Record Reviews

Surprisingly, local labels sometimes release records from artists other than those living here in town. Here then is a sampling of what some Austin labels (and a ringer or two -- notably San Antonio transplant, Unclean ) have deemed noteworthy.


Acres of Suede (Watermelon)

Webb Wilder has always walked a narrow wire between rockabilly revivalist and goofball parodist. He often comes off like one of those Fifties rock & roll novelty acts, especially when he utilizes his lower vocal range. On Acres of Suede though, he manages to pop off a good share of jokes without damaging the integrity of his catchy, twangy tunes, wisely resigning most of the chuckles to the intros of songs like "Flat Out Get It" and the heavy-metal-with-Theremin "Scattered, Smothered and Covered" (how he manages to pull this one off still mystifies me). Special attraction: "Loud Music" becomes the "David Grissom show" with electrifying results when Wilder pretty much turns the whole song over to its author.
(3.0 stars) -- Ken Lieck


Kitchen Radio (Dejadisc)

I've always been more than partial to Minneapolis bands; used to think it was just coincidence. After listening to Steeplejack, I now see it was for a reason. Think about it. We write "Spinning Round the Sun," they write "Ice Cold Ice." With music from the Minne-apple, you get winter vicariously. On Kitchen Radio, the No Depression guitars sound like a month's worth of cloud cover -- "Valentie (Sober All Day)" -- as well as piles of dingy urban snow and sludge in the words, "Five Feet Nine and Rising." Even the bar-room bluegrass with no sense of direction reeks of a whiskey drunk induced by a 3pm sunset, "Caroline." Everything ends up sounding bittersweet when life is chilled below 32 degrees for six months out of every year. It's not depressing, it's vital. Seasons have an aligning effect; and if you aren't quite willing to sacrifice 50 degrees and sunshine on Christmas day then you gotta pick up records like Kitchen Radio every so often just to keep things calibrated. (Steeplejack plays Flipnotics, Wednesday, October 23.)
(3.0 stars) -- Michael Bertin


Morse and Gaudylight (Trance Syndicate/Emperor Jones)

In yet another installment of the Freaky Singer-Songwriters From New Zealand series, Alastair Galbraith re-releases his previously vinyl-only Gaudylight (1991) and Morse (1992) together on a 23-song disc. Not just in the vein of, but actually living vicariously through Syd Barrett, Galbraith runs madcap laps around the late Sixties with a collection of haunting and demented kiwi four-track ragas. Detuned, layered guitars and funny noises define these records, which are as creepy as they are beautiful, paying homage to the ghostly aesthetic of Cale and Eno, and the well-documented styles of the Pan-Oceanic Brotherhood of Songsmiths whose charter members include Richard Davies, Peter Jefferies, Alec Bathgate, and Chris Knox. Though these two blasts from the near-past are well-conceived and thankfully saved from the discount vinyl bins and personal collections of Wellington and Auckland, it's nearly impossible to get past Barrett's so-obvious influence and allow these recordings to stand untainted by Syd-imentality.
(3.5 stars) -- Taylor Holland


Give 'Em Enough Dope (Unclean)

Seemingly immune to passing time and changing trends, Tulsa's N.O.T.A. cranks out early-Eighties no-future hardcore with as much fury as the darkest hour once demanded. After more than a decade, the band has certainly grown more proficient, and Martin Halstead's production is evidence that they've learned their lesson in the studio. Unlike some veterans of the Schaefer tour circuit whose acts have wound down to musing about way-back-when, N.O.T.A.'s message has remained fairly constant. They still hate hippies with a venom that can't help but be belittled by such an easy target. On the other hand, a song like "Hitler Was a Vegetarian" speaks volumes about where loving acceptance of labels will get you. "You Bore Me" is a punk rock sock-hoppin' dissection of shit you hear at parties, and "Pawn Shop" is a heartwarming revenge play that should hold appeal to anyone who's ever been in hock. Whether Give `Em Enough Dope's death grip on decade-old aesthetics still holds relevance is a matter of individual choice. Fortunately for N.O.T.A., there's always a new crop of suburban misfits out there.
(3.0 stars) -- Greg Beets


The Longest Train (Watermelon)

As one half of the Louvin Brothers, Charlie Louvin created country music history. One of the genre's most celebrated duos, their high, keening, two-part mountain harmonies not only furthered a tradition laid down by acts like the Delmore Brothers, but also helped pave the way for the likes of the Everly Brothers. Solo since shortly before Ira's death, Charlie's first release in a number of years finds him recreating a number of Louvin Brothers' standards (including "When I Stop Dreaming," "In the Pines," and "Cash on the Barrelhead" ) plus some newly written material with the aid of a specially assembled all-star cast obviously enamored of the Louvins' sound. Still, neither Barry Tashian nor Rosie Flores nor Jim Lauderdale are Ira Louvin, and Charlie's voice isn't ringing as clearly as it once did. That doesn't make this a bad album, but neither does it help The Longest Train stand up against vintage Louvins' stuff. (Charlie Louvin plays the Broken Spoke, Thursday, October 24.)
(2.0 stars) -- Tim Stegall


Going Through Something: The Best of Elliott Murphy (Dejadisc)

You've all read reviews where you know the writer didn't listen to the album, right? In this case, I wish I could say that I hadn't -- there's no way for me to be objective about this disc anyhow. First off, I gave Murphy's last album of new material a glowing review, and could hardly expect to find his "best of" wanting. Second, the DejaDisc label seems increasingly unable to do wrong, and has pretty much established itself in my mind as the recording industry equivalent to the old Dell Mapback paperback series; it doesn't matter what genre is represented on any Deja album, there's a certain level of quality that's guaranteed to shine through. Third, this is where Ernie fucking Brooks has been spending all those years that I wondered what had happened to the Modern Lovers' original bassist. If Brooks wanted to stick with this guy from 1978-91 (the years covered on the album), then Murphy can do no wrong in my book. Since I did listen to the thing, though, I'll mention that Going... features 16 well-written, thought-provoking tunes in the Dylan-via-Petty vein. Okay?
(4.0 stars) -- Ken Lieck


Home X (Emperor Jones)
Home XI: Elf :: Gulf Bore Waltz (Jetset/Big Cat)

Tampa's Home have done the unthinkable and broken Led Zeppelin's long-standing roman-numeraled-album record more than twice over. Home X, a seven-song EP that actually has 12 tracks, eclipses 1995's stellar Home IX as the group finds itself becoming the Queen (Mercury and May, not Elizabeth) of the American underground. "My Passion," "Underwater," and "Pretty Little Head" do more for my faith in the continuation of original American rock than anything since the Pixies' Surfer Rosa nearly 10 years ago. On the heels of X comes (predictably) Home XI, their catchiest and most digestible release to date. Weaving strands of Gary Numan, Flaming Lips, Guided by Voices, and Van Halen could be a disastrous, yet respectfully valiant effort, but Home manages with a barrage of eclectic pop, some of which the Grifters' Dave Shouse helped record. Which all but explains why Home suddenly sound somewhat similar to the Grifters, only ridiculously better. What makes Home remarkable as a project is that there's no way you've ever heard anything like it in your life -- and it's still pop rock music.
(Both) (4.0 stars) -- Taylor Holland


Nine Black Poppies (Emperor Jones)

The Mountain Goats play hard-strumming accoustic folk of the studded leather jacket variety. It's the kind of music that would make an excellent, non-partisan counterweight to Roger Manning. This California duo plow through a bunch of nature-happy allegorical tunes about fleeting romance and failed relationships that still manage to retain a shread of hopefulness despite a generally dour narrative outlook. Best among this lot is the heart-tugging "Stars Fell on Alabama." The best song overall, however, is "Cubs in Five," which compares the plight of a staunch fan of losing teams to a quixotic lover trying to get back home; "And the Chicago Cubs will beat every team in the league/And the Tampa Bay Bucs will make it all the way through January/And I will love you again" somehow resonates a bit more amid the emotive, transistor radio production than Hootie's plaintive "Dolphins make me cry" quip. Unfortunately, Nine Black Poppies also bores at least as much as it enthralls due to one-dimensional, half-baked songwriting. It's a hit-or-miss listening experience that really could've used another 10 or 15 minutes in the creative kiln.
(2.5 stars) -- Greg Beets

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