Record Reviews

The following are albums by artists playing the 1997 South by Southwest music conference. Each review is tagged with the day, venue, and time the artist is playing, but all information is subject to change, so please check your SXSW schedule.


On Holiday (Columbia)

I was reared hearing the frequent declaration that if my mother had not married my father, she would've married Tony Bennett. If you knew the passion of my parents' marriage, the gravity of my mother's devotion to Mr. Bennett would be clear. I've listened to Bennett's music since childhood and have taken great pleasure in his recent renaissance, which continues with his latest effort, On Holiday, a tribute to Billie Holiday featuring songs she recorded. While a potentially gimmicky collection, this one works for the same reasons Bennett's previous tributes to Sinatra and Astaire worked: He genuinely respects these artists, he really loves these songs, and he never phones 'em in. Bennett brings to both the familiar songs ("Willow Weep for Me") and the less familiar ("Me, Myself, and I") an optimism that infuses all of his work. No matter how sad the loss for which he may be longing, he sounds almost grateful for the experience. There is always an underlying sense of the triumph of the human experience in Bennett's work and to have that spirit brought to the usually tragic legacy of Billie Holiday gives these songs another dimension. (Thursday, Austin Music Hall, 9pm)
(4.0 stars) -- Barbara Faires


A Lifetime Away (World Domination)

The pain of heartbreak is exquisite. It eats you from inside like some consumptive disease, draining your spirit while filling you with a dread emptiness. Were you not paralyzed by this pain, you'd open your veins into a hot bath, letting your blood stain the water. And as your life slipped away, your head would grow heavy and fall back, your hair wet against your cheek, soothing you in your last moments of consciousness. Away the eerie siren's call would take you from this earth, her ambient dub pulsing with the beat of your heart. "I know I'm sorrow's child," she tells you as you fly among the memories of your past, the hills and mountains rushing under you like wave after wave of sound. The sky cries Mary, but dead can dance in the deep forest. Suddenly, there's a brilliant light up ahead, like a thousand super novas exploding simultaneously, and you're filled with the wonder of nature's grandeur. It's a light show -- a live show -- to answer all the questions of your existence. Your sweet angel guides you towards it, and in the moments before your final breath, the happiness of the universe fills you, and then you are no more. (Friday, Bob Popular, 10pm)
(3.5 stars) -- Raoul Hernandez


River Under the Road (Lazy S.O.B.)

Ana Egge is a walking divining rod. Some artists are like that -- blessed with the necessary internal gauges to read situations, people... maybe even the future. Something, that inner water rod perhaps, or the insistence of bass legend and longtime friend Sarah Brown, brought Egge east from New Mexico to Austin to pursue something already deep within her. The result is River Under the Road, a debut masterpiece worthy of a songwriter decades worldlier than this mere 20-year-old soul. The title track rips and sways like an International flatbed on a Farm-to-Market road, telling of rumbling currents which lie beneath the surface; not so much eerie foreshadowing, as giddy anticipation and acceptance of the mystery which lies ahead (and below): "It goes much farther, deeper and darker than the road above could ever go...." Co-written with Brown and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, the tune sets the tone for the rest of this near-perfect CD, brimming and shimmering with similar revelations. Is it any wonder then, that players like Rich Brotherton, Mary Cutrufello, Casper Rawls, Danny Barnes, Paul Glasse, and producers Brown and Dave Sanger were drawn to this project? Egge insists that she's lucky. But River Under the Road proves that she's not just lucky or talented but that her internal divining device is fine-tuned and promises to unearth subjacent reserves for ages to come. (Saturday, Bob Popular's Headliners Upstairs, 9pm)
(4.5 stars) -- Kate X Messer


Knocked Down 7 Times, Got Up 8 (Joe)

Jean Caffeine's latest album emanates a sort of slumber-party ambiance, which is simply to say that its female voice balances innocent dreams of girlhood with the intimate reality of womanhood. Caffeine has long demonstrated this knack in her varied and interesting musical career, from drummer for N.Y.'s Pulsallama to her savvy Hard Work and a Lot of Hairspray as Jean Caffeine's All-Night Truckstop. With Knocked Down 7 Times, Got Up 8, she does it again -- with a little help from Joey Shuffield and Tony Scalzo of Fastball, and Michael Hall, among others. What's so pleasing is how Caffeine's already deft songwriting seems to mature even as the album's 12 listed tracks progress, from singsong harmonies of "Tijuana Haircut" and the plaintive "Fly Away Home" to the hidden title track at the end of the utterly charming "Watching the Clouds Roll By." When she sings, "Drop-kicked and sucker-punched a couple of times, some scrapes and bruises but I'm okay/Had the stamina to go all ten, to raise a kid but I'm still on my own and it's still a long way home/I'll never be a featherweight but I've got a couple of moves that no one's got..." it's such a winning combination of wry, worldly wisdom and guileless ingenuity that it seems unfair to saddle her with a "must-see" demand. If that's the way to get you to listen to her sly groove, however, so be it. (Sunday, Hole in the Wall, 10pm)
(4.0 stars) -- Margaret Moser


Devotion and Doubt (MCA)

Devotion and Doubt, Richard Buckner's major label follow up to his acclaimed Dejadisc debut Bloomed, is not a happy album. The quiver alone in Buckner's voice can devastate, and listening -- paying attention to the detail in each song -- is a draining experience, akin to enduring a series of ordinary tragedies. But therein lies Buckner's greatest skill: He finds the common denominator of desolation in each episode he recounts. So, whereas those experiences he writes about may be extremely different from anything you've gone through, there's still something believable and identifiable (but nontrivial nor melodramatic) in the loss and suffering. The album, much of which was recorded in Austin, features local favorites like Lloyd Maines and Rich Brotherton, as well as players from Tucson's Giant Sand circle of friends. Despite the superfluous amount of talent, Devotion and Doubt is very much underplayed, featuring mainly Buckner, an acoustic guitar, and some very small scale coloring with pedal steel and mandolin. The biggest flaw of Devotion and Doubt is that, like Bloomed, it really slows toward the end. By that time, however, Buckner's already laid you out with his best emotional punches. (Saturday, Driskill Hotel Crystal Ballroom, 1am)
(3.5 stars) -- Michael Bertin


Bold Displays of Imperfection (Bloodshot)

Wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten, look away, look away, look away -- Dixie Land. High-neck dresses hooking arms with starched collars and suspenders while the reels get faster and faster. Laughter and moonshine, but underneath there's bitterness. Oh, I'm a good ol' rebel, now that's just what I am. For this fair land of freedom I do not care a damn. I'm glad I fought against it, I only wish we'd won. Post Civil War Southern gothic, and Kim Docter, from Chicago no less, has it -- like a bad case of Tennessee Williams. Down among the manic, three-minute, punked-up hoedowns, where the stand-up bass slaps, accordions and fiddles grin, and the mandolins and banjos rollick, Docter's high cry wails a litany of unease. And whether it's the murder, suicide, and insanity of "River," or the grisly sights of "Funny Things" ("I can't look, but I hafta look") -- and especially the mournful dirge of doomed love, "Sky Above Me" (à la 16 Horsepower) -- the high-spirited dancing of this Southern ball never lets the Bold Displays of Imperfection put on anything but a happy face. Look away, look away, look away -- Dixie Land. (Thursday, Hole in the Wall, Midnight)
(4.0 stars) -- Raoul Hernandez


Wrapped (Boar's Nest)

For all the cream of a new country crop growing in Austin lately -- prominently showcased by an all-local episode of Austin City Limits that aired last month -- the most talented songwriter of the bunch wasn't even on that show. Wrapped, the second album from Bandera native Bruce Robison, came out last month without much fanfare, perhaps because Robison's own Boar's Nest label doesn't yet have the resources to make a big publicity splash. Nevertheless, this is an early and strong contender for Austin country album of the year. From the easy-going country-folk of the opening track to the classic country-pop of the title cut to the gorgeous duet with Robison's wife, Kelly Willis, on a cover of the Louvin Brothers' "When I Loved You," this album radiates with material that's both artistically rewarding and commercially viable. The crowning moment is "My Brother and Me," a beautiful ballad shot straight from the heart of Bandera County, looking back at a century of Robison heritage and a wildcatter great-grandfather cut from the same cloth as the hero of Guy Clark's "Desperados Waiting for a Train." The second half of the album doesn't come on quite as strong as the first, but that's merely the distinction between a very good album and a great one. As it is, Wrapped will be tough for any Austin country artist to top this year. (Friday, B-Side, 10pm)
(4.0 stars) -- Peter Blackstock


Long Line (Reprise)

Faced with the prospect of being forever relegated to modern rock radio's flashback lunch hour (for "Centerfold" or maybe "Freeze Frame"), former J. Geils Band singer Peter Wolf ignites a defiant fire with Long Line. The album's title track has Wolf acknowledging his situation ("So here I am, baby/ Right back where I'd been/ I've been tossed around/ And twisted up I'm on the outside looking in"), yet turning this adversity into a soulful spiritual celebration, combining old school R&B with rock & roll the way his former band did before becoming hit makers. The album rides that momentum through the Keith Richards-gone-Motown of "Break This Chain" right until its finish with the hip-hop shuffle behind "Riverside Drive." Even during the slower numbers, Wolf sustains the album's intensity with his impassioned delivery. Long Line actually came out last summer, but without a true radio home for this stuff (it's not AAA, it's not alternative, it's not bitchin' guitar rock), it never got much exposure. What a crime. Careers should be on the line this often. (Thursday, Austin Music Hall, Midnight)
(4.0 stars) -- Michael Bertin


Zo (2.13.61/Thirsty Ear)

Since Wynton Marsalis came along and saved jazz from the infidels, the music has veered sharply into the comfortable mainstream, increasing in visibility, respectability, and popularity, yes, but at the same time marginalizing (ex-communicating might be a more apt description) any semblance of an avant-garde with spiritual ties to the open-ended freedom and roiling expressionism of the Sixties. Enter pianist Shipp and bassist Parker to strike a blow for this disenfranchised segment of the jazz community. Originally released a couple of years back on local Rise Records by Austin entrepreneur Craig Koon, Zo is Shipp's extended suite in three parts with a haunting rendition of Gershwin's "Summertime" thrown in for good measure. Zo #1 is a tribute to Andrew Hill, while Zo #3 exhibits shades of Ellington. The physicalism of Cecil Taylor is an obvious influence throughout but so are the spatial creations of Paul Bley. There's ample solo space for each musician here, but when the time comes for interaction, Shipp and Parker complement each other more delicately than you might imagine. (Friday, Victory Grill, Midnight)
(3.5 stars) -- Jay Trachtenberg


Chemical Wedding (Alternative Tentacles)

Too often, the bands with the most intriguing world views advance their philosophies at the expense of the music. Not so with Michigan's Thrall. Chemical Wedding revels in repetitive motions that burrow their way through your inhibitions and drive the vocal polemics of former God Bully Mike Hard deep into left field. Thrall lays down thick, meaty slabs of rock-steady rhythm that evoke many a hot night with the Jesus Lizard. Guitarists Kevin Hagen and Paul Tchorzynsky deftly play off each other to further the band's dossier with shades of early Blue Öyster Cult. Hard's apocalyptic tales of new world feudalism are greatly enhanced by a deep, eerie delivery that draws on the wickedness of Nick Cave and Christian Death. He skips the political minutiae and fires at the artificial truths of the modern world that make it easy to believe we have less control of our destiny than we really do. That sentiment comes through loud and clear in "Goliath" when Hard sings, "There are 12 easy steps to mind control/The first step is to admit you have no power over the things that control you." Hard's subtle sarcasm tears each easy premise a new orifice, and he does it with nary a hint of didactic awkwardness. (Thursday, Emo's 11pm)
(3.5 stars) -- Greg Beets


Frustrated (Trance Syndicate)

It wasn't a bad idea to call this album Frustrated, especially since it starts off with "Canada," an eight-minute zone-out that evokes noir waterfront scenes, SXIP at the Electric Lounge, and a muted foghorn. Starfish have always been a little, well, trippy; this time they just get it out of the way first. The rest of the album is composed of tight little buzz-bombs that balance early Sub Pop Northwest noise and potent Austin psychedelic pop. A couple of times, you can almost see Ed Hall's glow-in-the-dark paint when you close your eyes. Guitarist Jason Morales, bassist Ronna Era, and drummer Scott Marcus (who recently rejoined the band) are all in top form at top volume, their interplay crackling like a bug zapper. And the writing is more realized, too: Starfish's riffs and rhythms always deserved to be stretched and shaped a little more than they perhaps were, and in that respect, these songs are a lot less, well, frustrating than those on their fine debut Stellar Sonic Solutions. And, hey, anytime you wanna play an eight-minute pipe opus, that's just fine with me. (Saturday, Emo's, Midnight)
(4.0 stars) -- Christopher Gray


Good Clean Fun My Ass (Triple X)

"Choreboy don't have to ask, Choreboy ain't got no class/Choreboy don't think so fast -- Choreboy's gonna kick some ass!" Ya gotta love a band that writes their own theme song (and presents it as the 13th track, "Rub It Raw"). A recent (but not latest) brainchild from Ministry-RevCohort Phil Owen, Chris Gates, and Matt Mitchell, formerly the Skate Nigs, Choreboy stomps all over latter-day punk with a double-barreled blast of relentless hardcore downbeat ("Bury Me in Texas"), and lyrical muscle ("Skinhead") while wiping the floor with bands like Green Day on "Home Sweet Home", and moving onto Jon Spencer turf on "Ain't Dead Yet." "Choreboy is a brand-new trend/Choreboy is money well-spent/Choreboy ain't got no friends -- Choreboy's gotta pay the rent!" Damn fucking right, and Choreboy put their money where their smart mouths are: in 16 crank-it-up tracks that pay homage to and thoroughly mangle their punk roots with brilliant execution and concise production, especially on "Dicks Hate Police" and "Alternative to What?" (Our beloved Gibby sings on "Manimal"). "How do you do?/ I don't think that we've met/ I'm in Choreboy, not Minor Threat/ We don't care, we don't pose/We'll steal your money, we'll steal your show." Oh yeah? Choreboy, may I please have more? (Saturday, Back Room, 11pm)
(4.0 stars) -- Margaret Moser


68 Million Shades (Island Independent)

It seemed easier to write off jungle as a strictly U.K. phenomenon three years ago, when the movement was at its vital underground peak in and on sweatpacked Limey dancehalls. Really, there's only so many ways you can torment a breakbeat before the giddy, headlong rush fuses into some sort of nulled-out sinewave. Spring Heel Jack (comprised of ex-Spiritualized guitarist John Coxon and DJ/knob twiddler Ashley Wales) are the exception to the rule, though; their 1995 release, There Are Strings, stapled the tribal skirmish that was jungle's blustery heart atop classical loops, loungey keyboard noodlings, and psychedelic tone poems, pushing the envelope and expanding the definition of what jungle was meant to be. These days, jungle has morphed into drum `n' bass, with artists like Goldie and the Metalheadz crew stirring things up curbside while Bowie and Bono steal from the underground and gob up the mainstream with mass-market ripoffs. Big fucking deal. Spring Heel Jack can kick all their asses with one sequencer tied behind their back. 68 Million Strings takes the envelope, crams it full of C4, and mails it to the post-millennial crowd, grinning all the while. Part drum and bass manifesto, part Eno-esque headtrip, and part glistening space-age operetta, the new, improved SHJ has more in common with Orbital's recent In Sides than most of their post-jungle contemporaries. Floating about from furious stilleto hardbeats to sparkling champagne riffs that conjure up images of Liberace in Hades (or paradise -- it all depends on how you look at it, I suppose), 68 Million Shades is just that: the full spectrum of what breakbeat-driven music can be, a purely organic extension of The Machine. (Friday, Bob Popular, Midnight)
(4.0 stars) -- Marc Savlov


Atari Teenage Riot/None of Your Business EP (Grand Royal)

There's much buzz these days about the "Death of Alternarock," with its supposed assassin being the new wave of electronic bands. Well, if flannelrock, mallpunk, pissed-off wymyn, and every other shade of alternakulture's been obliterated, it hasn't been at the hands of Prodigy, who are really a slightly more hacked-off Depeche Mode, or even flotation tank soundtrackers like the Orb, who seem to be in hot pursuit of following up Tubular Bells. No, meet the real assassins: Atari Teenage Riot, who use sampler technology and jungle rhythms as a weapon, not a drug. Really, they're the first digital punk band, fulfilling the early promise of vintage Suicide and Metal Urbain, sampling death metal guitar riffs and punk classics ranging from "God Save the Queen" to "Pay to Cum" and setting 'em to furious breakbeats that make Extreme Noise Terror seem Melvins-slow -- then screaming atop the mess about society's collapse and encroaching right-wing terror in their native Germany. None of it's mixed cleanly, à la your average techno or jungle album, but electro-collage music hasn't sounded this noisy, thrilling, subversive, and threatening since the heyday of Public Enemy. No, it won't replace old-fashioned, drums-n-guitars rock & roll, as there's no replacing such time-honored rhythms, but Atari Teenage Riot are quite possibly the most important band in the world today. No shit. (Thursday, Electric Lounge, Midnight)
(5.0 stars) -- Tim Stegall


Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo (Matador)

It's kinda strange coming to Austin from the East Coast. As musically literate as this town is, there seem to be whole chunks of alt-rock chronology missing from the databases of Austin's rock-crit elite. It's like New York pizza: You don't know what the hoo-haw is all about until you've slid the warm concoction into your eager mouth. It's like Yo La Tengo. To know YLT is not necessarily to love them. While many have heard of them, who really knows much about them? YLT will always be darlings of critics and passionate core fans (myself included). Exclusively? Hopefully not, because as a landmark band borne out of the mid-Eighties zine and 4-track explosion, YLT have influenced so much of today's underground and remain current and urgent, as the 2-CD Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo attests. Culled from the scads of outtakes, B-sides, and anthology contributions (one CD vocals; one CD instrumentals), Genius wends from early tracks like Georgia Hubley's humid vocals on John Cale's "Hanky Panky Nohow" recorded in 1989 and YLT's version of Daniel Johnston's "Speeding Motorcycle," from a live broadcast of a 1990 WFMU appearance, complete with literally "phoned-in" vocals by D.J., to recent, buzzsaw sessions for I Shot Andy Warhol in which they briefly appeared as the Warhol party band (aka the Velvet Underground). Yo La Tengo is in the unfortunate position of being less well known than sonorously similar bands with half the talent and twice the attitude. While the CD doesn't come with free pizza, there is a sense upon discovering Genius + Love that you've tried the rest; now here's the best. (Friday, Liberty Lunch, Midnight)
(4.0 stars) -- Kate X Messer


Burn in Hell Fuckers (Bong Load)

According to their press release, Lutefisk's new album is called either "Burn in HellFuckers," "Burn in Hell, Fuckers," or "Burn in Hell Fuckers!" This L.A. foursome are like that: They get their message across, but they're a little sloppy with the details. BiHF (with or without comma and exclamation point) picks up where their debut, Deliver From Porcelain: Theme and Variations left off, sounding like a cross between the Grifters (with a little less interest in making sure that everything that falls apart gets put back together again) and Frank Zappa. Sometimes, this is admirably off-kilter; "Miniature in F" features what reads like genuine high-school literary magazine poesy
("I board upon a special flight/where you and I soar above the trees/or so it seems/in all my dreams"), but plays it with a totally straight face. Sometimes, it's just silly, as on the luded-out, purposefully unfunky cover of "Play That Funky Music (White Boy)." Fucked-up covers of Seventies songs were funny for about 10 minutes when the Circle Jerks released Golden Shower of Hits 14 years ago, but isn't it about time we got over ourselves? Just play that fucked-up music, white boys. (Saturday, Electric Pavilion, 11pm)
(3.0 stars) -- Jeff Salamon


A Taste for Bitters (Amphetamine Reptile)

This is guaranteed to send the angst tolerance meter well into the red. At times, Chokebore practically makes "Love Will Tear Us Apart" seem like a daily affirmation. Nevertheless, this L.A. quartet somehow manages to coax precious juices out of the misery. Maybe it's that guitarist/vocalist Troy Bruno Von Balthazar doesn't insist on singing like he's being castrated. Maybe it's the darkly melodic high/low juxtaposition of the guitar parts. Chokebore may reside in the same congressional district as Tool, but at their best ("One Easy Pieces," "You're Let Down"), they're capable of evoking the Bad Craziness of John Lennon's Lost Weekend. Think of drawn-out breakups, being home alone against your will, all-day hangovers -- that's the sort of selfish-but-sometimes-necessary fury A Taste for Bitters conjures. It's as though you're working the crisis hotline and someone calls to play you their isolation. (Friday, Emo's, Midnight)
(3.5 stars) -- Greg Beets



Canadian quartet Pluto are fairly typical of the neo-powerpop ethic, the one that doesn't kill appetites on contact. Taut, hard, guitar-driven, with a gravelly base and an ability to write catchy tunes with a decidedly non-la-la-la viewpoint. No fake grins for this bunch: Rock & roll in the Nineties has to be barbed and angular if it has any meaning whatsoever, and Pluto are pretty fucking meaningful. Just don't mistake this for the plastic angst which guarantees instant alternarock radioplay these days. Pluto are hardly well-adjusted young men. They'd much rather vent through a piece of three-minute guitar rock that might make you hum in the process than grunt and scream over diluted Sabbath or Pixies riffs. Fine, fine, fine. (Friday, Club Universe, 9pm)
(3.0 stars) -- Tim Stegall


American Pie (TAANG!)

Careful with this one. Sure, each tune on American Pie is as intense as the last one, and the vocals are so in-your-face that you can count Mark Noah's facial pores. Even the lyrics, the lyrics are good. But you shouldn't be wary of the Anti-Heroes' first release on TAANG! for these reasons. No, the reason you should be particularly careful with this collection of 12, blue-collar punk rock punches is that they grow on you like a disease. For example, the lyrics don't tell you what you want to hear, they describes things you'd rather not think about. And perhaps it's just that special feeling one gets when banging one's head against a wall ("It feels so good when I stop"), but you'd have to be dulled into supple submission by a Regis and Kathie Lee infomercial to not think about Anti-Heroes' lyrics. Try "Fuck Hollywood": "Fuck Hollywood, warped sense of reality/Where the truth is always the first casualty/Fuck the causes and the coalitions/The exercise they get is from jumping to conclusions." And yes, the music is another reason to be afraid -- to be very afraid. (Saturday, Back Room, Midnight)
(3.0 stars) -- David Lynch


Comic Book Whore (Flip/Interscope)

Although she's bound to get thrown into yesterday's angry woman ghetto, Jane Jensen deserves better. Sure she's unhappy, but she's also not ashamed to unleash a giggle. "I wanna be Donna Summer, but I bet she wouldn't want to be me," bemoans Jensen in "Highway 90," a self-deprecating tour-de-force that, like the bulk of Comic Book Whore, is more worthy of Beck than Alanis. And although this album resonates with the brooding synth-rhythms you'd expect from a gal with her Die Warzou past, Jensen and her production partner Craig Kafton also have a distinct feel for clumsy guitar lines and smart samples -- nicely bridging the gap between Nine Inch Nails and Echobelly. Sure, it's hard not to lose faith after the dullness of the semi-avant-garde closing section, but Jensen's confident quirk is just seductive enough to make you forget, especially with the spoken word pleas and introspective pouts of "More Than I Can" and "Luv Song" adding up for both an unlikely set of anthems and the sturdy anchors of a truly clever debut. (Thursday, Maggie Mae's West, 10pm)
(3.0 stars) -- Andy Langer



In the past 10 years, New York punk-folk vagabond Roger Manning has played the role of sore thumb at both SST and Shimmy Disc, so it's no big surprise to find his latest release pop up amid the indigenous music of Shanachie. Recorded with a full band on four-tracks at various Manhattan apartments, this album is Manning's most realized effort to date. Austinites will no doubt recognize similarities between Manning and Hamell on Trial. Both attack their beat-up acoustic guitars with a ferocity that produces a low, growling sound. The two artists also share an affinity for half-humorous introspection and leftist political causes. The difference between these two brands of antifolk, however, is manifest in Manning's well-honed songsmithing versus Hamell's preference toward tangential rants. Manning's approach is form-fitting for his tales of cross-country travel, American indignation, and especially romantic woe. On "The Pearly Blues #6 (Explanation Blues)" and "Los Blues #2 (E. 5th St. #4)," he explores intimacies with a thorough brush that nails difficult shades of gray with remarkable accuracy. You don't really switch in and out of love just like that and neither do Manning's songs. It's a bit unfair to tag Manning as a confessional songwriter in the tabloid age, but that moniker is ultimately unavoidable. This is stark truth. The difference between Manning and the average talk show guest is his singular and unique way of framing life stories. (Saturday, Bob Popular's Headliners Room, 11:30pm)
(4.0 stars) -- Greg Beets


Fashion Nugget (Capricorn)

Ah, the curse of the novelty hit. You get exposure, you get sales, and you get herds of oblivious ditzen, who then show up when you come to town and wait impatiently for you to cover Gloria Gaynor. Well if it's "I Will Survive" that people want, then that's where we'll start. Hone in on Victor Damiani's bass part. He's all over the place, single-handedly carrying what was originally an overproduced disco song. Guitarist Greg Brown comes in adding fills, constantly altering his parts, and rarely falling back into mindless and wasteful chord progression repetition. Okay, here comes the curve ball: a trumpet part. All the while John McCrea deadpans his lines. Musically Fashion Nugget, like its predecessor The Motorcade of Generosity, is that from top to bottom. It's full of parody, spite, and social commentary without the weight of social righteousness. You fell for Nada Surf's ode to superficiality (or have you forgotten that already?). Why not try Cake's "Italian Leather Sofa?" It's the same subject matter, only this time presented with a little levity and humor, albeit slightly mean-spirited. So let "I Will Survive" be your marijuana of Cake. Enjoy it and let it be the gateway to harder Cake. (Friday, Austin Music Hall, Midnight)
(3.6 stars) -- Michael Bertin


Go Cat Go! (Dinosaur Entertainment)

This isn't, strictly speaking, a Carl Perkins album. It's more like an episode of The Larry Sanders Show, stocked like a catfish pond with A-list guest stars: John Fogerty, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Paul Simon, George Harrison, Bono, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney. Hell, even dead rock stars Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon show up with long-vaulted, distinctive covers of "Blue Suede Shoes." That's not to mention all the ace session cats and rockabilly ringers brought in to recreate that classic Sun sound, especially on "All Mama's Children," "Two Old Army Pals," and "A Mile Out of Memphis." Perkins is in fine voice, and judging by his spry finger-picking, can still duck walk with the best of them. Unfortunately, not all the songs bear close scrutiny, specifically George and Paul's contributions. Nevertheless, the round-robin "Give Me Back My Job," featuring Perkins, Bono, Petty, Cash, and Nelson, the sparkling Perkins/Nelson duet "Wild Texas Wind" -- hell, even Ringo's "Honey Don't" -- are proof enough that Go Cat Go! is one of those rare albums worth owning both for the names and the material. (Friday, Austin Music Hall, 11pm)
(3.5 stars) -- Christopher Gray


Lonesome Billy (Beggars Banquet)

Fret not, Buffalo Tom didn't break up. Bill Janovitz, the trio's primary singer and songwriter, merely took some of his songs that were passed over by the band and headed west (and south too, going to Tucson from Boston and all). After literally a few days -- three to record the material and two to mix it -- and a little help from his friends, former Friends of Dean Martinez John Convertino and Joey Burns, Janovitz had a solo record. For Lonesome Billy, Janovitz sheds the jangled fury of his band in favor of a resolute slowness as he sews together pieces of American pop clarity and Americana rustic austerity. The result is a handsome collection of songs, stripped of production superficiality and textured with open spaces and cheap booze. Save for a stumble in the middle, the drunken saloon romp of "Strangers" and a mediocre take on "My Funny Valentine," Lonesome Billy uncovers Janovitz songwriting gifts more than anything done in the context of the Buffalo Tom. When the biggest strike against what you've done is a little injustice to a standard, then you've done good. (Friday, Brazos Street Stage, 6pm)
(3.5 stars) -- Michael Bertin


Must've Been High (Sub Pop)

Influenced by their affiliation with Willie Nelson and an appearance at Farm Aid, Seattle's most high-profile punk brats have put out an authentic country album. Moving between acoustic and raw electric, goofy and poignant, the music is honest Americana, and soulful. The opening title track sets a sparse, sunbaked mood, followed by the stomping, knee-slapping "Dead in the Water." "Non-Addictive Marijuana" comes across as the inverse of Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee," while "One Cigarette Away" is a cheeky tribute to the redneck party lifestyle. "Hungover Together" is the album's highlight, with Eddie Spaghetti and guest Kelley Deal portraying a couple of fucked-up characters who really do love each other. The `Suckers' trademark snotty humor abounds as well: "The Captain" -- musically, a dead ringer for Johnny Cash -- recounts the band's brusquely aborted attempt to record with Captain Sensible of the Damned, while "Barricade" celebrates the one thing a punk band needs for its safety. This one oughta wear well over time -- just like one of those Willie Nelson albums. [Must've Been High will be in stores on March 25] (Friday, Brazos Street Stage, 8pm)
(3.0 stars) -- Ken Hunt


Cowboy in Flames (Bloodshot)

Even though Jon Langford, head Waco Brother and underground legend from his days in the Mekons, has had a soft spot for Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and George Jones for years, it's still nice to hear a British vision of American country music so fully realized. He's got the keen, often snide, observational powers of a Brit, and his beef with Garth, Alan, and Tim is Grade-A Top Sirloin. As far as Langford is concerned, Music Row can go the way of Mount Carmel. The title alone, plus covers of "White Lightnin'" and "Big River," should be evidence enough these guys love them Yanks -- especially the crazy Southern ones. And yes, the Brothers are famous for being the Clash in chaps ("See Willy Fly By," "Do What I Say"), maybe the Pogues punching cows (the title song, Roy Acuff's "Wreck on the Highway"), but look no further than "Dead Flowers" or "Country Honk" for a suitable British buffer zone. Except for "Dry Land" and one or two others with Cowboy Mouth-size lumps in their throats, God save the Queen and everybody holler yee-haw! (Thursday, Hole in the Wall, 1am)
(3.5 stars) -- Christopher Gray


Euphonium (Rounder)

Geographical placement and the fact that calling something mainstream country is an insult these days, could be the only reasons The Picketts are considered alternative country. They hail from Seattle, the songs are plugged-in and upbeat, and Christy McWilson's voice has the classic country breakdown. Their covers of the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" and the Who's "Baba O'Riley" (the latter much more inspired than the former) should rightly be called "arrangements" since the band's takes are so totally original that these songs sound like they were originally written for the country music medium. One thing, though: A euphonium is a valved brass instrument like the baritone sax, and it appears nowhere on Euphonium, meaning the album's title must refer to the group's tendency to rework songs into homier versions of the originals. To call the Picketts or their songs anything but country, however, would be to give people like Garth and Shania and now LeAnn far too much sway in defining boundaries -- and we can't have that, can we? I'll just settle on calling the Picketts swing-rockin' country with soul. (Friday,Waterloo Brewing Co., 11pm)
(3.0 stars) -- Christopher Hess


Ten Easy Pieces (Guardian/EMI)

At long last, the man responsible for such classics as "Wichita Lineman" (covered by everyone from Glen Campbell to Urge Overkill), "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (Kate Smith to Nick Cave), and "MacArthur Park" (Donna Summer to Goober & the Peas) clocks in with his own versions of his biggest hits. Which isn't to say Webb has always been just a closeted songwriter -- on the contrary, this is his 10th solo album. For whatever reason, though, he's never been compelled to record his own versions of his best-known songs. He delivers them here in the simplest form possible, largely as piano-and-vocal-only recordings, with the occasional touch of cello, pedal steel, or oboe, plus backing vocals on a couple tracks by the likes of Shawn Colvin and Marc Cohn. At the heart of Webb's songs are melodies that trigger an emotional reaction like a pheromone, such as the reaching-for-the-sky turn that rises when a lover is "standing there, looking out to sea" in "Galveston," or the dramatic dissension that strikes when the tragic hero confesses "I fell and fell alone" in "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress." But the proof is also in the lyrics: Webb could spot a man working on a telephone pole in the middle of nowhere, Oklahoma, and turn it into "Wichita Lineman," perhaps the ultimate song of unrequited romantic longing. That Jimmy Webb, who turned 50 last year, went so long without recording this album is remarkable. That it's finally here now goes a long way toward shoring up a significant gap in popular music history. (Thursday, Driskill Hotel Ballroom, 1am)
(4.0 stars) -- Peter Blackstock


Persimmons (Upstart/Rounder)

Jim Lauderdale could be one of the most important country music writers/performers around today; his ability to pen songs that snake between popular, traditional, and fringe C&W could provide the long-needled shot in the ass that country radio needs. Better known as a songwriter for others, Lauderdale has three albums of his own and has received critical praise for all of them. But since radio ignores him, so does most of the country music-buying public, and because Persimmons is such a strong collection, it will no doubt receive similar treatment. From the opening "Life by Numbers," it's evident that the music is listener-friendly without being the same old thing. "Some Things Are Too Good to Last," featuring Emmylou Harris, is a traditionally tear-jerkin' melody, while "Optimistic Messenger" brings Lauderdale's ever-present blues to the forefront. "Jupiter's Rising" is a strangely rocking alien abduction song, a bit out of place but a jam nonetheless. The thing is, an album like Persimmons, with this much to offer, can only be ignored by country radio for so long before the general public starts to ask why it isn't being spun on air. At least, one hopes that's the case. (Friday, Hang `Em High, 11pm)
(3.5 stars) -- Christopher Hess


Keepers (Sugar Hill)

"As you can see, it doesn't take a whole lot to amuse us," remarks Guy Clark midway through the set at Nashville's Douglas Corner Café that doubles as Keepers. It comes right after "Home Grown Tomatoes," which to my perpetual amusement is also a favorite of John Denver's, and is fairly indicative of the album's mood. Calling it low-key would be doing Stephen Wright a disservice, but Clark has always been satisfied with letting his songs speak for him. And whether it's an evocative piece of history ("Texas 1947," "The Last Gunfighter Ballad"), a tender love song ("Like a Coat from the Cold"), or a detailed slice of life ("L.A. Freeway," "Out in the Parking Lot"), his lyrics speak volumes. One of the last true Texas troubadors (R.I.P. Townes), Clark molds his lyrics and melodies together like a master chemist creating a new compound. His rapport with the audience is just as unforced and genuine, introducing his portrait-like songs with various jokes and yarns. It may not take a lot to amuse him, but Clark is so talented it also doesn't take much for him to make a truly fine album. (La Zona Rosa, Friday, 10pm)
(3.5 stars) -- Christopher Gray


Rosebud (Villa Muse)

Great records don't just have great songs, they also have an internal structure, an overall tone that's more powerful than the parts. Rosebud, local songwriter Stephen Doster's first album in seven years, gets awfully close to achieving that structure. While Doster may hint at harboring an almost unhealthy romance for pop arrangements, Rosebud's best moments ("Word," "Sleepwalking") instead combine both delicate melodicism and guitar-based rock that doesn't necessarily rage, but undeniably moves. And thanks to drummer Chris Searles, bassist Brain Walsh, and cello player Brain Standefer, even the simplest of Doster's songs, like the intentionally repetitive "Nobody Loves A Quitter," progress confidently with a textured flair that never drowns out Doster's conversational delivery. Although his voice is truthfully just a bit better than average, the magic is in how his phrasings and the material build together towards some kind of inherent wisdom -- where eloquent narratives on fatherhood, religion, and aging manage to balance tenderness and celebration. And while such statements add up to more than a few memorable songs in their own right, in the end, Rosebud is an album that's far more elegant and challenging than the dozen casually crafted middle-age, middle-of-the-road pop songs you might have expected. (Thursday, Steamboat, 10pm)
(3.5 stars) -- Andy Langer



With Smitten, Austin's unabashedly anglophile cling has assembled a charming collection of sugary Brit-pop that's so pleasant and crisply produced that there's nothing bad you can really say about it without feeling a bit evil for doing so. It's just so pretty. Phoebe Augustine's voice is filtered clover honey -- Harriet Wheeler on helium doing a real cute Bjork imitation. Her breathy enunciation blends into the swirling atmosphere of guitar and cymbal to build a wall of sound constructed entirely from cotton candy. A bit noisier than the Sundays, less so than Lush or Curve, cling nevertheless warrants comparisons to all of 'em, and then some. So, in this review lies an implicit warning: if you find most monosyllablically- named late-Eighties early-Nineties Brit-pop merely an appalling and pretentious perpetuation of the Smiths -- and I know many of you do -- then you will hate this album. But if you appreciate the layering of sentiment and the juxtaposition of alternately disturbed and coy lyrics to endlessly cheery pop music, then cling is the band for you. (Saturday, Ritz Lounge, Midnight)
(3.0 stars) -- Christopher Hess


In a Bar, Under the Sea (Island)

Antwerpian mindfuckers, dEUS have, on their second Island release, put out one of those disks that demands immediate circular filing -- until it squirms its way into your nightime subconscious, forcing you to dig the damn thing out of the wastebin and cram it back into your stereo, hungry for more. A crazy amalgam of noise-rock, four-eyed geek vocals, and stop-start drumming, dEUS may very well be Belgium's answer to Mark Mothersbaugh circa '77 (then again, it could just be something in the water over there). The single, "Little Arithmetics," garnered huge, sticky gobs of praise from the likes of NME and Melody Maker and is a catchy bit of summertime fluff, but all things considered, it still puts you in mind of the Red House Painters armed with a crate of puce Krylon. dEUS live sets are rumored to be many-splendored things; whether or not they can retain the inspired lunacy and sonic cornucopia represented here remains to be seen. (Saturday, Maggie Mae's West, Midnight)
(2.5 stars) -- Marc Savlov


(Zero Hour)

Just as the cult of irony approaches its apex, Poughkeepsie's Varnaline slaps doubting thomases with a much-needed dose of tempered sentimentality. Against the backing of a relentless wall of noise that recalls Zen Arcade in one breath ("Lights") and Rust Never Sleeps in another ("Why Are You Unkind"), songwriter Anders Parker expresses a survivalist's exuberance in the midst of desolation. "Meet Me on the Ledge" is a celebration of busted dreams in the vein of Paul Westerberg, and "Really Can't Say" is a soulful ballad of loss accentuated by a deep, smoldering upright bass line in the background. As if to reiterate their commitment to the classic rock mantra, Varnaline throws in a marathon solo-heavy show-ender called "Understanding H." Taken together, Varnaline is compelling evidence that bands might do themselves right by emigrating away from musical meccas like New York City to places like Poughkeepsie where they can paint their own collage independent of insular scene aesthetics. (Friday, Electric Lounge, 8pm)
(3.5 stars) -- Greg Beets


And a Whole Lotta You (Lookout!)

Here's the jangly beatpunk chord progression. Here's the psuedo-surf riff. Here are the lyrics. Go. Quickly. Time's a-wasting and this band ain't gonna waste any time. It's like the Hi-Fives, as opposed to others who might have had access to more of the catalog, learned to play by listening to a Beatles record -- just one, most likely a copy of With the Beatles -- and their phonograph was broken, stuck at 78rpm. And a Whole Lotta You has 16 songs (including a cover of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love") and the band runs through 'em all in just a shade over 28 minutes, breaking the 2-minute barrier exactly twice. It looks leisurely next to the Ramones' 10 songs in 10 minutes, but the whole album ends as soon as it happens. Its brevity is only a mild complaint in as much as And a Whole Lotta You is full of clever and innocent fun, so the natural human reaction is to want a little more. Even at a frantic pace, it usually takes more than half an hour to wear a person out. (Saturday, Emo's Jr., 10pm)
(3.0 stars) -- Michael Bertin



"I know you hate everybody... too bad you're too cool for fun," challenge Thin Lizard Dawn in "Say What You Want," perhaps an answer to the school of critics that will undoubtedly pass them over as just another exercise in contrived pop. But as Thin Lizard Dawn ride the fine line between clever and stupid, twisted novelty and tongue-in-cheek send-up, a method to their madness surfaces; the aforementioned fun. While they're a tight enough outfit to pull off the toughest of Beatles, Cheap Trick, and Knack moves, Thin Lizard Dawn are also cohesive enough in their songwriting to never truly blur the lines between their lampoons ("Power Ballad") and their own penchant for three-way, harmonic punk -- which, by default, qualifies as their own sound. And in their smartest satirical move, they wait a dozen songs to establish that sound before they hilariously pounce on the band-of-the-moment with a carbon-copy Oasis parody, "Suck:" "If I needed inspiration, I'd listen to Degeneration/ I know I'd be vindicated/ because even at my worst I never sucked like Oasis." And best of all, like the bulk of Thin Lizard Dawn, "Suck" doesn't come off as bitter or contrived... but as just plan ol' fun. (Thursday, Babe's, Midnight)
(3.0 stars) -- Andy Langer


Blue Sky on Mars (Zoo)

Once upon a time, Matthew Sweet achieved the penultimate composer high. He created a perfect, golden pop song, the soaringly exuberant, devastatingly romantic, ever-inspiring "Girlfriend," and a few of us have never gotten over it. But the ultimate high is to be able to sustain that Midas touch over time; Sweet's successive singles of "Ugly Truth" and "Sick of Myself" danced around that flame and while they didn't quite ignite like "Girlfriend," they were proof positive that Sweet was no one-hitter. Now, Sweet flies back into the pop-rock foreground with the ebullient Blue Sky on Mars, a dozen seamless examples of sonic pop punch that range from stellar ("Come to California" and "Into Your Drug") to sappy ("Missing Time"), and display Sweet's undeniable knack for asking the wistful age-old questions of love with tender lyrics and answering with angular but solid musicianship. Blue Sky is an endless horizon for Sweet, who seemed to take such pains to distance his last two albums from the hit, and it shows that he has much more up his sleeve than "Girlfriend" ever let on. Cherchez la femme. (Thursday, Waterloo Brewing Co., 1am)
(3.0 stars) -- Margaret Moser


Homemade Blood (Cooking Vinyl)

Prophet's voice perfectly splits the difference between Julian Cope and Ray Davies, while the former Green on Red guitarist's songs fill the gap between James McMurtry and Mick Jagger (primarily in spirit and swagger, but I swear Prophet lifted that one guitar riff straight off of the Stones' "Must Be Hell"). It's where the coy but unflinching brutality of the singer-songwriter and the "Hey, where's the volume knob on this amp?" of the rock & roller collide and leave debris strewn about the place. When Prophet plays with fire, like on the anthem to Americanism "Credit" where he gets a plastic card in the mail as "gold and thin as Kate Moss," he burns. When he slows down, which he does maybe one too many times on Homemade Blood, he bores. The album, though, is basically sound for a couple of basic reasons. First, Prophet has written some decent songs (how easy it is to forget how important that is), and second, the Homemade Blood is unpretentious. It's just an American rock album -- something people don't make many of anymore. (Saturday, Atomic Cafe, 11pm)
(3.0 stars) -- Michael Bertin


More Pricks Than Kicks (American)

Crown Heights like to call their songs (and their band) a "co-dependent, dysfunctional, neurotic, fucked-up emotional mess." Psychological buzzwords notwithstanding, the mess that they've assembled for More Pricks Than Kicks, their American Recordings debut, is a tight collection of tunes that seemingly stem from a vision more singular than they'd let on. As a whole, good noisy riffs enhanced by a barrage of guitar noises set against a solid and slightly funky rhythm section (which includes the man who is everywhere for short periods of time, drummer Brian Bowden) as well as a definitive and boisterous but not overbearing vocal split-shift is what Crown Heights has produced. The subdued dissonance of the elements working against each other creates a tense atmosphere, and Jon Easley's hoarse and soulful vocal style is the catalyst for the impending explosive reaction. Jason Asnes' vocals, conversely, are smooth like velour, and a good harmonic anchor when both men sing together on "Unkind" and "Margaret." Like the Afghan Whigs in their infusion of soul into raucous rock, or like Wire in their arrangements, More Pricks Than Kicks is just like Crown Heights in every other respect. (Saturday, Electric Lounge, 9pm)
(3.5 stars) --Christopher Hess


Everest (Surface)

Dry-behind-the-ears Austinites might remember brothers Carlos and Mike DeLeon as guitarist and drummer for Meet Lover's Pizza, a somewhat overlooked freak-rock power trio that split up in 1993. The brothers DeLeon then moved to Houston and have now achieved band-of-the-year status with the Jinkies. Everest displays the band's serrated pop aspirations in a manner that recalls Seventies pin-ups like Cheap Trick and the Raspberries. The sweet side of the equation is represented by the warm and hopeful two-part harmonies on "Baby Never Cries" and "Sinking Fast." Both would sound excellent in the back of a custom van or while dancing at the prom in a powder blue tux. On the other hand, "Revolution" and "Cool Friends" showcase Carlos' coliseum-style vocal theatrics and balls-out progressions that demand light trusses, french-cut concert shirts, and bowls of M&Ms with the blue ones taken out since they don't make tan ones anymore. To that end, the Jinkies are one band that could actually benefit from the big-time rock production that swallows too many others. (Friday, Trophy's, Midnight)
(3.0 stars) -- Greg Beets


Missile Me (Matador)

If you see Matador president Gerard Cosloy at SXSW, ask him how come he can spring for a ritzy Friday night showcase at Liberty Lunch and not a decent production job for this Japanese proto-garage trio. Dripping primal American guitar impulses from Bo Diddley to Link Wray and the Sonics, Guitar Wolf zaps indie-rock's stultifyingly sexually frustrated pretensions with raw, wild-thang throb, similar to roots-doctoring labelmates Railroad Jerk and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Unfortunately, the sub-Walkman recording quality makes even a thrice-dubbed Heartbreakers bootleg sound like Celine Dion. The Detroit-style flaying and pounding penetrate the mud just enough to make the songs somewhat distinctive from one another, although the ones that don't mention jets, racing, or driving in their titles are no less about speed. As lo-fi as you can go, and a lot lower still, Missile Me nevertheless evokes the now-familiar Dazed and Confused pearl: "I bet she's pretty cute once you clean all the shit off her." (Friday, Liberty Lunch, 8pm)
(2.5 stars) -- Christopher Gray


Black Eye/5 Live EP (The Enclave)

It's almost too perfect: Four comely U.K. punkettes slamming Gibson guitars through Marshall amps, sounding as if their record players have only known Never Mind the Bollocks, Funhouse, Young, Loud and Snotty, and Rocket to Russia. Washes of post-Asheton fuzz-wah corrosion, pounding distaff Rock Action drumming, and leader Amanda Rootes howling her tales of life on the sexual warfront in a whiskey/morning-after rasp that conjures instant visions of her freshly out of bed, rubbing her ratted mane, and eyeing last night's conquest with pure contempt. Some might detect the whiff of Kim Fowley in the air, a package job perfectly attuned to the prurient interests of Stooges-loving rockscum, but the truth is, while the songwriting is fine (though still rudimentary), Fluffy do have solid enough riffs and musical instincts to hold -- nay, deserve! -- your attention, maybe even long enough to see what develops. Still, Fluffy could do worse than hole up a week with Glen Matlock for a crash course in songwriting basics. (Thursday, Emo's, 1pm)
(3.5 stars) -- Tim Stegall

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