Restraining Bolt (Mercury)
A million-dollar deal with Mercury and a recent blowjob from the New Yorker has made Radish this year's biggest curiosity. As it winds up, though, the kids are just alright. Sure, all the hooks and choruses seem to indicate that if there were a school for alternative rock radio, 16-year-old Dallasite Ben Kweller would be its Doogie Howser. But Kweller must have skipped class the day they taught "Hiding Your Nirvana Revisionism," because Restraining Bolt smells just a little too much of teen spirit. And therein lies the album's blessing and its curse: There's a hardly a bad song, but hardly a moment you haven't heard before, either. And while the pop pains of "Little Pink Stars" and the subtle chord twists of "Simple Sincerity" make for a catchy, one-two opening punch, the rest gets bogged down in the paradox of faux-rage and kiddie ramblings. And although Restraining Bolt is already a better teenage postcard than Silverchair has yet to manage, here's hoping all this unwarranted hype and the realities of the road spur on better lyrics -- which may just make Kweller's In Futero follow-up the one to buy.
2.5 Stars-- Andy Langer
On their second go-round, the Freebish guys find themselves on a world that clearly revolves around a Black Hole Sun; at least three of the five songs on this EP are firmly entrenched in Soundgarden territory (remember when the now-defunct Seattle band's manager, Susan Silver, was helping them out?). While not allowing themselves to sink into that band's mire of heaviness, Another World takes a long time to pull itself out of a pit of sameness -- the songs are sonically well-done and reasonably melodic, but they just don't grab you. The last two songs, "Once Again" and "Shadowman," finally begin to make an impression with floaty, whale-song guitar, and nicely multi-tracked vocal effects, respectively (hey, it's the little things that make a song stand out). The EP clocks in at almost 22 minutes and features loads of CD-ROM visual treats, so this ain't bad territory to explore. It's just that there are an awful lot of worlds out there now, and it's mighty hard to tell this one from some of the others.
2.0 Stars -- Ken Lieck
THE TEXAS PHILISTINES
Rumple Four Skyn
The Texas Philistines' sophomore effort picks up the boogie-woogie cowpunk torch where the first one, Striking Matches at the Gasoline Ballet, left off. Although Rumple Four Skyn doesn't sound quite as distinctive as the trio's last outing, it does benefit from the perverse factor being turned up a notch. "Beno and the Chicken Fuckers" sounds like a song ZZ Top might have goofed on at practice before throwing it away to save their commercial hides. In that same vein, "Breaker Breaker Jesus" is probably what "Convoy" would sound like after C.W. McCall got a few too many Stroh's in him. The music, firmly rooted in the classic southern-fried rock tradition, is only slightly marred by the band's hyper-inclination toward honky-funk bass riffs. Nevertheless, songs like "Gaylord, the Butt Pirate" make it difficult not to forgive this overindulgence. With a few CCR and Skynyrd covers under their brass belt buckles, these ribald Philistines would be the perfect house band at Charlie's Attic.
3.0 Stars -- Greg Beets
THE FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS
Different Tacos (Country Town)
While Different Tacos was released just weeks before the recent death of Keith Ferguson, it now stands, ironically enough, as the ultimate tribute to the Fabulous Thunderbirds' first -- and many think best -- bassist, at least until a box set comes out. But Different Tacos also does the near-impossible: It captures Texas' greatest white blues band at their zenith, serving up 20 of the most lowdown, ass-kickin', belly-rubbin' hip-grinders Ferguson, Jimmie Vaughan, Kim Wilson, and drummers Mike Buck and Fran Christina ever played. Recorded during a series of shows in Dallas, Austin, and the U.K. in the early Eighties, Tacos is the kind of front-row ticket T-Birds fans would pay scalper's fees for, sounding as good if not better than their critically acclaimed first four albums. Wilson's voice is rich, deep, and whiskey-cured but not ravaged, the perfect foil to Vaughan's legendary guitar, so sly, so wicked; the two perform as if they know the secret to the blues and all you have to do is listen to a note-perfect "Scratch My Back" for the key. Originals such as "Can't Tear It Up Enuff," "Pocket Rocket," and "Wait On Time" plus covers the
T-Birds carved their initials into with point-blank precision, "The Crawl," and "I Hear You Knockin'," make Tacos essential listening; they were, after all, the quintessential bar band -- playing live was the band's oeurve. As a bonus, Denny Bruce, who produced the collection and steered the T-Birds through their early years, provides remarkably hilarious commentary on the band in his liner notes, noting that he once visited Ferguson on the road and asked, "How do you like being on the road?" Ferguson frowned, replying, "It's just different tacos."
4.0 Stars -- Margaret Moser
Yesterday's Wine (Justice)
Yesterday's Wine adds a whole new dimension to the now-familiar phrase, "Thank God for Willie Nelson." Actually, what it does is illuminate one of Nelson's oldest dimensions. Originally recorded for RCA in 1971 as the local country legend's first concept album, Yesterday's Wine tells the tale of a good-hearted, ne'er-do-well musician (sound familiar?) sent back to Earth to preach the gospel of "imperfect man," because as the introduction says, "perfect man has visited earth already." And who better for the job than Nelson? Now, as then, his voice aches with all the promise and heartbreak of simple humanity, someone who asks God to "please let me be a man" and his fellow man to "remember the good times," because "they're smaller in number and easier to recall." Loaded with songs that have rightfully become standards and inspirations ("In God's Eyes," "Family Bible," "It's Not for Me to Understand," "Me & Paul," and the written-by-God title cut), Yesterday's Wine pulses with the simple themes of family, friends, and love, beating with the heart of not a red-headed stranger but an old friend welcome anytime. Classic.
3.5 Stars -- Christopher Gray
Still Feeling Blue (Mozo City)
Country when country wasn't cool? That don't make Karen Abrahams no never mind. It's not about covering the right bands or establishing oneself as a forwardly mobile contemporary Americana artist with leanings in another direction altogether. It's about playin' and singin'. Kick-ass country swing makes Still Feeling Blue a good rocking album, and Abrahams' choice of songs (four of which are her own) covers ground that may take some getting used to. Take, for example, a bluegrass version of "White Rabbit." As appalling to consider as it is fun to hear, by the time Abrahams arrives at the point of "feeding your head," you're hooked. No, really. A smattering of marginal Gram Parsons songs, Townes Van Zandt's "White Freight Liner" (recorded live at KUT, as are many of the tracks), and a raucous version of the Man in Black's "Big River" show Abrahams to be an accomplished interpreter. Her own songs, though good, are so different from one another that it's hard to get a sense for what she's all about as a songwriter. But then, that reflects the album in general: take a little of everything, add banjo, steel, fiddle, and a healthy drawl, stir up and kick back. Aaahhh.
3.0 Stars -- Christopher Hess
TRAVIS COUNTY PICKIN'
The foundation of guitar solos, scales, are the free throws of the music world: repetitive, monotonous, and crucial. And a whole album full of them? Well, it's like 40 minutes of watching someone shoot free throws. Thus, it's easy to write off Travis County Pickin' as a perfect CD to play as people are exiting the Continental Club at 2am: peppy instrumental background music for the ride home. Fifteen instrumentals featuring Casper Rawls, Jim Stringer, Dave Biller (Dale Watson, Tearjoint Troubadors), Brian Hofeldt (Derailers), Sean Mencher (High Noon), and Scott Walls (Don Walser) equals a whole lotta scales and a whole lotta pickin'. The instrumental prowess is indisputable -- as expected from pros of this caliber -- but still, the album plays like a record that started skipping in the middle of Junior Brown's "Guit-Steel Blues." Besides highlighting the instrumental similarities between country and jazz (something not frequently done) and a lot of fine playing, Travis County Pickin' is just not that interesting. It's meticulous wallpaper.
2.5 Stars -- Christopher Gray
Chaparral (Boar's Nest)
If there was one word that defined the late-Eighties/early Nineties country scene here in Austin, it was "Chaparral." That's the band that played the Black Cat Lounge every Wednesday night, the band that became the focal point of every tattooed, pointy-boot wearing, Buck Owens
-loving two-stepper in town. It almost seemed like a baseball farm club: Just about everyone who was or would be a hot-shit country picker in this town passed through Jeff Hughes' band. Tragically, Hughes left for Nashville without leaving any documentation, but thankfully, now that he's realized the error of his ways and returned to Austin, we now have an album. Chaparral magically reproduces the era; it would have been natural for Hughes to "move on" like artists usually do, but he knew that songs like "Finer Lovin'," "Choose Only Love," and "Lazy Good for Nothin'" were too good to leave in a notebook somewhere. Maybe you can't re-live those exciting and stupid college days, but Chaparral will help you remember them: Flirting, dancing on that too-crowded, beer-slicked Black Cat dance floor, and leaving at 2am with the exhilarating, giddy feeling that only a scorching band in its prime can give you. Actually, hearing this, it's obvious that Hughes' prime isn't behind him. Maybe it's time to shine up the boots and hit a Chaparral gig again.
3.5 Stars -- Lee Nichols
COME ON FEEL THE METAL
Not long ago, in a friend's walk-in closet, I discovered a wall plastered with Hit Parader pull-outs, backstage passes, and glossy 8x10's -- all from bands like Pretty Boy Floyd, Lillian Axe, and Motley Crüe. Ellen had nothing on my friend. And while stumbling upon this shrine dedicated to cock rock's glory days was fun at first, it was also spooky. Somehow, all that spandex and hair seemed to make the gap between reality and metal's long-anticipated comeback seem even wider. Nevertheless, in Dallas, 35 bands have decided to forgo all future rights to punk credibility, letting us into their closets to watch them jerk off their metal memories. But like the songs of the period itself, the majority of the 2-CD Come On Feel The Metal is disposable and instantly forgettable. Although acts like Hagfish (AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap"), Dosou (Guns 'N' Roses' "It's So Easy"), and UFOFU (Ratt's "Round and Round") think becoming the metal bands they aren't is clever, in execution, it's not. Those bands that switch things up, like Voyeur's pop/punk take on Lita Ford's "Kiss Me Deadly," and ex-Funland leader Peter Schmidt's DJ-Shadow drum looping of Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It," provide tracks that are fun once, but the only real thrills here are from the bands that probably never were metal fans to begin with and still resist or bypass the opportunity to become one now; notable is Brave Combo's blindly swingin' version of Foreigner's "Double Vision" and Cowboys and Indian's smooth, jazzy take on Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever." Not surprisingly, the album's two biggest names, the Toadies and Tripping Daisy, fare well, with the former's straight but fun reading of Thin Lizzy's "Cowboy Song" and the latter's bubblegum twist on Judas Priest's "Electric Eye." Unfortunately, they're too little, too late. I'm afraid I'm going to have to give Come On Feel the Metal to my friend for safekeeping in her closet.
2.5 Stars -- Andy Langer
(The Medicine Label)
Check your rock & roll manual, and about four graphs down on page one you'll find the word "taut: having no slack; tightly drawn." Pretty important stuff. Without it, the Ramones are merely another pair of sneakers and torn jeans while the Clash are just a bad accent. Recently, Denton's Toadies reintroduced the word to Texans -- their galloping metal riffs drawn taut over a punky tempo and leer. That's a popular manifesto to the Denton/Dallas axis, and the latter city's UFOFU have done fine by their fellow comrades. Their own particular set of sharp, hard riffs and inventive time changes, coupled with vice-like harmonies, prove this young trio has a firm grasp of the essentials. More importantly, they understand the importance of a good hook. Obviously, some are better than others, but when hook meets song, as on the hyperactive "King of Sex," the squirming, quasi-sleazy "Pincushion Boy," and the terrifically Toadies-ish "Flying," there's little doubt these boys not only read the manual, they understood it. At times, they're just a little too clever for their own good, musically and lyrically, and sometimes they just let their motors run, but this full-length debut lands in the R&R appendix, easy.
3.0 Stars -- Raoul Hernandez
ROTATING PARTS: A PROPELLER COLLECTION
Local indie Propeller Records is known for a string of nifty singles including Sixteen Deluxe's "Reactive" b/w "Kids In America." Here, they take the next logical step by releasing one of those compilation albums we've been seeing so much of lately. It's a nice, if overly eclectic, collection, too, with spacey stuff from the Miracle Drug, Guardez Lou, toof, and more; folk and country from Thomas Anderson and Hoyt Clagwell; and straightforward pop from the Million Sellers and a distortion-addled Johnny Goudie. This batch of tunes certainly runs one hell of a gamut, but then again, I'm not sure it's possible to find a group of bands that the Prima Donnas actually fit in with. (Those Eighties throwbacks are as hilariously earnest here as they are live, by the way.) Seventeen songs (actually, seventeen bands) altogether; take a listen and you may find quite a few you like.
3.0 Stars -- Ken Lieck
BO BUD GREENE
The Same but Different (Super Cottonmouth)
Could this be any more of a Pavement record? Well, yes it could. Singer Borderson B'rock's (what happened to Andy Bracht?) off-key caterwauling sounds more like the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne than it does Steven Malkmus, and bbg is apt to indulge in more distortion box enhanced punk moments than the indie kings. But everything else, the sloppy arrangements, the guitar tones, the half-assed DIY-sounding production, even the pseudo-poetry of the lyrics ("we'll travel through the years, we'll erase the fears, we've got windows, we've got pink skies"), sounds like it was pulled straight off of Slanted and Enchanted. The similarity doesn't necessarily mean that bbg has "borrowed" the formula that was so critically successful for Pavement. Theoretically, you could have a situation here analogous to that of Leibniz and Newton, where they both invented calculus at roughly the same time independent of each other; bbg could have come to this sound without ever having heard Pavement (although I seem to recall bbg's last album having the occasional funk groove on it, which would be damaging evidence against its defense). No matter. Be it copped or created, The Same but Different sounds the same but worse.
2.0 Stars -- Michael Bertin
Secret Robot Control (Wind-Up/BMG)
This thick-skinned Denton quartet plows through their major label coming-out like circus geeks dancing across hot coals. It's no easy task to juggle a Chrome-style sonic collage with the militant dynamics of Fugazi, but Baboon pulls it off with brash aplomb. The cherry topping on this theatre of the absurd comes when vocalist Andrew Huffstetler crawls through the wreckage to issue forth makeshift clarion calls on the trombone. From the discordant glory of "Night of the Long Knives" to the assembly line melodics of "BoxRotter," Secret Robot Control never gets bogged down in the too-tempting sidetrack of prog-for-prog's-sake. The band's cause is further advanced by whimsically aggressive production that transforms the subtle volatility of 1994's "Face Down in the Turpentine" into a truck bomb. Everything Baboon throws at you contributes to their symbolic and mournful deconstruction of humanity. Although Chuck Norris reportedly exclaimed, "They're terrible!" when Baboon portrayed an angry punk band on Walker: Texas Ranger, Norris' weighty brand of do-gooder violence is no match for the spry, manic fury of this 38-minute whirling dervish.
3.0 Stars -- Greg Beets
JOHNNY RENO & THE LOUNGE KINGS
Singing and Swinging (Menthol)
Underneath all these cocktail clichés currently being foisted on popular culture like cut-rate drink specials at some no-name happy hour, there lies a nugget of sincerity. Though the first words out of his mouth on Singing and Swinging are "Here's your invitation/Swing with us the Cocktail Nation," Johnny Reno is about as far from a poseur as is possible in this genre; if anyone was born to swing, it's this Dallas sax fiend. Mixing a couple of originals with cocktail standards ("Baby Just Cares for Me," "One for My Baby," "Beyond the Sea") and instrumental chop-wielders (Benny Goodman's "Smooth One," "Sandu," "Chitlins con Carne"), Reno and band are snappy, not slavish, bubbling along on a cushion of tenor sax runs, B-3 swells, and fluid guitar runs. There's something to be said for this kind of music; done right, it's still some of the purest pop music American composers ever crafted. Reno does it right, and Singing and Swinging is as tasteful and elegant as a fine dinner jacket.
3.0 Stars -- Christopher Gray
GRAND STREET CRYERS
Steady on the Shaky Ground (Rhythmic)
A few years back, Denton's burgeoning noise-rock scene (Toadies, Brutal Juice, etc.) dubbed itself "Hell's Lobby," ostensibly because the bland output of misspent Deep Ellum youth was geographically just down the hall. This week, hell is undeniably the Grand Street Cryers. While their stiff mimic of the Old 97s is initially embarrassing, the majority of this debut's overbaked rock and undercooked pop is less offensive -- in a "what's not to like about Hootie?" way. Granted, the songwriting turns out to be, on the whole, downright catchy because it's so predictable, but the real surprise is that ex-Heartbreaker Stan Lynch would produce an album so sterile -- so full of cellophane grit and tightass guitar tones. While this exercise in conceptual triteness may be beneath Lynch, it suits the Cryers just fine. They deserve whatever they get for being the first to cater to the slew of Jackopierce fans no doubt due to discover rock & roll sometime after SMU graduation.
2.0 Stars -- Andy Langer
Darden Smith has a story about hearing Blue Rodeo's "Five Days in May" for the first time and being so struck by it that he had to pull over to the side of the road just so that he could really listen to the song. Martin Zellar tells a similar story about the first time he heard Paul Westerberg's "Things." And soon, some other hot-shot singer-songwriter will probably have a similar experience when they hear Sara Hickman do "Nobody Goes to the Moon Anymore." Hickman delivers the Damon Bramblett-written litany to dreams turned relics with devastating fragility. The rest of the debris from Hickman's past that makes up Misfits is probably for fans only. Ho-hum tidbits here can be found done better by everyone from the Comedians and Merrie Amsterburg to the Carpenters and Everything but the Girl. Those without a previous penchant for Hickman will only be turned off by things like an over-the-top version of "Zippity Doo-Dah" (frivolity doesn't necessitate such a sizable expenditure of emotional energy). Can one song redeem the entire CD? Probably not. "Nobody Goes to the Moon Anymore" may not be enough to move you to buy this disc, but should a copy fall into your lap, the song will keep you from ever
giving it up.
2.0 Stars -- Michael Bertin
Spoken word expression is dependent on a powerful voice that commands attention through intent and delivery, not volume or speed. Musically, the genre isn't a showcase for chops, but rather an opportunity to create a unique musical milieu. Babble Lingus wins and loses by this very aesthetic. The mellifluous rhythm on "PBS Porno" is a fine example of the rewarding music throughout. The track opens with a recording of howler monkeys from Mayan ruins in Chiapas, slowly giving rise to the hyper-alive interplay between the percussion and guitar/bass. The vocals, while occasionally resembling the matter-of-fact delivery of MC 900ft Jesus, don't quite reach this excited level and tend to sound a bit forced. Given the flowing nature of the music, a subtle vocal delivery that interacts unexpectedly with the music -- like Robbie Robertson's "Somewhere Down On Crazy River" -- might have made the text more noticeable. When it works, though, as on "Huff's Funk (Newsreel '75)," a worthy interpretation of an Albert Huffstickler poem, vocals and music come together as perfect counterparts; the bass lays down a heavy, syncopated groove and the lyrics deliver a John Trudell-like ironic twist: "Someone informed Jesus that Lazarus had rolled back up in his linens then hanged himself." Overall, if the spoken thang is your shtick, you could do a lot worse than Babel on....
3.0 Stars -- David Lynch