need of "retirement" (to borrow some Blade Runner terminology), but much of this album is. Pity, too, because when Watkins really let's loose, and hits a groove he can whale with the best of them. The opener "Big Surf" is a nice head rush, but "Tinkertoys" gets red reactor hot, and it feels like Watkins has hit delicious meltdown. "Jamferallya," does a lazy, Caribbean ragga that's pleasant enough. Good electrical pulse, all three of them. The other seven, unfortunately, feel like computer-generated spew. Like some studio pro with a few hours off, Watkins has the fleet fingers, but somebody better check his pulse. Replicants have no heart. 2 stars -- Raoul Hernandez

SPOT

(Ardent)

The best thing I can say about Spot (the band, not the iconoclastic producer) is that they sound like perennial winners of "Battle of the Band" contests sponsored by companies that make bad beer. The band is reasonably talented, but they don't seem to have much to say that hasn't already been said by other cute D/FW popsters like Tripping Daisy. Though the heavily-rotated single "Moon June Spoon" might be enough to keep you from changing stations, listening to the full-length album is like chewing on a piece of wax candy without the colored sugar water. 1 1/2 stars -- Greg Beets

THE GUY FORSYTH BAND

Needlegunneedlegun (Antone's)

Guy Forsyth is a decent songwriter who plays a mean harp and a dirty slide, but his biggest asset as a bandleader is his charisma. He demonstrates it every week, fronting both the Asylum Street Spankers and his own blues combo. Unfortunately, it doesn't always come across on Needlegunneedlegun. The record has its moments, including the bouncy, chilled-out Slim Harpo groove of "Taxi" and a gritty Delta stomp called "Son's House," but most cuts are the kind of working-class blues that always sound better in person. Another mark of a good bandleader is knowing when to step aside, as Forsyth does when he yields the mike to bassist Gil "T" Isais on the raucous, Cramps-like cover of Lieber & Stoller's "I'm a Hog for You" and Isais' own rockin' "The One That Got Away." Forsyth better be looking over his shoulder, though, because his bassist's tunes are the best on the album. 2 1/2 stars -- Chris Gray

RAY WYLIE HUBBARD

Lost Train of Thought (Dejadisc)

Timeless. Such a beautiful word, it makes you think of things you'll always have with you -- a first love, holding hands in the back seat, your mom soothing the hair out of your eyes, hugging your father after a terrible fight, a quiet waltz after midnight, or falling asleep in your lover's arms. Lost Train of Thought, Hubbard's little-seen '92 indie release, is so evocative of those emotions, so honest and plain, it should have been released 35 years ago when it would have gotten the respect and attention it deserves. As it is now, it's such a welcome respite from today's instantly-dated music -- country and otherwise -- that listening to it for the first time is exactly like listening to it for the twelfth. Or twenty-fourth. Nothing fancy here, just good old-time honky-tonk music -- the kind that reminds you of lost love, missed chances, and things to come. It's sad, yes, but also eminently hopeful and comfortable as an old pair of cowboy boots. This is what country music should sound like -- always. 4 stars -- Chris Gray

GARY PRIMICH

Mr. Freeze (Flying Fish)

If the T-Birds' Roll of the Dice weren't so fabulous, Mr. Freeze would be the best harp-based blues record out right now. As it is, it's still damn fine. Primich evokes the aforementioned T-Birds, Chuck Berry, Bob Wills, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Huey "Piano" Smith, Little Walter and just about anybody else worth mentioning without ripping any of them off, so that right there says something. Many a bluesman gets so caught up in paying homage to his idols he's little more than a mouthpiece; others flirt with so many different forms of the blues they never find their own voice. Primich is one of the lucky ones who can sound familiar and fresh at the same time. Take it from the title: Mr. Freeze is cool. 3 1/2 stars -- Chris Gray

JO CAROL PIERCE

Bad Girls Upset by the Truth (Monkey Hill)

If you've ever had the courage to fall in love with a bad girl, you've likely left a good girl somewhere bitter, hurt, and angry. In that case, you fall into that category of men who bother Jo Carol Pierce even more than the ones who haven't taken the leap. But whichever side of the coin you fall on, Bad Girls... will rip your heart up and strip you bare. Buoyed by the needle-sharp poetics of a songwriter who can wound your soul and then dress the damage with honeysuckle, this disc examines the bittersweet ups and downs that haunt those in our midst "with a great capacity for love." Featuring support from co-producer Troy Campbell, David Halley, and Stephen Bruton -- among others -- Bad Girls' songs are poignantly surreal, two parts pang and one part twang with the whole homespun recipe cooked over a slow torch. As a successful piece of theatre with a Pierce(ing) narration, Bad Girls... was riveting. On record, Jo Carol and friends score big. The grit-laden honesty and naïve innocence that breed effectively in Jo Carol Pierce's voice ring just as true in her lyrics. Better still, Bad Girls... offers an equal dose of humor. Pierce's own "Buttons of Your Skin" as the bonus track is the clincher in a collection that already idles in overdrive. 3 1/2 stars -- Abel Salas

MC OVERLORD

A Better Funk (Lordship)

His cheery funk may be unabashedly accessible, but when interchangeable gangstas are what's selling, A Better Funk proves Austin's MC Overlord's no sellout. By matching a fluid delivery with a host of Bizzness-bred session players who provide real guitar grooves, Overlord's built an excellent vehicle for the rare verse-chorus-verse rap -- more New Jack Soul than New Jack Swing. And even when Overlord stumbles over a pretentious storyline or unnecessarily complex rhythm, he'll quickly return with something surprisingly effective like a duet with David Garza on "The Judge." In any event, commercial or not, A Better Funk feels less like a debut then it does the work of a seasoned pro. 3 stars -- Andy Langer

JOEL NAVA

(Arista Texas)

The Tejano-country cross-breed storms into the mainstream with the debut effort from yet another Arista signee. Produced with perhaps just a little too much polish by San Antone's Michael Morales along with his brother Ron and country veteran Chris Waters, this disc launches a musical career and puts Nava on the map in the league with Ricky Trevino and Emilio Navara. And while Nava performs adequately on the Tejano tunes like "Para Que?" and "Yo Me Ando Preparando," it's the soft Spanish or English country ballads where he really shines. Two tracks, in particular, can be singled out here: "Abrazame," penned by the Morales brothers; and "Eternal Flame," a classic by Frankie Miller and Jerry Lynn Williams. Overall, Nava proves country and Tejano have a definite future in the bizarre melding of styles and genres that seems to guide the visionary producers and engineers. A stand-out song, "Ella," by the renowned Golden Era mariachi composer Jose Alfredo Jimenez, is a fitting conclusion. Morales arrangements have turned a time-honored, tequila-sucking tear-jerker from the Fifties into a signature ballad that floats on a melodic sea of single string guitar strums. 2 1/2 stars -- Abel Salas

PEGLEGASUS

Bacon, Lettuce & Tornado (Sector 2)

Peglegasus originally released this album three years ago on Houston's Angry Neighbor label. Though the band has grown tighter and harder since, Bacon, Lettuce & Tornado manages to capture a pleasant, subdued dimension of the band that often goes unnoticed at their live shows. Peglegasus weaves hints of San Francisco psychedelia, peyote-tinged country, and mid-Eighties independence into a warm, wandering soundscape that just flows right past you like billboards from a speeding car. Meanwhile, the lyrics spin quixotically and conspiratorial tales of moth men and government-concealed aliens called "Grays." You even get bassist Mike Watt guesting on "Burma Rhode." While Peglegasus' sound is rooted in pop, each separate-but-parallel element of the band adds uncommon depth to the music. Color this one a romp. 3 1/2 stars -- Greg Beets

ST-37

Glare (Prospective)

What's to say about this vinyl double album that you wouldn't say about any ST-37 release (or performance, for that matter)? It's more new space-rock, a moody, swirly blend of Hawkwind and Butthole Surfers, and it lends itself well to the taking of mind-altering chemicals. It's slower and less raucous than most of the band's recent releases, almost creating a Grateful Dead on Mars sense of literal "space jamming" with its excessive length working in this case (though I suggest the "buddy system" -- one of you trips, the other flips and changes the records -- to prevent personal injury and damage to the product). Also worth mentioning is the nice packaging and really cool, mysterious artwork that reminds you of the days when you would actually stare at the cover while you listened to your albums. 3 stars -- Ken Lieck

SEBASTION WHITTAKER & THE CREATORS

Valley of the Kings (Justice)

Houston drummer Sebastion Whittaker leads a hard bop quartet as they explore the relation of the blues and spirituals to traditional jazz. The band conjures a sombre presentation reminiscent of the work of John Coltrane's quartet during the mid-Sixties. With an identical lineup of tenor sax, piano, bass, and drums, the Creators turn back the clock to revive true soul music. Slight improvisation by each soloist enhances the concentration on thematic deliberation. Titles such as "Hear My Prayer," "Why Me," and "Too Sensitive" illustrate the emotional emphasis of Whittaker's writing. His compositions contemplate the foundation of life itself with the temperament of each piece relying on the fruit of introspection. Shelley Carrol Paul's saxophone work dominates the inflection of the album with the other three instruments providing the rhythmic background for her heartful expression. In a quest to discover the roots of his own musical conception, Whittaker succeeds in his representation of the African-American experience. 3 1/2 stars -- Rashied Gabriel

WALTER SALAS-HUMARA

Radar (Watermelon)

With Radar, Silos lead man Humara has rendered a solo effort that reassures the world of his talents sans the band, yet sounds a loud alarm concerning his mental health. No, the dear shimmer-pop prince is not falling off the Marilyn Manson cliff nor is he in danger of being locked away for severe bipolarity. As happens to many a good Angeleno, he is physically, emotionally, and spiritually besieged. Staying true to himself, the riffs here are shiny and catchy, as bright as the Santa Monica day, belying any hint of despair within a thousand miles. But the lyrical and thematic undercurrents run blacker, thicker, and deeper than Texas crude. Humara's riffs are a big smile disguising abject fear and paranoia as he keeps his radar on at all times, still unable to distinguish friends from foes. A distinct thread runs throughout this episodic and rather operatic LP. Humara is seeking a companion. He has his sights on someone, but is too scared to make any physical or emotional assertions. The ending is happy and upbeat, but the means to that end is arduous and exhausting. Like La Boheme, Radar is simultaneously a well-rendered slice of life and acute comment on the sad state of human affairs. 3 1/2 stars -- Joe Mitchell

ROSIE FLORES

Rockabilly Filly (Hightone)

Austin, Texas -- rockabilly sinkhole of the world. Yes, I hear Ms. Flores no longer resides in this sinkhole, but from the sound of this album, wherever the heck she plants her person nowadays, her mind hasn't strayed too far away. She's obviously a stellar student of a certain Austin School of Music which allows you to sing songs as empty and barren as Phil Gramm's head if you (A); stick to the letter of a tired, worn-to-the-bone musical genre; (B) use a 20-day delay on your vocals; (C) get a hot guitar player; and (D) put on a sassy and/or dangerous front. Live, these elements may fool a soddened audience, but on a recording, it's downright irritating, legendary guests or no. And I don't know where Flores got these songs, but I wish she'd put them back or give them to someone who might infuse them with the irony they're beggin' for. In the meantime, quit beatin' this dead filly. 1 1/2 stars -- Joe Mitchell

DICK SIEGEL

Angels Aweigh (Schoolkids)

Siegel hits home with some excellent ideas here, but unfortunately doesn't run as far with them as this reviewer would like. The songwriting on Angels Aweigh is flawless, displaying an acute social eye, a sharp sense of humor, and a big heart. But the slick presentation on a few cuts gets in the way of the writing, destroying any virtue that may have originally flowed from the pen. Siegel would do himself justice by sticking to the simplistic "one little man in a big room" sound found on "The Secret" and "Train Song" rather than bringing on the entire band for some overbearing grandiosity as he does on "Let Me Touch Your Dress" and "The Silvertones." Still, the shortcomings here are somewhat compensated for by the poetic title cut. If an Austin single this year deserved Grammy hyperbole, it would be "Angels Aweigh." Despite the sheer beauty of this cut, it can't quite turn a good record into an excellent one. I'm hoping for a one man/one guitar album by Mr. Siegel. That way he can show his ample substance without getting bogged down by form. 3 stars -- Joe Mitchell

POI DOG PONDERING

Pomegranate (Pomegranate/Bar None)

Still the unwavering vision of feelgoodmeister Frank Orrall, Poi Dog Pondering relocated to Chicago a couple of years ago and recharged with some new members (Susan Voelz and Dave Crawford remain). A band whose live shows transcended their stiff recordings until the liberating "Jackass Ginger" from Volo Volo, Poi Dog has also learned some new tricks. Pomegranate is a delicious bite of reality, as tart and sweet as the fruit it is named after. For as much as Orrall keeps his sound sinewy and taut, the easy grace of his lyrics are layered by lush rhythms and invite the listener to taste of the songs like "Sandra at the Beach," "Catacombs," and the David Byrne-ish "Za Shulu Za." Though they never fell from favor, Poi Dog has redeemed itself admirably with a tidal wave of liquid, aural delight. 4 stars -- Margaret Moser

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