I Hate These Songs (HighTone)
For Dale Watson, the reigning alt-country trend doesn't amount to a hill of beans. It's just a convenient way to snag well-deserved attention for his first two pure-heart albums, Cheatin' Heart Attack and Blessed or Damned. But last summer, Watson set out on a marathon tour of truckstops across America and that experience has forever given his songwriting and singing a patina that barely shone on the first recordings. Not surprisingly, his newest, I Hate These Songs, reflects that throwback to the halcyon days of country music on truckstop jukeboxes, the kind of steel guitar-driven heartbreak of Sixties-era Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Ray Price. It was music so evocative that it still commands classic status on jukeboxes, and should be recognized for its unselfconscious Nashville influence. That's precisely the balance Watson achieves on I Hate These Songs, where he evokes the traditional country themes of home and family ("Count on You"), broken hearts ("Wine Don't Lie"), a little drinking here and there ("Hair of the Dog"), and some sure-fire dance-floor ditties ("That's Pride"). Watson gets a tad preachy ("Take a Look at Your Neighbor"), but isn't without humor, as the wry title track attests, conjuring up titles and references to some of country's most loved tunes. I Hate These Songs is a living, loving tribute to the heartland and Watson oughtta be real damn proud. And so should his mama.
-- Margaret Moser
I-35 is ideal for militia trainees (Killeen, Waco, Dallas, and Oklahoma City!), but by linking Austin and Minneapolis, Conspiracy Corridor is becoming Highway 61 revisited for the No Depression set. No other two cities are so culturally attuned yet geographically far apart; shoot, even our Prince tribute nights do well, and everybody knows what big Mats fans we are down here. Plus, we're the ones with the hockey team. So when Mike Nicolai relocated here from Gopherland, it couldn't have been that much of a switch. Judging by his album, it wasn't. He recorded most of the songs in Minnesota, but that doesn't stop the Gourds from showing up behind Nicolai on "Half Right" and "Rattling My Cage" (the Damnations' Deborah Kelly also pops up on "Rattling"). Otherwise, Nicolai focuses his keen eye and nasal Midwestern drawl on spectacle ("The Last Great Balloon Race"), happiness ("Too Damn Good"), penny-arcade religion ("Dreams of Christ"), co-dependency ("There's a Hole in You"), and bureaucracy ("Heartache Trust Local #40"), but his shining moment is "Awkward Love," a bit of wordplay that would make fellow Man From the North Country, Bob Dylan -- and probably postmodern hip-hop lyric freak Dr. Octagon -- proud: "I missed you at the party/All the boys and girls were swingin'/Cupid got so loaded that he barfed all over the kitchen/These glasses couldn't be thicker/'Cause this love can't hold its liquor/It's like a drunken headless chicken wearing two left-handed gloves/This is all very awkward, love." Encore. And, uh, go Twins!
-- Christopher Gray
Sleeps With His Guitar (ARK 21)
The ultimate testament to Pat MacDonald's songwriting skills lies in how sparsely he's arranged this album's 16 tracks. Other writers with half the talent would slave over any one of these nuggets, endlessly tinkering with bells, whistles, and attitude. But MacDonald just seems more concerned with getting these dark theories, laments, and tales off his chest, onto record, and out of his mind, which makes Pat MacDonald Sleeps With His Guitar feel like a day in the life despite its obvious density. As such, "Hey man it's only love/ A stupid simple song/ but you could make it complicated/ if you wanted to... / You could really fuck up my life" not just a smart lyrical run, but an invitation to accept this set as is -- or dig deeper and unearth MacDonald's subtler displays of rage and angst. Either approach is satisfying, with both visions hinging on percussionist Wally Ingram (often MacDonald's only collaborator), who becomes each song's spiritual and musical soul. Ingram is the album's cohesive center, and the man behind the gloom, quirk, and rhythm that makes repeat listens so painless -- even as MacDonald's personal pains seem to multiply exponentially. Forget the guitar, these are songs worth sleeping with.
-- Andy Langer
Sol Power (Discovery/Antone's)
It's a good thing Sol Power was recorded live, because that's as close to in-concert as most people outside of Austin are likely to hear the elusive Toni Price. As notoriously tour-shy as she is press-shy, Price has compromised nothing when it comes to seeing her music gets made her way. In her previous outings, Price burst into locals' hearts with her stellar debut Swim Away and the solid sophomore effort, Hey, but Sol Power shines with the kind of back-porch, folksy appeal on which Price established her reputation. Bearing the traditional nucleus of Gwil Owen-penned songs (seven of 13 tracks are by Owen), Price cannily decided to record live at the aptly named Railroad Blues bar in Alpine, where the ambiance comes with the arrival of the 5:19 and the music comes courtesy of Price's band: Casper Rawls, Champ Hood, and Scrappy Jud Newcomb, who set her soaring vocals and sly innuendo in a sparkling framework of chunky guitars and fiddle. With seemingly little effort, Price's commanding, demanding voice steers the simple rhythms of "Cats and Dogs," "Freeway," and "Sarah," and gives them her own languid imprint of rural blues, though by the time she finishes Lee Dorsey's "Funky," there's not a still toe in the house. With kudos to the concept and the band accounted for, what makes Price so interesting is her utter disregard for convention and complete commitment to quality. What makes Sol Power so irresistible is Toni Price.
-- Margaret Moser
Jumpin' Tracks (Flatrock)
Christine Albert and Chris Gage comprise one of the smartest local pairings on record -- the record being their collaborative Boxcars project, Jumpin' Tracks. The duo's songwriterly sensibilities mesh seamlessly, as evidenced by the title track and "What Am I to You," in which the easy way their voices slide against each other would seem to indicate they've been doing this together far longer than just one year. At times, things seem to get away from them; in "The Workings of the Soul," a simple melody and pure sentiment take a dangerous left turn into the realm of Air Supply, and their spirited though diluted version of James Brown's "I'll Go Crazy" is just a bad idea. Nevertheless, things never slip far enough out of reach to detract from the stronger songs. Jimmie Dale Gilmore's surprise appearance at the end of "Now That You're Gone" actually takes away from the impact of this outstanding tune, his distinct warble standing out like a sore-special-guest-star-thumb. And if that's bad, you know the song has gotta be good. Gage's guitar and piano work are always solid, often brilliant, providing an effortlessly genre-crossing backdrop for Albert's gorgeous turns with the folk, soul, and blues that get near-equal countrified attention throughout.
-- Christopher Hess
Too Far to Care (Elektra)
When asked about this album, one alt-country expert expressed his opinion thusly: "Eh. It's alright." Of course he wasn't bowled over by it, Too Far to Care has little or nothing to do with alt-country. It's a rock & roll album, pure and simple, and as such it's a damn fine one. Look no further than the album's last (and best) song, "Four Leaf Clover." On the Dallas' bands first indie release, Hitchhike to Rhome, the song blended in with the album's spirited, dusty twang. Here, it slams like something off of X's Under the Big Black Sun, thanks in no small part to the guesting Exene Cervenkova. In fact, the whole album is bursting with energy, whether flat-out bucking and broncing like "Timebomb," "Niteclub," and "Four Leaf Clover" or just hoofing it like the beatific "Big Brown Eyes" (from their true alt-country gem Wreck Your Life), "Barrier Reef," and "Just Like California." The mix of acoustic and electric, the barroom harmonies, and Rhett Miller's lyrical cheekiness ("She's gonna kill me and I don't mean softly," "Time is on my bad side") add up to a West Texas spiritedness that's all too rare in an era of angst and electronic beeps & boops. Sure there's twang here, but consider where these boys are from. If Joe Ely had met up with the Clash a few years early, he'd have made more albums like this rifle-shot of rock & roll.
-- Raoul Hernandez
8 1/2 SOUVENIRS
The best thing going for this 8 1/2 Souvenirs album is the last 8 1/2 Souvenirs album. Souvonica, the locally grown yet Continentally flavored band's second release, which takes its name from the invented language Souvonics ("sort of like Ebonics, but not really," says the press kit), has little of the charm or je ne sais quoi, if you will, of the band's debut, Happy Feet. While Souvonica is slightly reminiscent of that album, it lacks the same spirit, making it, how you say, zee esophomore eslump? Listening to Souvonica's individual performances, there are some wonderful guitar and piano parts from Olivier Giraud and Glover Gill respectively, but said parts are spotty, diluted by average material. To put it in mutated cliché form: The whole is less than the sum of its parts, or better yet, the band has planted some really nice trees, but somehow the forest ended up being fairly uninteresting. Outside of the title track, Souvonica's two liveliest performances are the non-8 1/2 penned "Amarcord" (a Nino Rota piece) and "Serpent Charmer." After that, there's nothing outstanding about the remaining outstanding moments of the album. For instance, on "Paris," the usually resplendent Kris McKay dons an accent that sounds like a comedy sendup of someone singing in French or Souvonics or whatever. If campy humor is what they were going for, then bingo, otherwise, it's overdone enough to make Peter Sellers want to retool his Clouseau accent (were Sellers still alive, that is). It never occurred to me until now, but maybe the music and not the oblique symbolism is why it's tough to make it through those Fellini double features.
-- Michael Bertin
Jazz, as an improvisational idiom, is at its best when inspired by an audience. Austin's Jazzaholics, a quartet of drums, bass, keys, and saxes, sought this brisk creative environment when they chose to record the all-original Who?, "live on two tracks directly to DAT." It's no mystery why more musicians don't record albums this way: Whatever is played goes on tape. No second takes. No overdubs. It's recording without a safety net. The Jazzaholics do a superb job of performing within this environment without being sloppy or flashy; the playing is tight, but not stiff. Released on Texas jazz label Fable Records, Who? is a good example of the Jazzaholics' repertoire: a few ballads ("All Things Made New"), some fine originals ("Knot Write Music"), and where the band really shines individually and as a collective, flat out smokers ("A Nod to Cee-Cee," "Boilin'...Indeed!" and the album's hottest number, "Allegro Con Fusion"). Because it's a one-shot deal, recording live has its inherent drawbacks (more acoustic bass in the mix and more keyboard textures would have been a welcome addition), but if you're a fan of jazz, you'll be a fan of the Jazzaholics.
-- David Lynch
THE AMERICAN ANALOG SET
From Our Living Room to Yours (Trance Syndicate/Emperor Jones)
Perhaps it's the fact that both of The American Analog Set's albums were recorded in their living room that makes Mark Smith's drumming sound like he's tapping out beats on the top of a suitcase, or better yet, a cot, drawn tight with a wool blanket. In reality, it's just a brush on a snare, but like the rest of this Austin quartet's music, the mood it creates is one of intimacy -- bedroom music, whispered in hushed tones, the kind listened to with the covers pulled up over your head. Certainly, this describes Andrew Kenny's vocals, which are nearly intelligible throughout From Our Living Room to Yours. And yet, because of the sonorous nature of the group`s groove -- and really, that's all it is, groove -- it works; in fact, something as innocuous as a tambourine nearly ruins "Where Have All the Good Boys Gone" because it's too loud. Instead, it's touches like cicadas giving way to a gentle guitar strum on "Two Way Diamond I" that slide you into the group's brand of mood music. That, and the nine-minute crowning opener, "Magnificent Seventies," the groove of grooves with a riff you'd enjoy for another 34 minutes. The songs are mostly just fragments, but as Lisa Roschmann's keyboards pull at Kenny's riffs and bassist Lee Gillespie throbs lazy on that cot, The American Analog Set seduce you like a gentle stroke of the hair.
-- Raoul Hernandez
Plane Crash City
Caught Scream on video the other night, a movie that makes clear it's fucking with you right as it's doing it ("This is usually the part where the presumed-dead killer comes back to life for one final scare," then Bam! Up he pops right on cue). Great movie, great concept: entertainment and simultaneous self-mocking social commentary! (How Nineties.) Austin pop adopted this philosophy early on; hell, thanks to Slacker, Austin coined the genre. As interpreted on Plane Crash City, the new tape by left-field, left-of-the-dial local outfit the Orange Mothers, it spells 15 songs' worth of post-ironic cultural fun. Is "Rocket Boy" a clip Man... or Astroman? hasn't quite worked up to yet, or a cleverly veiled snap at 25-year-olds who still play astronaut? "Freight Train" could be a stone-perfect Brakeman tribute or just a song about needing a late ride home from the Electric Lounge. "Burn the City" pairs incendiary Atari Teenage Riot lyrics with a narcoleptic American Analog Set vibe while "Birthday" and "Alien" ape Wayne Coyne's daffy starchild melodies while placing his Flaming Lips firmly on the Mothers' ass. The finale, "Andy's Drunken Christmas," is such synth-kitsch even the Prima Donnas would blush. Is Plane Crash City pop? Parody? Both, of course. Welcome to the Nineties.
-- Christopher Gray
THE FLAMETRICK SUBS
Amaze Your Friends With X-Ray Glasses (Teen Rebel)
You can take the Flametricks out of the Black Cat, but you can't take the Black Cat out of the Flametricks. Or maybe you can. As much as their Saturday night live shows (with the able assistance of Satan's Cheerleaders) are barn-burning hootenannies from hell, something's been lost in the translation to this small, plastic disc. Hard to tell if it's the sweaty, Shiner-fueled ambience of the Cat, or the hollering throngs of late night ne'er-do-wells that flock to that unholy rockabilly church, but Amaze Your Friends is sorely lacking that dirty, secret little ingredient that transforms the Subs' live shows into something approaching revival show release. The fault lies not with the band, though; Clem Hoot's fingers-on-fire guitarwork is as frenetic and implausible as ever, as are Buster Crash's countrified vocals (and rhythm guitar), Peggy Suicide's dead-on-target bass pickings, and Johnny Cat's snap, crackle, and pop drumkit fireworks. The hits are here, everything from longtime crowd-pleasers like "One Ball Billy" and "Creepy Dead Folk," to the story of my romantic life thus far, "Life Sucking Voodoo Women," so why the hell aren't I dancing on a table right now, wild-eyed and grinning? Clean, clear, crisp production, without the threat (or is that treat?) of spilled beer, busted E strings, or broken drum sticks, that's why. An above average release from a way above average Black Cat/rockabilly institution, but still, you, me, and the devil know the only real way to experience the thrills, chills, and sheer drunken mayhem of the Flametrick Subs is on a sweaty, summer Saturday, jostling for dancefloor space and slopping $2.50 longnecks on your slimed-over Ropers. And that's good enough for me.
-- Marc Savlov
ANT MAN BEE
Cut Bait & Run (Charcoal)
Finally something good in the musical void that is 1997. This Ant Man Bee album is like receiving manna from heaven, or like finding the sunken treasure buried in the shipwreck of alterna-product. Alright, that may be a bit of an overstatement, especially that manna thing, but Cut Bait & Run is the most inventive and wonderfully bizarre album to come down the pipe this year. Once you get used to Garrett Jamison's slightly quavering voice, it's all gravy. Here's the key: The album constantly keeps the listener off balance. Hell, the Tyson fight just had one big surprise, and you loved that. This thing twists wildly and abruptly from manic funk to bloated Seventies art rock even to straight flamenco on one cut, and it's all got this weird Captain Beefhart thing running underneath. Just when you think you've heard it all, Ant Man Bee pulls out "Mod Squad," quite possibly the first song ever to steal (albeit briefly) elements of Pink Floyd's "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict." I'm not saying I've seen the future, but I just hope something half this inventive is playing on the radio as we drive across that bridge to the next century.
-- Michael Bertin
Touch Me Columbus (Benten)
Remember when someone thought it was a good idea for David Byrne to produce a B-52s album? The result was a hybrid Talking Heads/B's album that effectively wiped out the strengths of both. As the first cut of Columbus ("Hoagie Express") kicks in, high on spare guitar licks and low on sweet 'n' sour harmonies, a dread memory of Mesopotamia brings a shiver to my ears. If I hadn't seen the label, I would've bet the farm that this was a new one by Moist Fist (Austin's own artsy take on the B-52s). Instead, this is the Horsies, and Columbus soon proves that the Horsies just can't be charmless. Tunes like "I Saw Junior Brown" and the dizzying "Food Song" recall their live sound, and that of their fuller, more exotic debut album with bits of Western swing and other effluvia scattered about. If all you're worried about is whether or not you can dance to it, don't fret. This time around the groove is just a little more heavy on funk and rock than polka.
-- Ken Lieck
The Nurse Wore Black
The Softs' opening slot for Palace last year at Emo's was key in getting them some well-deserved local attention -- and it was no accident. Grant Barger, the Softs' mostly drummer/sometimes-guitarist/singer, had a hand on the knob for the Palace Brothers' first album. The Softs' EP, The Nurse Wore Black, is a different twist of the lo-fi dial. Each instrument takes turns ducking behind the other, vanishing and reappearing, while every song, at first, seemingly muddy, emerges from the sludge as a more honest representation of the band's live sound; let's face it, a clean Softs album would've been a big, fat lie. Robert McNeill's vocals evoke a post-Valium/pre-cappucino Jonathan Richman, and sometimes even Margaret Brown's chipperly monotone harmonies don't seem to wake him up. But it all works, as McNeill's urbane and lethargic singing style complements the slightly fractured melodies, each element seeking to chip at its own foundation as the songs move along. Were it not for the deliciously droning Hammond organ, all B-52's comparisons could finally be disposed of -- especially as "Nervous Tick," the high point of the album, brings the Modern Lovers feel around with a riff à la the Delta 72. Narco-pop for the optimistically challenged, the Softs rock, whether they want to or not.
-- Christopher Hess
For a duo with a low name-recognition factor, the Barbers (Elaine and Lee Barber) have made some notable friends in local music circles since relocating to Austin from Mississippi. The pair has managed to get some help from the likes of Rich Brotherton, Champ Hood, and Chris Searles in putting together its self-titled debut. Not bad at all, kind of like this ethereal but slightly unorthodox album. Unorthodox because Lee's folkward-leaning, unwrinkled Tom Waitsy voice gets punctuated by everything from a pump organ and pedal harp to a water pail and hose (really). Better still, underneath all of the unusual textures and occasionally herky-jerky arrangements (see "I Miss Your Lips" and "I Hate the World"), the Barbers have pieced together a batch of graceful and often stunning songs. From the gentle cascade of "Tin Foil Satellite" to the charming fragility of "Fishing For Rain," the duo has pulled off the rare feat of being powerful without being obtrusive. Nope, not bad at all.
-- Michael Bertin
You'd think I would've learned after Blaze Foley's death. But no. Despite loving the six-song Gypsy Cowboy cassette since 1990, I again put off seeing another member of the Austin Outhouse Mafia until it was too late. Oh well, at least this time I have a CD instead of a just a cassette, although that's small consolation. Gypsy Cowboy has been reissued in digital form, with the addition of three songs recorded live at the Outhouse, and we're lucky to have this gem saved. Clark's voice embodied the laid-back funkiness of the Outhouse -- old hippies more concerned with picking a song than making money off of it, an art-for-art's-sake ethos, but without the pretension of people who usually proclaim one. Clark had Woody Guthrie running through his veins, filtered through the same Texas outlook that inspired Townes Van Zandt and Willie Nelson -- sometimes he just bemoaned/celebrated the gypsy cowboy life, other times he made bold political statements, like on "The American Farmer" or the Vietnam Memorial-motivated "Black Granite." Perhaps if I'd gotten off my butt and done a story on Clark, a better-known performer would have covered his songs while he was alive. Hopefully, his death will at least have the positive effect of drawing attention to them now.
-- Lee Nichols
ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL
Back to the Future Now: Live at Arizona Charlie's in Las Vegas (Epic/Lucky Dog)
Picante, the guitar, and even a molecule won consideration by the Texas Legislature this session to be the official state salsa, instrument, and uh, molecule. Why not go ahead and make Asleep at the Wheel the state's Official Band? They are, after all, the greatest ambassadors of Texas music around. And nothing makes you appreciate them more than hearing the reaction of non-Texans to the music we sometimes take for granted. This new live album brings it all home again with some of the band's handiest favorites, including "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens," "Miles And Miles of Texas," and of course, "Ida Red." As usual, some alumni were on stage with leader Ray Benson, in particular LeRoy Preston, who tosses off a masterful rendition of his original, "My Baby Thinks She's a Train." It's good to hear from him, along with a few other old friends like Floyd Domino on piano and Tracy Byrd on vocals. Okay, there is one track that shouldn't have been tried by the band. Please. Never again. Billie Holiday's "God Bless The Child" just doesn't ring true for Benson or the band as a whole. In fact, it's rather painful to listen to -- particularly if you've heard the perfection of Holiday on vinyl, scratches and all. But greatness invites disaster sometimes, even with the quintessential Texas band. There are a lot of Asleep at the Wheel albums out there, but this one should definitely be added to your collection just to remind you how lucky you are.
-- Louisa C. Brinsmade
Hightower Boogie Woogie (Golliber)
Floyd Domino, who won a Grammy with Asleep at the Wheel during his stint as their pianist, has a new job: He provides the music for Jim Hightower's nationally syndicated Chat & Chew political radio show (which incidentally, you can't hear in Austin because no local station has deemed it worthy of their schedule, despite the fact that it broadcasts live daily from Threadgill's World Headquarters). And what you get with Hightower Boogie Woogie is precisely what you'll hear on the show: background music that's lively and pleasing to the ear -- an NPR-esque flow that isn't obnoxious like more commercial radio theme music. However, that's all it is. If you're looking for the type of rollicking piano romp that Domino usually delivers live, you won't want this disc. However, if background music is what you seek -- be it for some social function or just something pleasant to read a book to -- this is far above any Musak-like fare, and should fit the bill.
-- Lee Nichols
TOWNES VAN ZANDT
Last Rights (Gregor)
Why are the ones who write songs detailing how awful it is "Waitin' Around to Die" always first to check out? Townes Van Zandt was someone who did all the talking necessary in his songs, so maybe he just ran out of things to say. He did write "there's no prettier sight than looking back on a town you left behind," so he probably knew all along. Last Rights, the latest addition to TVZ's mushrooming posthumous archive, tacks a 20-minute interview with KUT's Larry Monroe and a smattering of spoken dialogue onto 10 songs -- familiar ones: "Blaze's Blues," "The Hole," "Cowboy Junkies Lament," "Tecumseh Valley." Van Zandt talks about opening for Lightnin' Hopkins, how his association with the Houston blues legend changed his guitar style, how "If I Needed You" came to him in a dream, and bearding up for the "Pancho & Lefty" video shoot on Willie Nelson's ranch. In fact, that latter song is the source of Last Rights' most telling anecdote: Once in Brookshire, two state troopers -- whose nicknames coincided with the songs' title characters -- let Van Zandt out of a speeding ticket when they realized who he was. Why is he immortal? Know anybody else who could bring the mighty, mirror-shaded DPS to its knees using only a song?
-- Christopher Gray
Paradise Lost Me (Freak Central)
It's been a few years since the last release from Austin's premier industrial outfit, and things have changed. The name is no longer Auschwitz 46, which, at the very least, should keep the JDL off their backs for a while. Lineup changes have occurred as well, most notably the addition of bassist/etc. Erik Gustafson to the longtime core of vocalist/ringleader Corey Wilson and programmer Kyle Findlay. How does Paradise Lost Me measure up to 1995's Battered, Drained, Forgotten EP? Out of the album's 12 tracks, only a handful plumb the paint-stripping aggro hellishness of the Auschwitz daze. Things have slowed down a bit, making room for intricately realized song structures.
Arrhythmic beats predominate, and occasionally, you can even make out what Wilson is singing; he's partially downgraded from blister-inducing buzzsaw shrieks to a more mellifluous din. A kinder, gentler '46? Oh, yeah, sure. Those thousand points of light you see are just residual trauma from the banging your cerebral cortex is taking. There's nothing fun or pretty about Paradise Lost Me, from the whiplash stop/go tempo of longtime live set favorite "Descending" to the Skinny Puppy-esque, reverb-o-storm of closer "Fuct." It's all a lovely, filthy headache, louder and more dangerous than before. "Hey, everybody, there's a shitcloud comin' -- run for your lives!"
-- Marc Savlov
If Filter was a calculated carbon copy of Nine Inch Nails, then Soak is a Xerox of a Xerox. And believe it or not, that's a good thing. Rather than sounding like Three Inch Nails, Austin's outta-
nowhere Soak has boiled down the elements that sold several million units for Filter -- loops and samples fused with fat metal guitars, stainless steal production, vocals shouted a few decibels below Reznor levels -- and come up with a driving, steam-engine album that's solid, heavy, and radio-friendly; "Graze," "Shutter Gut," and "Pocket Salt" could easily be hits on alt-rock radio if that format hadn't already lost the battle to classic rock. Jason Demetri's commanding vocal style steers clear of the scream, deferring instead to Chal Boudreaux's deep bag of hard `n' hooky, staccato burp-gun riffs, which make up for a slight dearth of memorable choruses. Producer Ben Gross (Filter!) probably deserves a lot of the credit for this streamlined, no-nonsense affair, and regardless of the fact that the times may have passed these guys by, Soak is nevertheless Austin's first real entry in the alt-rock sweepstakes and as good a local debut as you'll find in this town.
-- Raoul Hernandez
Hold the phone calls, letters, and e-mails; the "Austin Summer Jam Contest," 1997 edition, has a winner. It's "Sticks and Stones," five songs deep into the Del Dragons' first full-length, Southern Jumbo. Not only does it blast with all the groove and force of other classic summer jams, as in "Tumblin' Dice" and the Black Crowes' "Remedy," it makes the album's few shaky moments fly by all the more quickly. The band turns on the vocal axis of Troy Dillinger and Kim Patty, and if they've got their blues on, they're shit-hot and badass as Delaney and Bonnie. If not, they're Ann Wilson and Mike Reid (Loverboy, remember?), emoting all over the closing credits of some ill-fated Eighties romance flick -- mostly on "After the Rain" and "I Just Can't Fall." Jangleheads will like "Tomorrow," a slow-dance reworking of the Beatles' "Something" that isn't too obvious (well, maybe just a little). The rest of Southern Jumbo, especially "Crazy 'bout Tori," "I Must Be Dreaming," and "So Jaded," will sound great on the lake, by the pool, in the car, or any place loud, luscious jams turn up the summertime temperature.
-- Christopher Gray
Remember Alannah Myles? How about Sass Jordan? Apparently former Wicked Gypsy frontwoman Laurie Marks does. In fact, Marks has even decided to waste some space on this post-metal makeover debut with a cover of Jordan's "Sun's Gonna Rise," the type of move that, in local terms, would be a lot like Chris Duarte covering Jeff Healy. It's pointless. Worse yet, Marks conceals her Heart fetish just as badly, with a run through the Music Machines' "Talk Talk," that's all "Barracuda" without the bite. Marks' own blooze rock material is tightly executed and well-constructed, but not strong enough to withstand the unnecessary weight of her gravel-throated, note-holding, heavy-breathing theatrics. Slow all that down and add a cello or piano, and you've got an idea of what the power ballads sound like. The exception is a respectful, album-closing take on Randy Newman's "Guilty," which although somewhat charming is still a transparent attempt at negating the disposability of what comes before it. There's a reason they don't make albums like this anymore, and Selfish is it.
-- Andy Langer