THE CORNELL HURD BAND
Texas Fruit Shack (Behemoth)
What else is there to say about the Cornell Hurd Band that hasn't been said? We've already told you that they're the most underappreciated band in Austin's country scene, the "cool" bands all sing their praises, honky-tonk legend Johnny Bush has been recording with them (including on this disc), and on and on. What angles are left? Try this: They play freakin' great music. That's all. Hurd leads his band through the smokin' heyday of Texas dancehall music, the days when Ray Price crafted a uniquely Lone Star music, which set us apart from the rest of country music. And his musicians, especially guitarist Paul Skelton, fiddler Howard Kalish, and steel guitarists Bobby Snell, Herb Steiner, and Lucky Oceans whip out licks that just scream "decades of experience, right here, pal!" On each two-stepping tune, Hurd and company show the vast difference between merely playing music and loving it - so much that if they couldn't play they would probably just shrivel up and blow away (if they were in it for money, would they put 23 songs on this disc?). But jeez, no slick haircuts? No cool suits? Just incredible, mind-blowingly great country music that will send you spinning into absolute euphoria? Where's the story in that?
3.5 stars- Lee Nichols
ED MILLER WITH RICH BROTHERTON AND JOHN TAYLOR
The Edinburgh Rambler (Wellfield)
Purveyors of regional or ethnic music who practice outside their natural habitat often walk a thin line between tradition and novelty, but Scot-born, Texas-raised Ed Miller manages to avoid the hokey on The Edinburgh Rambler. Instead, he delivers a charming collection of Scottish tunes made even better for the fine musicianship that accompanies it. Miller's voice is as warm and supple as well-tanned leather, ringing out with deep love and affection for the material. Since the Gaelic tradition of song entails storytelling, Miller's notes on the development and treatment of songs adds much to the enjoyment of the lilting verses contained within The Edinburgh Rambler. The musicianship is indeed notable, as Taylor's fiddle and Brotherton's jack-of-all-trades precision. But Miller's golden tones are what drive this album, from the battlefield with William Wallace ("Scots Wha Hae") and shepharding ("The Shearin's No' for You"), all the way to the Lone Star State ("The Devil Made Texas"), and it's a pleasant journey in such good company.
3 stars - Margaret Moser
THE MEAT PURVEYORS
Sweet in the Pants (Bloodshot)
The bluegrassy Bloodshot debut for the Meat Purveyors falls somewhere in the neighborhood of fellow Austinites the Bad Livers and the Damnations, but the front porch harmonies of Jo Walston (Joan of Arkansas, the Gretchen Phillips Experience) and Cherilyn diMond come off as more earnest white-bred Appalachian than adopted white-bread affectation. The downside here is that authenticity (albeit delivered with a little more speed) is not without finite appeal as far the clock is concerned, and the band seems more concerned with cadence than with melody. At least TMP tosses out a few split-finger fastballs to keep you guessing. Amidst a handful of originals penned by Bill Anderson (the Horsies, Big Foot Chester) is a healthy serving of covers, including, but not limited to, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, and just to throw you completely off balance, a version of Glass Eye's "Dempsey Nash." The choicest cut of all is an homage to the King himself in all of his latter-day obesity - a surprisingly slowed-down and beautifully butchered take of Elvis' "Burning Love." Not exactly the prototypical band for "The Home of Insurgent Country" (as the folks at Bloodshot have labeled themselves), the Meat Purveyors would probably endear themselves to bluegrass snobs before alt-country slobs.
2.5 stars - Michael Bertin
Frames Per Second (Trance Syndicate)
The climactic build of "Elements of Style," the first song on Paul Newman's debut, Frames Per Second, is centered around a series of electric crescendos ending in a sharp, noisy blast that quickly subsides, fades to the bottom, and then starts back on its climb again. Since there aren't many lyrics on this album, this and other avenues of purely musical exploration are wide open to Paul Newman, whose sound resides somewhere between the hard-grind post-punk rawk of The Jesus Lizard or GVSB (mostly in its aggressive lead guitar and jarring signatures), and the soothing meander of less terse, more introspective emo-rock of Seam or Rex. In fact, the explosive "Work to Do" switches abruptly between perfect examples of both, a single song with two distinct lives built around two great hooks. The drums are played hard and the bass parts slide the scale in short and repeated lines (toned way up like Doug McCombs of Tortoise), laying the only thing close to law in these songs. Although Paul Newman's songs seem to amble forward, stopping along the way to check out everything along the side of the road, they really are intricately arranged entities that use and allow for this experimentation within their structure, eventually becoming some of the most intellectually and viscerally compelling music to be filed under rock in recent memory.
4 stars - Christopher Hess
El Gato Negro Smooth (Barb Wire)
The music Ruben Ramos makes is as handsome as he is. His voice doesn't quite measure up to this same standard - something producer Joel Jose Guzman only accentuates here by trying to mask it with arrangements - but over the course of the local Latino's musical progression, and in particular 1993's Amor y Paz, Ramos has shown impeccable taste in choosing material and sidemen. El Gato Negro Smooth is no exception. Most notably there are horns - horns and more horns. And a Mariachi band, complete with violins, guitarron, and horns. The firepower is pretty impressive, and while not the roiling madness of some recent Cuban jazz releases, it's pure patio party music - the traditional version of what Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers were doing in San Antonio back in the day. Ramos and his band The Texas Revolution toss it all into one big skillet - Tejano, blues, jazz, salsa, conjunto - and let it sizzle. It's contagiously fun, from straight-ahead rancheras like "Canal Seco" to the big brass intro of Steve Jordan's "Por Tu Cariño," and the punchy squeeze tones of "Bailas Muy Suave." Standouts, "Sancocho Prieto" and "Ya Yo Te Quiero," both familiar in their come-hither, let's-get-really-drunk- and-salsa-all-night abandon, only confirm that Señor gato negro is both pussygato y leon.
3 stars - Raoul Hernandez
Jackalopes, Moons & Angels (Jackalope)
Why Kimmie Rhodes isn't an international
country icon on a par with Willie Nelson is beyond me. Certainly she has Nelson's approval - cut the beautiful Just One Love with him - but why isn't this Austin chanteuse with the exquisite voice a household name like Willie? Not being in her sixties with a catalogue stretching from here to El Paso may be part of the reason, and the necessity of this release is probably another. Compiling tunes from three out-of-print albums, Jackalopes, Moons & Angels features three tracks off of Rhodes' 1983 debut, four from its follow-up Man in the Moon in 1985, and five from 1989's Angels Get the Blues. Judging by the quality of songs, graced by the presence of such players as Johnny Gimble on fiddle, Jimmy Day on steel guitar, and Joe Ely on vox - as well as a plethora of others like Butch Hancock, Marcia Ball, Erik Hokkanen, Spencer Starnes, and on and on - only the unavailability of these tunes could keep them from Austinites and country music fans everywhere. "Sweetheart You're a Lot Like Texas" sounds like a Lyle Lovett song waiting to be adored, while the uptown continental elegance of "Man on the Moon" screams Broadway just as "Daddy's Song" whispers a lullaby, and "Angels Get the Blues" could and should be cut by every female country singer from here to Loretta Lynn. On "It'll Do," Rhodes sings, "Ol Butch picks and sings on Saturday night, he throws away better songs than most folks could ever write," and somehow one gets the feeling Butch Hancock isn't the only great songwriter in Austin the rest of the world really doesn't have a clue exists.
4 stars - Raoul Hernandez
Five Weeks Ahead of My Time (Estrus)
This album punches you out, picks you back up, and buys you a shot of whiskey for the crawl home. Ten years is five or six lifetimes on the scuzz-rock blasting line, yet Houston's Sugar Shack has aged almost as gracefully as Susan Lucci (ooh-la-la). Get ready for 14 rapid-fire wads of wet toilet paper thwacked against the wall of all that is staid and bored. Five Weeks... is the perfect combination of cinder-block reverberations and soulful sonic production virtues, the latter courtesy of the great Tim Kerr. Lord High Fixer Stefanie Paige Friedman is the Shack's latest contender at the drum stool, and she rips through the tunes with a well-measured ferocity that does the band right. Vocalist Mark Lochridge also gets extra points for sheer sneer power. Anyone who's ever done time in Houston will appreciate the ambivalent hometown pride of "Go! Space City." In fact, this may be the most positive song written about our state's largest metropolis since ZZ TOP's "Heaven, Hell or Houston." Indeed, maybe there's something to the notion that a harsh environment polluted with industrial waste contributes to steadfast artistic resolve. It sure seems to work for Sugar Shack.
3.5 stars- Greg Beets
Blue Light Special
Sometimes El Kabong absolutely nail it. When they do, this local band sounds like this recklessly wild cross between the Old 97s' last album and Social Distortion's first. "Supermodel," "Crashed My Car Again," and "Lost Mission Road" all rock with a juvenile abandon and roll with the power of a 454. Other times, well, they don't nail it. More like they smash their euphemistic thumb with the musical hammer they're wielding. That's when El Kabong is just another local band incapable of keeping the lines between punk and rock cleanly distinct, which in this instance begets the mostly boring material like "You Should Know by Now," "See Through Your Eyes," and "Big Words" (please, no more bad "dick"-tionary puns). Even when they stumble, though, even when they're just plain stupid, there's something eminently appealing about El Kabong. There's an exuberance and an irreverence in the effort, which makes it easy to sit through the lags to get to the goods. Sometimes you don't have to be a masochist to appreciate the rush you get from a throbbing black and blue thumb, if you know what I mean and I think you do.
3 stars - Michael Bertin
Like San Antonio's Drop Outs and the Sons of Hercules, Dallas' Mullens are a Texas two-chord punk band with just enough melody to balance all that velocity. Neither as rabid as the former band, nor as Sixties garage rock as the latter, the Mullens cruise comfortably at a respectable Ramones roll and plow it home with aplomb - 14 tunes in a raucous 32 minutes. At this pace, the subtleties of good songwriting are relative and few songs standout in such a blur - mostly Nuggets like
"That Lip" and "Your Little Scene" - but the Mullens have two things going for them: their lean, when they just lay into it "Chinese Rocks"-style ("This and That" and "Get Off the Carpet"), and their live shows. It's obvious that a good portion of this no-fi recording was cut live, and on tunes like "I Stink" and "You Thought Wrong," you can feel the momentum building. The occasional guitar solo can be a little shocking, "Black Molly" for instance, but overall the Mullens' full-length debut pulses and pounds in all the right places. Just like Texas.
3 stars - Raoul Hernandez
THE REGALMATIC TWO
tHe hoUse of nexT tUeSDay
With a name better-suited to a New Frontier-era appliance, the Regalmatic Two set out with the somewhat ambitious goal of playing garage-punk without a guitar. Formerly a four-piece and a trio known as the Regalmatic 2000, this San Marcos band punches out acceptable, fuzz-heavy stein swingers that conjure up a disturbing image of Black Flag at the Hofbrauhaus in Munich. Even as the holidays become a blurry memory, "I Never Get What I Want for X-Mas" is a resonant standout. Unfortunately, the drum and bass concept never really transcends novelty status to add much to the songs. There's a lot more to writing interesting songs for a non-traditional combo of instruments than meets the ear (just ask Drums & Tuba). You can't necessarily just add or get rid of an instrument and expect the former arrangement to work. Instead of coming off like a truly intentional endeavor, the Regalmatic Two's music sounds like the drummer and bassist just got sick of trying to find the right guitar player. Certainly there are plenty of people in this town who can relate to that, but in this case, not having a guitar is neither intriguing nor particularly exciting.
2 stars - Greg Beets
MARCIA BALL, IRMA THOMAS,
Sing It! (Rounder)
For everyone waiting for the next "girl group" album, pay attention: Marcia Ball's back with Irma Thomas and Tracy Nelson and life is good. After all, this is long, tall Marcia Ball, New Orleans' soul queen Irma Thomas, and beltin' Tracy Nelson stepping up to the mike, three women whose collective musical experience adds up to more than three-quarters of a century. Maybe that's why Sing It! starts out on the right note, with the second-line beat of the title song tossing its irresistible ju-ju in your path, daring you not to shake a leg. By the time they get their rolling vocals around soulful struts like Steve Cropper's "Love Maker" and Bobby Blue Bland's "Yield Not to Temptation," it's a house party the likes of which hasn't been heard since Ball recorded a similar project with Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton. If soul is the name of the game, Sing It! has it in spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs. It's the kind of cool that can't be measured by the scale of youth, so best let the youngsters go to bed. This is for the grown-ups.
3.5 stars - Margaret Moser
Growin' Up Wild in East Texas
The border between Louisiana and Texas is a governmental one, not a cultural construction. Therefore, the environment that has influenced so many great Louisiana musicians also influenced legendary East Texas musicians such as Lightin' Hopkins and Janis Joplin. It's seems fitting, then, that Port Arthur's Dr. Zog opens Growing Up Wild in East Texas with an ode to the Lone Star state simply named "Texas." Despite the fact that Zog is from the area where the armadillo meets the alligator, his voice is more Graceland than Janis. The music, however, is all piney woods and moss-draped cypresses. Fueled by motoring snare beats ("Cornboy Abduction"), Jon Dee Graham's tasteful lap steel ("Copper Canyon"), pumping harmonica ("Thank You"), and acoustic guitar ("Bones"), you won't find any digital samples on this raw and delightfully imperfect album. The problem is that many of the songs sound too similar, but that's to be expected on most debuts. And given the natural feel of this release, I'd bet Dr. Zog's musical energy transfers well to the stage. If you have a mid-Seventies Lincoln Continental and feel like taking a driving tour through the Bayou, this mudbug jamboree is the ideal soundtrack.
2.5 stars - David Lynch
From the Mother - Songs of the Sacred Feminine (Motherlotus)
Like the bizarre knee-jerk reaction so many young women have to the term "feminist," it's an uninformed snobbery I brandish when reviewing "women's music." How horribly sexist. And spiritual music? Hand me an album gushing with words like "luna," "mother," "wings," and/or "fire" and you're looking at a tough conversion. Well, Sue Young's lush and loving From the Mother might not exactly have me speaking in tongues, but it does inspire dancing in the pews. The album is an exploration and celebration of female imagery through the world's spiritual texts. Executed with care and genius by a host of local well-knowns (including Tina Marsh and Susanna Sharpe, among others), From the Mother's semantic and interpretive open-heartedness is contagious - like those catchy harmony numbers which resuscitated folk masses in the Seventies. Young wields a versatile command of modern musical triggers (including rock, pop, folk, and jazz), as well as a hell of an angelic voice, which saves the album from sounding too dogmatic or adherent to any certain genre. The range of musical styles is as varied as the source religious texts, and the result is less revisionist and more a revisiting of distantly familiar sounds and themes.
3 stars - Kate X Messer
Work Your Show (Freedom)
Clever title, huh? Yeah, well, King Soul can turn a little more than just a high school math class dictum on its head. The locally based outfit turns out textbook R&B with an unmistakable hint of Louisiana flavoring. Heck, the album kicks off with a cover of New Orleans native son Allen Toussaint's "You See Me." But King Soul? That's quite a claim for eight Caucasians to live up to. How about Duke Soul? Or maybe even more accurately, Mid-level Ministers in the Politburo of Soul? Seriously though, there's enough Southern style and Crescent City kick to make you check the calendar (and yes, thank the gods of insignificant iniquity, Mardi Gras is right around the corner). What really redeems the whole endeavor is the work of the horn section. Start to finish they deliver with a jump that feels like it was lifted straight off Van Morrison's "Real Real Gone." They drive the album, and to keep things moving like they do is accomplishment enough.
2.5 stars - Michael Bertin
...AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD
Like lettuce wrapped around a steaming egg roll, Austin's Trail of Dead revels in the yin-yang of discordant extremes. Their debut gushes forth in a manic pattern of rising and falling, whispers coupled with screams, and quiet, unassuming beginnings followed by torturous, hyper-climactic endings. The real pleasure for the listener is trying to figure out how they're going to get back down from whatever feedback-blistered fix they've willfully thrown themselves into. Traces of Sonic Youth, Nice Strong Arm, and My Bloody Valentine dot Trail of Dead's warbled cacophony, but the nice, thick snare adds a bit of home-fried punk backbone to the stew. Amid this wall of noise, the sweetly desperate "Half of What" could actually be a parallel universe hit single on account of its urgent, pulse-raising backbeat. All eight songs seem to be thematically tied together in loose form by the triumph of celebrity over humanity as a not-so-subtle form of fascism. However, Trail of Dead's musical take on this concept is a lot more Euro-cinematic and ambiguous than Pete Townshend's or Roger Waters'. No matter how you slice it, this music resonates with the sound of 1000 screaming car alarms begging you to prick up your ears in a world where anything less isn't even worthy of a passing glance.
3.5 stars- Greg Beets
Felt (Plastic Bono Band)
Many bands have been torn asunder by "artistic differences." While this conflict might be awful for relationships, it can be a boon for creative output. In fact, along with rhythm, tension is one of the more crucial aspects of music making, be it Nick Drake's intrapersonal sparrings or the legendary Lennon-McCartney bickering. Austin-based band Natalie Would understands this, the singer-songwriter and dark studio texturalist components of the band always jabbing and challenging each other. The result is 14 mostly upbeat tunes to which you'll find yourself unconsciously tapping your foot, yet simultaneously so mournful over that you'll feel guilty for doing so. For some folks, the ensuing cognitive dissonance would be reason enough to hit the eject button. The more brave are rewarded with a few treats: the R.E.M. Murmur-era harmony vocals on "Leaving the Past Behind"; the hyperkinetic tremolo guitar of "Poster Clown"; mid-Sixties California pop under the influence of a few too many Mickey's ("Señor Cool"); and "Felt," quite possibly a soundtrack created by a mad Angelo Badalamenti. Natalie Would demonstrates that tension is good for music.
3 stars - David Lynch
Sincerity (Happy Cat)
The dry wit that fuels this sophomore album's first line, "If that's what you call sincerity, I'd like to thank you for letting me know," ought to be worth a star or two - exactly what Dallas singer-songwriter Colin Boyd loses for failing to pen anything as catchy as "Flutter," his song Jack Ingram recently enjoyed a semi-hit with. Even so, Boyd earns himself plenty of credit for attempting to shake the Deep Ellum coffeehouse monkey off his back, deftly juggling delicate pop and dour country. That Monte Warden co-wrote three of the album's best tunes doesn't hurt either, nor do a couple of useful cameos from Sara Hickman and the Jubilettes' Kristen DeWitt. And whereas Hickman's harmonies help turn "This Kiss" into Valentine's Day schmaltz, Sincerity's sweetest moment is the antithesis, "Much Better Off Without You." Boyd is good with a love song, but far better with a heartbreaker. Not only does he turn the narrative up a notch ("seems there's a consensus about you, that I'll be definitely, positively much better off without you"), but he also knows how to orchestrate a loner's twisted anthem - pitting a dark pedal steel run against an upbeat melody. On second thought, forget Ingram, Boyd earns a trio of stars he should be proud to keep all for himself.
3 stars - Andy Langer
LATE LAST NIGHT AS I LAY SCREAMING
KVRX LOCAL LIVE VOL. 2
This, the second offering of material lifted from KVRX's live music forum, is a juicy spattering of all things that this bastard child of Austin radio stands for. The CD, much like the station's programming, alternately strokes you like a drunk kitty (Richard Buckner's "Li'l Wallet Pictures," Scud Mountain Boys' "Scratch Ticket"), lulls you into a grinning stupor (Terror at 10,000 Ft.'s "Beautymark," Monroe Mustang's "Veronica"), and slaps you like an ugly stepchild (Sap's "Adieu Au Apotre Grand," El Flaco's "Gannymedes"). There are, of course, unfortunate omissions from bands like Brown Whornet and others (based on their number of appearances on the show alone), but you can't have everything, and as a whole, with the glaring exceptions of the opening track by the Primadonnas and the closing dead-studio-time-nonsense by someone with a bit too much time on their hands, this is a great compilation and reason enough to tune in to "Local Live."
3 stars - Christopher Hess