Texas Platters


Learning As You Go (Sony)

In the early Nineties, when Round Rock's Rick Trevino was making a notable splash on the wave of country music's renaissance, the distinction of being a Hispanic country singer, the critics said, made his potential for meteoric stardom that much more assured. But in so far as Trevino would be measured by the same pasty yardstick as country's newest stars -- Brooks & Dunn, Clint Black, Garth Brooks, and Reba McEntire -- he's also suffered the same fate. His music is as bland and clichéd as those he would join on the Nashville circuit. This latest album clinches the deal with the over-produced muzak sound of someone just trying to fit in -- not to mention Trevino's tired turn-of phrase technique, (see "Learning As You Go," and "Running Out of Reasons to Run") that passes for redneck wit. This 10-song mix is so formulaic and ballad-heavy, it seems Sony was probably figuring that just by sheer numbers, one of them would be a hit. Guess they figured wrong.
H 1/2 -- Louisa C. Brinsmade



Whoops. Looks like I spoke too soon. Two issues back, I criticized the latest Live at Mountain Stage compilations for playing it too close to the vest and failing to capture the live moment, adding that Austin City Limits would never make such a mistake. I couldn't have been more wrong. Except for the audience clapping, this collection is no better than a various-artists compilation of a bunch of album tracks. No improvisation, no jamming, no audience interaction, none of the things that have made ACL the greatest music show on television -- except contributions by k.d. lang, Asleep at the Wheel, and (I hate to admit it) Charlie Daniels. Much of the music is decent, it just doesn't take any chances. This is the beginning of an ACL CD series; perhaps this is just the mainstream country volume, and, like the Mountain Stage series, future editions will highlight the broad range of quality music featured on the show. On my wish list: cuts from the first five years, when ACL was much more local in orientation and dared to bring "outlaw" country to the world.
HH -- Lee Nichols


Louisiana Rain (Antone's/Discovery)

Frankly, there isn't one single, solitary remarkable thing about this album, and if there was, it wouldn't be half as much fun to listen to -- or half as good as it is. When blues albums (chiefly those by anyone with `guitar' in their name) strive toward greatness, most of the time they fall short, making them that much more painful to listen to and that much easier to forget. Louisiana Rain, on the other had, doesn't ever try to be anything more than it is: a solid collection of blues, swamp pop, and blue-eyed soul. No flashy guitar heroics, pointless vocal chutes and ladders, and other nonsensical carryings-on, just solid songs, assured playing, and a welcome lack of studio burnishing. You get the feeling Teddy Morgan and his cadre of musicians -- including Kim Wilson, Gurf Morlix, Riley Osborn, Jeff Turmes, and Steve Mugalian -- just walked into the studio and let the tape roll. They couldn't have made it sound better if they tried. Which is why it's a keeper.
HHH 1/2 -- Christopher Gray


Slop (Emperor Jones/Trance Syndicate)

John Lydon once remarked of Morrissey's Bona Drag, "Never 'as an album been more aptly titled!" Mr. Rotten should meet this record! And that's no insult. The band themselves freely admit that slop has been one of their defining qualities since the day the three (Mary Hattman, bass and vocals; Dana Lee Smith, guitar and vocals; Edith Casimir, drums and vocals) first came together as Pork. This frequently costs 'em points live with cursory listeners, who can't get past missed beats and untuned guitars long enough to find the pop beauty lurking beneath. Maybe Slop would serve such casual listeners better, with at least 75 percent of the definitional slop excised, probably due to inherent needs of presenting music on record. Producer Seth Tiven gets focused and powerful performances from Pork without sacrificing their rough-hewn charm, and what embellishment is there (the occasional shot of horns and whatnot, from guests like Bill Jefferey and Walter Daniels) is unobtrusive. All in all, a good, solid, raw pop record from three ladies who understand there's not but a hair's difference between bands like the Ramones, Beach Boys, and Jesus & Mary Chain.
HHH 1/2 -- Tim Stegall


Liquid (Crystal Clear Sound)

Every time R.E.M. releases an album, they make the cover of Rolling Stone. Must be nice. Wade through the overlong ass-kissing and you'll learn they slapped a meaningless title on the new album at the last minute. Do a 180 from that mode of thinking, and you have Michele Solberg. Her album is not just called Liquid, it is liquid. It's actually a variety of liquids, from those exchanged between lovers ("He mistakes a kiss for an invitation") to the kind that trickles down the windowpane when love is only a dull ache of a memory ("Alone/With only the sound of my breathing"). Solberg's meandering voice, Freddy Cruz's flowing guitar, and the sweet molasses of Chris Threlkeld-Wiegand's bass cello all complement Liquid's fluidity. Sometimes, Solberg's melancholy mood overwhelms the lilting arrangements, but if R.E.M. still put this much emotion and feeling into their records, they'd actually deserve all those Rolling Stone covers.
HHH -- Christopher Gray


ifihadahifi (Steve)

The line between cloying and charming -- the latter being a term used frequently with Meredith Louise Miller -- is a fine one indeed. One Miller crosses all the time. Maddeningly so. In fact, this not so-balanced-act kicks off ifihadahifi with "Dreams of You and Elvis," a song whose chorus ("I wanted you/I got the King of Rock & Roll") is as annoying and it is catchy; like that fly in the frigging chardonnay song. Now I can't stop dreaming of me and Elvis. (Little Richard is pissed.) Miller sounds like a follower of Lucinda Williams, but that sound can be elusive as hell; one minute it's there, the next it's gone. Some songs divide into camps, like her wistful cover of Buddy Holly's "Wishing" versus the horrible "Whole" ("You don't have to say you're sorry/I'm sorry I was a virgin/In a manner of speaking/You don't have to say you love me/I can feel it/I am a woman/In a manner of speaking"). Mostly though, MLM walks a fine line. She definitely knows how to write a song. How they settle on you probably depends on how you feel about anagrams.
HH 1/2 -- Raoul Hernandez


God Looked Down (Watermelon)

After the first three songs on God Looked Down, there's a flagrant drop-off in inspiration. Shame. Given the start, Matthews could've made a record on par with Richard Buckner's Bloomed for starkness or Jeff Buckley's Grace for ardor. On a knee-jerk level, Matthews sounds like he's unintentionally produced an album for the adult contemporary marketplace; yet to imply that Matthews' work is that cut-and-paste cheapens his abilities. Pay more than casual attention and God Looked Down's defect becomes plain as vanilla. You can have all the necessary elements: fertile imagery, tight narratives, the turn of a phrase, even a Panglossian naiveté to accompany the detailed disappointments of your life' story. You can strum the chords and sing the words, but "Insert Tab A into Slot B" isn't always sufficient. Matthews has all the raw materials, and the tools, but he stopped going beyond simple assemblage. Maybe God Looked Down a little too cut-and-paste after all.
HH 1/2 -- Michael Bertin



The rest of the country is likely not to know about the Brahmall blues legacy, and certainly not about how dark this record could have turned out, although on this absolutely blooze-free debut set from Doyle Brahmall, Jr., they'll likely guess he's a bluesman at heart anyway. Bramhall's urgent whisper and lyrical directness are the initial clues of heritage, but his strengths are a more ethereal vibe thing, where blues trademarks like loss, despair, and eventual hope find themselves actually making the rare transition onto studio tape. The mysticism may sound like bullshit, but it's not, because even in the moments where the songwriter in him is more Adam Duritz than Bob Dylan, there are soulful undertones more about Curtis Mayfield than Prince. Which isn't all to say Brahmall's just getting by on feel, or to slight local co-writers Craig Ross ("Part II") and Will Sexton ("Jealous Guy") for providing the album's pop and soul centerpieces, respectively. Rather it's the clever simplicity of Bramhall's own songwriting that makes this debut so remarkable, as surprising as Wendy & Lisa's production restraint and Bramhall's overall guitar bypass -- the one move, by the way, that proves you don't have to play the blues to emote the blues.
HHHH -- Andy Langer


dem's good beeble (Munich)

I've never been sure whether those Gourds/Band comparisons were fair or accurate, but now I'm convinced. And when all is said and done, the songwriting team of Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith could end up just as storied as the Band -- or at least as much as Uncle Tupelo. Russell and Smith craft perfect little pieces of beauty, simple lyrics, and often only a few -- a mere six lines or so can be an entire song -- yet, like Walter Salas-Humara of the Silos, they can convey so much in those few words and sing them with so much passion that any more might wreck it. Even if you're not clear on their lyrical message, you'll get the emotional one; when Russell sings about a "Clear Night," you really see one of those perfect, romantic nights with a big, silver-dollar moon overhead, and you know what it means to him. And no, I can't specifically decipher "It's your Rasputin tootin'/Makes me roll," but the message of endearment easily comes across. It's not storytelling, it's image creation. And with the music they create, a sweet blend of mandolin plucking, pretty guitar chords, and feathery accordion, they could probably put emotional content into the phone book. If you've been waiting for Austin's major contender into the Son Volt alt-country fray, here it is.
HHH1/2 -- Lee Nichols


Twelve Past Midnight (Lazy SOB)

It's refreshing to enjoy music for once. All the pervasive heroin-addled noise, musicians dropping like flies in a pesticide stream, and the growing fuck-it-all attitude a rotting entertainment industry has helped spawn in the world market has become -- to put it calmly -- a goddamn outrage. The Luckies are the antithesis to the present nihilistic rape-pop crisis. They bring seduction and romance back into the fray, wooing and enticing the senses with artful slights of hand that keep bringing the enthralled listener back for more. But don't let that retro sound fool you. This is no frightened retreat into a never-never land of post-War Swing and Brat Pack Lounge. Singer Craig Marshall is piping out complete originals that can give all the pens from the genre's first incarnation a run for the roses. The Luckies are fresh, sincere, and relevant for the Nineties. It's good to know that poetry and beauty haven't been completely lost on the musician populace.
HHH -- Joe Mitchell


Chandelier Musings (Dedicated)

Who woulda thunk that the pinnacle (to date) of the peculiar Lone Star strain of shoegazing would be reached in Mesquite, Texas? Chandelier Musings has irrevocably altered the playing field in this pigeonhole, and it's going to take more than a little inspiration to catch up. Comet may hail from the land of Bedhead, but this album is so much more than just aural Seconal or pedal-happy feedback. Intimate melodies suddenly exploding into psychedelic euphoria have long been a linchpin of this sound, but Comet distinguishes itself with a keen ear for song structure and the ability to create surprisingly lush arrangements. We're not talking about a string or horn tossed in for good measure; these parts have an elegance that belies the album's indie-label pedigree. Songs like "Day at the Races" and "Soundtrack to the Short Film: `Lifelines'" share uncommon depth and grace that transcend musical boundaries. Without losing track of their own musical vision, Comet cites Britpop references from the Beatles to Pink Floyd to the Cure with peer-reviewable tenacity. Throughout it all, Comet projects a sense of wide-eyed wonderment and homemade warmth. Chandelier Musings is one of those rare works that's as fully realized as it is ambitious. Mesquite will be hard-pressed to cough up another one like this.
HHHH -- Greg Beets


The Fun of Watching Fireworks (Trance Syndicate)

The hardest thing about music is actually listening to it. Not reading or cleaning or even thumbing through the CD booklet. Listening to it. Concentrating. Like reading a book. And Austin's American Analog Set doesn't make it any easier. No matter how many times you spin this tightly edited little gem, you'll get lost somewhere between the space travel of "Diana Slowburner II" (a great 45 in it's own right) and the early Floydisms of "Too Tired to Shine II." There is simply no gravitational pull here. You just float away with the keyboards. Lost in space, Will Robinson. And what a wonderful feeling that is, floating weightlessly through an endless universe of 4AD ephemera. Wish I could grasp it, but I just keep tumbling farther and farther away. Don't bother sending the pod, I won't be back.
HHH 1/2 -- Raoul Hernandez



Many bands come to mind when you hear The Borrowers. Unfortunately, none of them are the Borrowers. "Jawant's Rain" is reminiscent of any slow song by Tom Petty, and "Helicopter" might as well credit the Beatles for inspiration. To be fair, "Helter Skelter" wasn't played on a didgeridoo, and each song on this record does have a distinct uniqueness. The sexy "Ophelia" owes its polish to the cool jazz bass and sax supporting the basic tune, which is so poppy it compels you to sing along to a refrain as dippy as, "Ophelia, let me take you where I want to go." And the album's gems ("Beautiful Struggle," "Mercy Bound," "Strange Companion," and "Uncertain Terms") sucker you in with their simplicity, while the supporting effects hook you; it's this half L.A./half Austin band's strategic but subtle use of mandolin, drums, backing vocals, edgy guitar, violin, and upright bass that places you and the band in that hard-to-reach space called connection, the truest reward for slogging through such a messy mix of accidental cover tunes.
HH 1/2 -- Melissa Rawlins


Volume One (Pinche Gringo)

This 1992 recording features former Auschwitz 46 guitarists Powell and Titsworth running rampant in the studio. As you may well surmise from the duo's previous affiliation, Pail is a loud and obtrusive fusion of metal and industrial dance music. Replete with indecipherable lyrics screamed through effects boxes and aggressive guitar mechanics, Volume One certainly has the potential to be nothing more than a sexual frustration outlet for handsomely mullet-headed young men. However, Powell and Titsworth forego that scenario by investing heavily in the production underneath the rage, creating an enthralling pastiche of noise. The album plays out in one 27 minute-long (minus the 30 minutes of fuzz included as a "bonus track") soundscape that conjures up visions of Helios Creed scoring the sequel to Liquid Sky. Pail succeeds because they sustain a mysterious energy throughout the project without collapsing into banal self-indulgence. It's the kind of ambitious experimentalism that could be run opposite acts as disparate as Brown Hornet and the Skatenigs without losing relevance.
HHH -- Greg Beets


Stranger Things (Watermelon)

High Noon doesn't have to justify their hair grease and arrow-trim jackets anymore. It takes but one listen to the 15 original rockabilly "classics" on Stranger Things to know these longtime local stalwarts are the real thing. "Call of the Honky-Tonk," is one of the album's best efforts, and the smoothest shuffle I've ever heard. There are some disappointments, natch. Where "Long Empty Stretch of Highway" brings forward the best aspects of a hillbilly folk melody with traditional country/rock lyrics, "High on a Hill" is forced -- Shaun Young is quite obviously jamming the folk lyrics into a rock base. But these errors are slight, and can't detract from the album's true beauty. Yes, some say High Noon's nostalgia is hackneyed, but that's probably a Mojo Nixon, or Doo Rag fan. Goodness knows, you need the real thing sometimes, and if anything will satisfy country and rockabilly purists in this town, this is it.
HHH -- Louisa C. Brinsmade


Chicks Hate Wes (Trance Syndicate)

Most records have songs. Nothing but songs. Chicks Hate Wes does too, and some really good ones at that, but here they bubble up from minute after minute of a thickly stoned haze of noise, hum, and throb that sounds brilliant if you're high and pointless if you're not. Occasionally, almost randomly, "Sueño House," "Heartbreaker Dean" and other bite-size nuggets from the fine Scratch Acid/Buttholes trash-rock vein appear. The shiniest is a letter-perfect gender flip of the Nails' "88 Lines About 44 Women" that understandably made 101X's face a little red. (Of course, morning jock Rachel could make Crime and Punishment sound like a Penthouse letter.) Top it off with a wicked sense of humor on everything from pedophile babysitters ("Aunt Jody") to indie-rock pretensions ("Tend Animals," required listening for every geek shoegazer who thinks he's special), and Chicks Hate Wes emerges from the fog as a snapshot of everything that's bitter (too many bong hits) and sweet (irony, heavy-ass, rockin'-out noise) about Austin's unique Trance flavor.
HHH -- Christopher Gray


Lost in North Austin (Akashic)

My best friend and I were sitting around our house a few years back, adopting a different outlook on life (if you know what I mean and I think you do), and I popped in this tape called The Tom X Collexion of Aquarian Age Hymns by the X Family Band. There was this one cut ("Cabin Party") wherein Tom X (Hancock) and band were obviously sitting around in the same condition, making blubbering noises with their lips to the tune of the "Star-Spangled Banner." It was one of the most hilarious moments in the history of stonerdom that I've ever heard, and cemented the funnyman founder of the Supernatural Family Band as one of my favorites in Austin's music scene. Now the cassette has been repackaged, with a few modifications, and you can experience his weirdness in hi-tech. I'm lukewarm on comedy music, but Hancock, a frequent contributor to the Chron's "Live Shots" section, is brilliant. His tales of getting lost on Hwy183, his George Jones parody "The Rice Is On," his Dave Dudley parody "Six Roads in a Daze," the simple logic of "Don't Ask Me Questions (When I'm Stoned)," and several solid non-humor cuts featuring the female Hancocks (now known as the Texana Dames) make this a classic of underground Austin.
HHH 1/2 -- Lee Nichols


removals...and other isms (No Auditions)

As explained in the typically cracky liner notes, what you get here is and isn't a Spot solo record. It started as a Spot Removal record, then the bass player (ex-Happy Family/current Horsie Julia Austin) quit. So, they got another bass player (rockabilly-about-town Kevin Smith), and he showed for one session, but the drummer (Dave Cameron, a veteran of too many bands) didn't. Then someone (Wayne Alan Brenner) who is neither Spot nor any member past or present of Spot Removal reads "one of his stupid poems." Somewhere in this mess, Austin's skewered punk record-producer-cum-multi-instrumentalist manages to slip in some of his fine musical mess. And if you haven't heard this breathless mash of jazz, punk, country, rockabilly, Irish jig, surf, too-many-effects-boxes music -- all filtered through the man's dropped-on-his-head-as-a-child brand of humor -- then you're never gonna get it from black words on white paper. Still, it's quite possibly the first time that glorious mash had made it onto CD, and it's wonderful all the same
HHH 1/2 -- Tim Stegall


Rockin' Bones -- The Legendary Masters
(Crystal Clear Sound)

Not having been impressed with either his newer material or his live performances, I am now totally wowed by the teenage Ronnie Dawson. As heard on this 2-CD collection spanning 1957-62, Rockin' Bones... captures rockabilly the way it was truly meant to be played -- by a teenager. His boyishness leaps out of the speakers with a high-pitched, 18-year-old (and sounding even younger) voice. Many things come out of this voice: the awkward nervousness of adolescence, the swaggering determination not to let it show, lyrical attempts to sound experienced beyond his years, and the ever-present hormonal obsession with pretty girls. The tracks just explode with the energy and fire that burned in that first generation of rock & rollers. The only fault of this set are some of the very first tracks, hurt by both recording equipment that was inferior even by the standards of Fifties local labels and a Dawson who still needed some more practice. These few tracks are valuable only for historical reasons, but the other 95 percent of this collection is classic study of the youth revolution that was rock & roll.
HHHH 1/2 -- Lee Nichols


Rhythmeen (RCA)

After the atomic wars of the late 23rd Century, while vacationing in the Brazilian desert, Theodore Sandlot risked certain teledeportation when he shoplifted an artifact from the Indian resort gift shop. Sandlot giggled with glee upon returning underground and immediately locked himself in the lab (his wife's sewing room, actually) with his new treasure -- a bottle of Rhythmeen. Trembling with excitement, he poured the smoking brown crystals from the ancient vessel into his glass of synthetic lactate. It mixed chocolatey, but the drink tasted foul anyway, and within minutes, Sandlot was tripping hard: Visions of ramshackle roadhouses, neon signs, barroom boogie bands. A timeslip into the fabled Lost Continent of Texas. Just what he'd planned. Unfortunately for Sandlot, he hadn't planned on a "Zipper Job." Next morning, when Sandy Sandlot went to get a sewing needle for her synthetic beef-kaboob, she found a small mound of ashes on the couch -- ashes, three pair of sunglasses, and what looked like a very large brillo pad. A Republikan forensics team ruled that the expiration date on the bottle had long since rendered the Rhythmeen crystals mostly harmless, concluding instead that Sandlot had expired because his red vinyl cowboy boots had been on too tight.
HH 1/2 -- Raoul Hernandez

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