Record Reviews


A Piece of Your Soul (Atlantic/Code Blue)

The blues is dead and all the Ian Moores, Chris Duartes, and Storyvilles in the world won't change that. It died on a on a foggy mountainside with Stevie Ray Vaughan, and it hasn't been seen since. SRV wasn't the first and he wasn't the best, but he brought a purity and integrity to the form that hadn't been seen on AOR radio -- and therefore the commercial arena -- since the heyday of Allman, Clapton and Hendrix. He brought real blues to a format that wasn't used to real blues; you'll hear SRV on FM rock stations, but you won't hear Albert Collins or B.B. King. And once he was gone, you couldn't just go back to Bad Company or the Firm. Eight years after his death, Kenny Wayne Shepard is ruling the roost and House of Blues is an institution. So is A Piece of Your Soul bad as all that? Fuck no. It's a damn fine album. You will turn up "Good Day for the Blues," "Blindside," and the title cut whenever they come on KLBJ. Better still, it's proves again that Texans from Arc Angels to ZZ Top are the last word on the subject. But the blues is still dead, so cancel my subscription to the resurrection.
*** -- Raoul Hernandez


Stereophonic Spanish Fly (Capricorn)

It's a bit unfair to classify this as a funk album, because it makes a much better rock record. The endless jamming and instrumental tag-team matches that are so much a part of the Ugly Americans' live shows aren't anywhere to be found; in their place are catchy hooks, friendly rhythms, and happy thoughts like "I like the way I feel when you're around." Admittedly, the songs that work best are the ones that have some teeth, like "Big Wild World" and "Staring Straight Into the Sun," not necessarily the Blues Traveler smilefests like "You Turn Me On." Though none of the songs on Stereophonic Spanish Fly are as consciousness-raising as the time I walked into Steamboat and was greeted by these guys doing a version of "Sex Machine" that was one of the two or three nastiest funk workouts I've ever heard, it's a fine album nevertheless.
*** -- Christopher Gray


White Trash Receptacle (One Ton)

White Trash Receptacle's own story -- recorded for A&M, released on Denton's One Ton, and now set for reissue on Island -- proves that Jeff Lile (aka cottonmouth, texas) has made the rare spoken word record with shelf-life. That Lile brings along the other Dallasites like the Toadies, Earl Harvin, and Broose for sound collages is a nice touch, but Lile's true gift is his touching flow in and out of slacker detachment and the angry-young-man pose -- with one steady voice revealing very different men each time he dives into basketball, dating, cocaine, and epilepsy. And while the image of a deer family with Ted Nugent's head on their wall on "Hunt Me" is the record's best Far Side-ish laugh, "The Economy of Used CD's" may have a far more useful legacy, "Coverdale/Page, that's three bucks..../now bands like Jackyl are buying me lunch."
***1/2 -- Andy Langer


Highway of Life (Justice)

When Billy Joe Shaver came back from the dead with 1993's Tramp on Your Street, I was so overjoyed just to hear him play again that I was willing to overlook a flaw in his songwriting: He has a tendency to lapse into clichés. The problem is a bit more pronounced now, on his debut for Justice (which now, apparently, has all the "outlaws" sans Jerry Jeff under contract). You write what you know, I guess, but Shaver has done the whole "ramblin' down the road" thing before. Here, the title track merely gives us more of the same, and "Yesterday Tomorrow Was Today" says about what you'd expect. When he's writing past the clichés, however, one gets gems like "You're as Young as the Woman You Feel," the seemingly lowbrow title of which is betrayed by a funny homage to the legendary Harlan Howard: "Big Harlan likes his women young/Says it helps him write good country songs/When they divorce him he doesn't fight/He just keeps all those great copyrights." Of course, my complaint is greatly offset by the strength of Shaver's performance. Shaver's voice sounds like the blue denim workshirt he always wears, comfortable and worn, and I'll go out on a limb here and say that Eddy Shaver is just about the best white blues guitarist playing today. Throw in the sparkling new addition of Brantley Kearns on a searing fiddle, and you have a band that could cover Barry Manilow and still sound great. Hmm. A mediocre album (by his standards) and it still sounds great... That says a lot about Billy Joe Shaver. (P.S. Look for the hidden Soundboard track, "Mother Trucker," at the front of the album; it also appears on the forthcoming Diesel Only's Tribute to the American Trucker.)
*** -- Lee Nichols


Starlite Lounge (Warner Bros.)

According to the last song on Starlite Lounge, David Ball is just "The Bottle That Pours the Wine." But what a fine wine it is. One of the two or three figures in country music who aren't cogs in the industry machine or way past their prime, Ball is living proof you can't ever write Nashville off. He immediately established himself as having one of country's signature voices on his debut, Thinkin' Problem, and that voice -- as well as his songwriting -- is in fine form here on "Hangin' In and Hangin' On," "A Bad Day For the Blues," "Circle of Friends," and "No More Lonely." Whatever Ball did to crack the Nashville monolith without selling his soul, it worked. Here's hoping he keeps doing it for a long, long time. (David Ball opens for Dwight Yoakam at the Erwin Center Thursday, August 15)
***1/2 -- Christopher Gray


Terminally Trendy (Pingleblobber)

Emily Kaitz is onto something here with her deadly sense of satire and penchant for punnery. In the opening track, "Small Medium at Large," a petite clairvoyant goes on the lamb, and you immediately know you're in a strange, but clever world. In the humorous folk genre, Austin's Kaitz sets the pace. Her deft touch on lyrical cadence and folk/bluegrass instrumental arrangements makes her quite the titillating listen. But it's the strength of her hilarious tales that sparks this album. The big guns come out for human insecurity and herd mentality. The title track is a meditation on the meaning of leather jackets and tattoos with Kaitz taking a few offhand jabs at her own bourgeois affinities. The sidesplitter here is "Suzie Rosen's Nose," a paean to wealthy Jewish assimilation nightmares featuring backup by the Austin Klezmorim. Kaitz's little girl narrator has a terrorized tremor in her voice: "Here today gone tomorrow/is that the way it goes?/Mama, what happened to Suzie Rosen's nose?" Goy or Yid, you're a schlepp if this album doesn't make you plotz.
**** -- Joe Mitchell


Fresco Fiasco (Freedom)

Loose Diamonds are in the perfect position to profit from this whole alterna-twang thing -- if someone would just notice them. Not many other bands have the potential to open for both Son Volt and Robert Earl Keen, but Fresco Fiasco manages to squeeze in "Stone Walls and Steel Bars," the best song Jay Farrar never wrote, right next to "One Kiss Won't Hurt," a Robert Earl anthem waiting to happen. Toni Price, who knows a thing or two about how to draw a crowd, shows up to duet on "You Keep Me Hangin' On," blurring the lines between blues, country, and rock so much that people won't know what section of the record store to put Fresco Fiasco in. Curse those labels. In a perfect world, though, this one would fly off the shelves no matter where you put it.
***1/2 -- Christopher Gray


Live Bait (Watermelon)

What hath Gingrich the Newt wrought? No, I don't mean the right-winger, I mean the Lizards' song about him (the live version of which is included on this six song in-concert disc). Y'see, the way I figure it, only the vast amount of attention that the band's dissection of the Newt brought them could've resulted in the lame new song spotlighted here, "Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers on Drugs." The one joke is right there in the title: that the Righties think T.I.W.M.O.D.s are the cause of all the world's problems. It's one of those "If you're on `our' side, you'll laugh" numbers I'd hoped the Lizards would never sink to. On the other hand, the three Eighties classics here ("Highway Cafe of the Damned," "The Car Hank Died In," and "The Golden Triangle") sparkle plenty in the live treatments given them. Let's hope that "T.I.W.M.O.D" is just a fluke.
**1/2 -- Ken Lieck


Live From Austin (Cei Cymekob)

Some jazz purists turn a nose up to classical music. It's too stilted. Too regimented. Where's the blowing? Where's the swing? Look closely, though -- say, through the Ellington ouevre -- and you'll find that many great jazz composers and musicians actively used classical music as a jump-off point to their own music; one might say that jazz is America's classical music. Austin violist Will Taylor isn't necessarily out there doing Ellington suites (he does cover "Caravan"), it's just that when he draws that bow across those strings, it's hard not to evoke Bartök. Or is that Stephane Grappelli? Doesn't matter, really, because Taylor has enough tone to go around, whether he's sawing through the exquisite tango of Astor Piazzolla's "Deus Xango," making it sound like something out of the Mikado, or riffing through a relative warhorse like "Cherokee" and finding a whole new harmonic structure. Throughout, Taylor gets excellent support from Austin mainstays Elias Haslanger, Glenn Rexach, Steve Zirkel, and Chris Searles, and it's only in one or two spots that you're reminded that this was recorded live. No overdubs, no retakes, 72 minutes. Try doing that with classical music.
***1/2 -- Raoul Hernandez


Finest Hour (A&M)

These Dallasites are a bit disturbing at first, as are most from the Big D. They can sound uncannily like Hootie and the Blowfish with a less shrill singer. But JP have layers, whereas their competitors for the frat-boy-cum-I'm-a-sensitive-guy-
really market are all skin and no guts. There's a real fluidity here and that river flows in some rather compelling places. There's an eerie, autumnal feel here as if the duo are flashing brilliant colors before crashing into months of cold and darkness. Every word seems to tremble with a foreboding anticipation, but the instruments sparkle away, creating a deliciously deceptive aural dialectic that yields a big landscape in flux. This fall is ripe with possibilities, but it's going to be a very interesting winter in the land of Jackopierce.
*** -- Joe Mitchell


(Arista Latin)

Let's talk about Nydia Rojas' lower lip. It's as ripe as an island plantain and full as the August moon. It's Mother Earth in all her bounty. It is for now and all time. Wait. The top one's not too shabby, either. They look luscious both in color, as on the striking, royal blue cover of Rojas' Arista Latin debut, and in black and white, as on the inside of the CD booklet (actually it's more of a blue and white). They beckon whether Rojas has the Mexican Madonna come-hither look on the back cover of the CD booklet or the sardonic mariachi smile on the back of the CD insert. And if flexi-discs came in Vanity Fair, they'd probably sound like this album: bright, shiny, happy, and fun. Only in English. But did you see those lips?Amazing! And if it seems sexist to review an album on the merits of a lower lip, it's not. Music isn't what's being sold here. It's Selena.
** -- Raoul Hernandez



Vallejo may eventually have to choose between Latin boogie, Southern-fried funk, and Eighties wank metal, because there's some real tunes, tight grooves, and slick production here, and yet no discernible identity. Which isn't to say that this Austin band needs one just yet; half the fun here is in hearing them work their way in and out of a stylistic jam, with the assist usually going to the Omar Vallejo/Steve Ramos percussion team. But it's A.J. Vallejo's slinky voice, smart phrasing, and fast guitar that most often carries Vallejo -- qualities, which on second thought, might just make them a good ol' fashioned arena rock band anyway.
*** -- Andy Langer


Antone's 20th Anniversary (Antone's)

At two discs, 21 tracks, and 100 minutes, this compilation is still a chicken scratching the iceberg of the Antone's legacy. At least it's an even job, though, and every type of music the club represents, from triplet-driven Louisiana swamp songs to old-style Chicago piano-plonkin' to fiery Texas roadhouse guitar-slangin' is present and accounted for. Even though Antone's pillar Derek O'Brien wasn't around for the recording (though he was out of the joint to produce the record, thankfully) there's a seamless quality to this record that, considering the sheer volume involved, is remarkable. All the familiar Antone's names -- Sue Foley, Guy Forsyth, Doug Sahm, Lazy Lester, Kim Wilson, Jimmy Rogers, Angela Strehli, Pinetop & Snooky, and so forth and so on -- are here and in fine form. The anniversary compilation is great either way -- as a culmination of 20 years of the Antone's sound or as a simple introduction to the rich history of the blues.
***1/2 -- Christopher Gray



Somewhere between "Frank's Bicycle," a detailed narrative about Kozik the poster guy and the Fuckemo who stole his bike, and "Barf Baby," about the pleasures of throwing up, you begin to get the idea the Fuckemos aren't very nice people. And when the last song is "White Sunshine," a paean to what has become known as the date-rape drug, you're sure. So they're not the best neighbors. "It's gettin' very hard to hold my feelings back," goes "Be Nice Don't Be Mean." "I've taken many pills here and I want to kick your ass." But if the Fuckemos are mean, their nasty blend of bloodbath riffage, death-metal vocals, and bludgeoning drumming is even meaner. Like they say on "This Land is Your Land" (that's right), "This land was made for you and me." Don't like it? Too fuckin' bad.
*** -- Christopher Gray

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