Texas Platters


Frankenstein Love: Daniel Johnston Live at the Houston Room 1992 (Stress)

As you might expect, this is a live recording of Daniel Johnston solo, accompanying himself on guitar and occasionally keyboards. If you've heard Johnston's live recordings before (usually nervous, high-energy, brief sets recorded in front of rowdy crowds at punk rock clubs), however, Frankenstein Love will likely confound any other expectations you might have. This 22-song cassette finds a very subdued Johnston facing an audience who sound more suited to chamber music; they applaud reverently (though very enthusiastically) at the end of each song, and maintain a deathly silence at all other times. Because of this, perhaps, Johnston himself never really cuts loose, though he performs well and provides a solid core sampling of both his classic songs ("Walking the Cow," "Casper the Friendly Ghost") as well as a selection of newer compositions ("Rock & Roll/ EGA," "Come to Me Tonight"). The sound is clear and lyrics quite audible, but given Johnston's lethargy throughout, it's difficult to recommend Frankenstein Love as an introduction to his work. This set is, however, highly recommended for those who are fond of his wistful, pained, very intimate songs in their most primitive, lonely form - especially if you hated his excursion into major label/big production rock music, Fun. Many of the songs on that album are heard here, sung and played plaintively by one man, one instrument.
2.5 Stars - Ken Lieck


Deep Six Holiday (TKO)

This Class of '77-inspired outing is meaty and beaty, with just a dab of soccer hooliganism thrown in for good measure. Playing up their role as misunderstood misanthropes, Austin's Dead End Cruisers recast the Clash's Give 'Em Enough Rope within the social and political context of the punk scene in Anytown U.S.A. Tunes such as "Around This Town" and "Just As Well" capture the our-band-against-the-world vibe in a manner that compels the inebriated to commandeer the mike and sing along. Along the way, the Cruisers somehow find time to pen a fine punk breakup song. Employing proverbial rib-stickers like, "I might have got it wrong, but a certain sense of smugness helps me get along," "Shakespeare Couldn't Help" acknowledges rejection without wallowing in it. There's also a frightfully good cover of Demolition 23's "Hammersmith Palais." For grand summation value, though, "Say Goodnight" dominates the highlight reel with a simple-yet-meaningful narrative that clarifies all the reasons for being in a band, even on nights when the sound guy and a couple of winos are your audience.
3.0 Stars - Greg Beets


Oh So Hi-Fi (Golden Apple Sounds)

The boundaries of pop are enormous. Think about it: Frank Sinatra is (was?) a pop musician, and Wesley Willis is also a pop musician. On one hand, charitable inclusiveness makes defining pop almost impossible. On the other, it allows for some interesting intra-genre cross-breeding. Serving that latter end is Jet Jaguar, a band where Herman's Hermits meets Hüsker Dü. The local trio's debut, Oh So Hi-Fi, has the frothy bounce of the earliest Brit-pop done over with the razor sharp guitar of post-punk. To wit: The opening riff from "Sit Back and Watch the Sparks Fly" could have just as easily come from a Monkees' song as from the hands of Bob Stinson. An unpretentious collection of well-organized thrashing and banging, Oh So Hi-Fi never varies much from that blueprint. That would make Jet Jaguar a peachy pop outfit were it not for Christian Kurtz's voice, which sounds like a slightly tweaked Mac Macaughan from Superchunk. Over the course of the album, Kurtz's singing goes from being uncomfortably too upfront, to almost pleasant, to annoying. It has about 10 songs worth of tolerability in it, but this album goes to 11.
2.5 Stars - Michael Bertin


While the debut from Austin's Mink conjures up many well-known pop references, Karl Wallinger's World Party ("On My Way"), Squeeze ("Rainy Day Love"), Dave Matthews ("I Can!!!"), and Page & Plant ("I Wanna Tell You"), the most noticeable presence throughout Mink is the late, great spirit of Jeff Buckley. In weaker hands, these influences could translate into watered-down imitations, yet Mink brings them all together and still manages to sound distinctive. This is partly due to Russell Hughes' singing (falsetto, humming, and harmony), which sounds yearning, whiny, and cocky all at the same time. Maybe Hughes is able to take chances with his singing because he's so familiar with the songs; he wrote or co-wrote all 11 tracks. While most of the tunes deal with standard pop topics (read: relationships) Mink is not afraid to step outside this well-worn path to create a catchy song about prostitution, "Don't You Know." Combining respectable pop references with a bold singing style results in 45 minutes of remarkably well-produced punchy pop. If Mink maintains this debut's momentum, it won't be long before other local bands will be influenced by them.
3.0 Stars - David Lynch


Best of the Balls 1988-98

The arrival of this Best-of CD is a godsend to those of us whose Balls tapes died agonizing deaths in our cars, because we were loath to remove them even in the blistering summer. Three Balls of Fire are just more at home on the car stereo or jambox at the beach, and it's not simply because they play soundtrack-type instrumentals. The titles, "The Men With the Burning Guitars," "Pipeline to Baghdad," "Chicks on Choppers," might tell some of the story, but really , it's the criminally overlooked Mike Vernon and his burning guitar that does most of the talking. "Island Girl" is as liquidly graceful as anything Eric Johnson ever put out and Jimmie Vaughan oughta be just a little nervous at the way "Kind of Green" shuffles into his old barroom turf. The secret of Vernon's sound is uniquely personal: His fingertips flatten naturally and his admiration for both Hawaiian guitar and Sixties soundtrack music channel through that sensual touch. Packed between the 14 tracks that lie on the border between Link Wrayland and Dick Daletown are local stars that include Homer Henderson, Ted Roddy, Vic Gerard, and Mike Buck, all masters of the genre. In the end though, Three Balls of Fire is Austin's own Mike Vernon, who raises enough hell on one guitar to ensure three stars of approval.
3.0 Stars - Margaret Moser


Out There (Epic)

Out there in the juke joints of East Texas and Louisiana, swamp country, only one type of music exists: soul music. Sweet soul music. For his first album since 1993's Strange Pleasure, a fun, sometimes rapturous spiritual journey into the mythical highlands of West Texas, Jimmie Vaughan has taken another step in the direction his musical life will ultimately lead: R&B, soul. Only rhythm & blues (note the blues) and soul that's a little Out There. Vaughan's economical, less-is-more style of blues guitar still defines everything he sets his Stratocaster to, but the album's overall vibe owes just as much to Bill Willis' luminescent B-3 organ and the occasional vibes, piano, and sax fills. That vibe, captured expertly on Strange Pleasure, lends no less a beguiling spell to the material on Out There, yet the new songs are noticeably more buoyant than those of Vaughan's first solo album. The Nile Rogers-penned lead-off track, "Like a King," is an instant Vaughan staple, while Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "Motor Head Baby" and the guitarist's own "Out There" (co-written by Paul Ray) and "Kinky Woman" are all highlights to an album, which at a tightly edited 40 minutes, passes like a night breeze through saloon doors. C'mere, darling, let's you and me repair to the parlor and set a spell.
3.0 Stars - Raoul Hernandez


Lover's Plea (Black Top)

W.C. Clark's playing is the focused, concise, effortless guitar work of a musician who has mastered his instrument. And his style is swinging. The stamp on the CD insert of Lover's Plea reads "Genuine Texas Blues," but the sounds of Chicago guitars carpetbaggin' their way into his songs, as well as a mess of Al Green-like Memphis soul taking a sidelong slide into the mix, virtually defines Clark's latest release. The longtime Austin bluesman is all class, rooted firmly in the form, but reaching out and kicking ass in the effort. "Do You Mean It?" rocks, "Everywhere I Go" jumps as vigorously as "Why I Got the Blues" wanders easy, and "Are You Here, Are You There?" is a killing-me-blues that's stunning, even unsettling in its eerie beauty. Until the horns come in, that is; they break in with a flourish that interrupts the tune like giggling in church, but Clark's high, throaty howl and the lyrics, drawn from the well of his soul, keep the tune, and in a larger sense, the Austin blues, on course.
3.5 Stars - Christopher Hess



It's a decidedly Austin event when a blues disc contains two Willie Nelson covers, and two damn good ones to boot. On Big Blues Extravaganza! you'll find W.C. Clark covering "Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away" and B.B. King crooning "Night Life" - both are slyly soulful enough to put a smile on ol' Willie's face. And it's fitting that the goods are delivered by the folks at Austin City Limits, because in addition to country legends, they've been hauling the best blues players up on stage for a solid generation now. Mindful of its roots, Big Blues Extravaganza! includes a shot of Austin talent, including Clark, Miss Lavelle White, and both Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Good stuff (it's all good stuff), but the album's true highlights belong to the traveling show: Albert Collins tears up the opening "Travelin' South," Dr. John smokes slowly on "Since I Fell for You," and Taj Mahal gets downright regal on "Queen Bee." Add to that Lightnin' Hopkins, Keb' Mo', Gatemouth Brown, Buddy Guy, the Neville Brothers, Rory Block, and Delbert McClinton, and you've got a helluva blues album and a solid reminder - as if we needed one - of what a treasure we have in Austin City Limits.
3.5 Stars - Jay Hardwig


The Lost Dallas Sessions 1957-58 (Dragon Street)

At first glance, this 21-track collection, featuring consecutive takes of "The Night Is So Lonely" and no less than four versions of "Lotta Lovin,'" gives one the queasy feeling that they've stumbled across a compilation of songs with historic (as opposed to entertainment) value. Listening and reading the liner notes confirms those fears while also revealing that there's no reason this material can't be both historic and rockin' at the same time. The essays here spin the fascinating tale of rockabilly legend Gene Vincent, lovingly delineating everything that happens musically on this disc, from stop-start home demos to rare and recently discovered live performances by the Blue Caps, and back on down to songwriter's demos that Vincent himself listened to to determine what he would record next. (Of particular interest and charm is Bob Kelly's original home demo for the classic "Git It"; Vincent's hit version is not included here.) The live cuts, found last year, are average to slightly above, though marred by tape damage and include an energetic take of Jerry Lee Lewis' smash "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On." Overall, this is a nicely assembled "book and record set" overview of the roots of the rockabilly star's hits, and just by programming out a few tracks of incomplete songs and questionable selections (the producers admit that one version of "Lotta Lovin'" is probably just an old tape of a common version with reverb added) this ain't too bad listenin' either.
2.5 Stars - Ken Lieck


Forty Miles (DogStar)

Not only is the debut CD from Midwestern transplant Danny Click a thoroughly engaging batch of sneerful country rockers and ballads, but it's also a way for many who are caught on the fringes of this Americana thing to see exactly how their roots figure into the equation. The overall sound of Forty Miles settles somewhere between the blood and guts jams of the Allman Brothers and the soulful, thoughtful pickin' of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits. Click even does a cover of "Six Blade Knife" from Dire Straits' first album, and the passion of Click's delivery is a great twist on Knopfler's mumbling. The songs are about the road and the pain of living, and the words are sung as if they may be Click's last. His playing shows signs of Hendrix and hints of any of the Skynyrd guitarists, and all of it mixes well with the direct engagement with which Click's songs meet the world they come from. Whatever Americana turns out to be, this will definitely fall within its boundaries, and it may even help to expand them outward a little bit.
3.5 Stars - Christopher Hess



Whoa, déjà vu. Despite the fact that as a collection, Uprooted is a quality sampling of some of the best non-mainstream, more country-than-Country artists around, locals won't need to add this to their collection; you probably already have most of these performances buried somewhere in your CD catalog, especially considering that half the album was culled from material already available on major releases. There's Dale Watson's "Pity Party," Ana Egge's "River Under the Road," Kelly Willis' "He Don't Care About Me," and Wayne Hancock's "Thunderstorms and Neon Signs" among others. However, for those folks who don't own stock in Bloodshot or who think "alt-country" might be either a geographic or a computer term, Uprooted is a risk-free introduction to the contemporary Americana singer-songwriter, including non-locals like Robbie Fulks, Tom Russell with Iris DeMent, Gwil Owen, and Amy Rigby. Although who knew that Amy Rigby was an Americana artist? She's not, so don't go picking up her Diary of a Mod Housewife expecting to hear country music.
3.0 Stars - Michael Bertin


Songs of Forbidden Love (Lazy S.O.B.)

Sounds like the title of a George Jones and Tammy Wynette duet: Songs of Forbidden Love. Yessir, especially the very first track on this local all-star aggregation, "It's a Cheatin' Situation," an outrageously fine duet from Austin's belle of the ball, Kelly Willis, and any cowgirl's dreambeaux, Dale Watson. Problem is, there's only one of 'em. Watson's "Lovin' on Backstreets" follows, his bottomless baritone carrying you all the way down. Tough act to follow, and Ted Roddy has a hard time with "Cheatin' Traces" as does Rosie Flores with "In Some Room Above the Street." Jason Roberts does better with "Forbidden Angel," the Mel Street song that according to the liner notes, "got this whole thing going," while the Roddy/Flores/Chris O'Connell-sung "The Game of Triangles" gets right near close to that George and Tammy thang. The album's closer, Willis' "Me and Mr. Jones," only further highlights what a high crime it is she's not making albums for somebody. And that's precisely the problem here; the highlights are such shining moments, particularly when you have as smooth and professional a band as this Austin's Who's-Who (the singers alone include Kristin deWitt, Ana Egge, Charlie Burton, and Ray Benson), that save for Willis and Watson, no one sings with any real heartbreak. Time for a duets album, kids. Tammy would want it that way.
2.0 Stars - Raoul Hernandez


Every Open Door (Purple Garden Songs)

The first thing to know about Linda Freeman's Every Open Door is that it sounds good. This is not a straight-to-four-track DIY local release that hums with the hiss and pop of backyard acoustics; these are fully realized, deep `n' wide, KGSR-ready songs. There's a lot of sound on the album - including Chip Dolan's accordion and Champ Hood's fiddle - but it never feels crowded. It's a good thing, too, because the stage here clearly belongs to Freeman's strong, rich, often soulful voice, bound to draw comparisons all over the alto map, from Les Sampou to Kathy Mattea to Lucinda Williams. Like Lucinda, Freeman has a preference for the slow song; there's a luxurious, almost torch feel to Every Open Door, a slow burn caught best in such scorchers as "Town In the Middle of Nowhere," "History," and "She's on the Road." The album bogs down a bit in the second half - songs start to sound similar, lyrics fade to unimpressionable - but the album's last track, "Bound to Come," is a spare success. Since Freeman moved to Austin in 1996, she's been slowly building a fan base through her songwriters-in-the-round shows with Kim Miller and Ana Egge. Every Open Door should add to that base.
3.0 Stars - Jay Hardwig


Riverwalk (Higher Octave)

"Nothing is more beautiful than a guitar, save perhaps two." Chopin's quote from over a century ago still applies today where the strength and sheer beauty of two acoustic guitars entertains and inspires. Thankfully Sergio Lara and Joe Reyes leave well enough alone by miking but not amplifying their instruments, preferring instead that subtle, ancillary instrumentation (cajón, papoose requinto, ukulele, oud) enhance their close Latin-flamenco styled pairings. The San Antonio-based duo's goal is obvious from the title alone - music to suggest a stroll down the Riverwalk that graces their hometown. To that end, Lara & Reyes's fourth release is a success: The fret runs in "El Castillo" travel at a brisk clip; Lara's mandolin on "Romantique" begs the listener to take a load off and ponder life; and the harmonic interplay of "Noches de San Miguel" finds the two guitarists conversing with gut strings. They might not be as well known as their peers Strunz & Farah, to whom they dedicate the lilting yet potent South American-flavored "Pueblo Mágico," but it's only a matter of time before word spreads.
3.0 Stars - David Lynch


Postcards Home (Fairy in a Teacup)

Much as the title suggests, Two O'Clock Courage's Postcards Home is a colorful, evocative remembrance of musical souvenirs past and present. A quartet of lilting instrumentals flesh out the 10 tunes on this Austin Celtic band's sophomore release, each one evoking the soft mood that flows throughout Postcards Home. Following a simple format of weaving traditional songs with original material, 2OCC's tender harmonies give all the material an intricate and colorful tartan design. "I Live Not Where I Love" is a poignant complement to "My Love Is in America," both of which feature Jyl Hershman's strong, unwavering vocals. Other tracks meld better-known favorites, such as "Mari's Wedding/St. Anne's Reel" and "How Will I Ever Be Simple Again/John Fenwick's Flower Amongst Them All," the former exuberant and the latter thoughtful. To note 2OCC's elegant harmonies is not to overlook their spare musicianship, however, which enhances each of the album's 14 tracks by letting the instruments - flute, mandolin, fiddle, Scottish smallpipes, uilleann pipes, guitar, and more - resonate. What makes the music of Celtia so appealing is its timeless quality. Postcards Home captures that elusiveness, sending it, like little gifts from the gods, into our hearts.
3.0 Stars - Margaret Moser


God the Mother (Shrub Music)

God the Mother is the musical equivalent of sitting at a bar listening to the drunk next to you recount his miseries, albeit a somewhat poetic and even affecting drunk. With a blues inflection on top of a weary, knowing, loureedy voice, local moodhound George Carver comes off as a sage sap indeed, whose request in "Letter to Australia" for microcosmic bliss seems to go unanswered. It's spare, inventive songwriting enhanced by good musicianship, with Carver's guitar and harmonica interwoven with Mark Rubinstein's piano, accordion, and bass to create a richly textured aural landscape that feels like nothing so much as a profoundly sad European carnival. Comparisons to Tom Waits, Raymond Carver, and Lyle Lovett on Quaaludes all seem reasonable. With a beats-per-minute count registering in the low teens, it certainly won't make the dance charts, but fans of Carver's brand of minor-chord melancholia will doubtless find this a subtly sodden delight.
3.0 Stars - Jay Hardwig


(Rain Maker)

The self-titled second release from Dallas' Grand Street Cryers is brilliantly produced, which is not to say it's a brilliant album, because it's not. It is, however, loaded with all kinds of sonic affectations: voice mail recordings, transistor radio quality bits, an ever-changing array of guitar effects and tones, and some heavily engineered arrangements. It's brilliant production, because the continual bombardment of all those elements and the constant changing of the songs' landscapes are so distracting that it's tough to notice that Grand Street Cryers is an album full of very dull songs. Moreover, the band's desire to dabble in a myriad of styles, some country flavor here, a mop-top backbeat there, keeps things cleverly confused. Still, when you strip away the window dressing, all you have left to look at is some really boring scenery; sub-Del Amitri hovering somewhere in the ranks of Dishwalla. It's pretty, but it's pretty vacant, too.
2.0 Stars - Michael Bertin


Tomb It May Concern (Row-D)

Okay, wait, come back! Despite the band's name and the album's title, this isn't a Gothic album. Now that we've got that settled, this Manchaca -based band has put together a peppy set of pop tunes that reach all over the map, starting off very strongly with the New England rock of opening track "Oh, Well" and promptly running through British/Beatlesque beats and jangly Southern sounds within the first three tracks. The rest of the disc manages to keep up the pace, though the reflective lyrics get a bit heavy-handed at times. Still, Tomb It May Concern delivers good, guitar-driven pop with a few surprises - either a very bad real harpsichord or a really good fake one, and is that really the Mark Rubin on stand-up bass? One highlight worth mentioning is "The Rock She Loves," wherein a lad explains that he loves Jesus, because the girl he's fallen for does as well. More small towns could do with having a smart little band like this skulking around their alleys.
3.0 Stars - Ken Lieck


After hitting Austin's pleasure spot for the last few years with their burnin' live shows, Ta Mère has finally released their eponymous debut, and the recording - a clean, clear, well-balanced affair - does a bang-up job of capturing the group's live intensity. By far Austin's hottest and most diverse Latin-seasoned band (salsa, funk, meringue, Brazilian jazz, rumba, you name it), each member of Ta Mère brings his own unique abilities and influences to the whole. Take, for instance, "Millennium," a near epic tune featuring José Galeano's percussion, the dancing trumpet work of Michel Navedo, Luis Guerra's glassy bop bassin', Brad Evilsizer's taut beats, and the Walter Becker string moans of David Pulkingham. Holding it all together is Christian Fernandez's soul-of-Egberto-Gismonti guitar playing, and his smooth, polished singing. While there's not a weak cut on the entire disc, one has to wonder why Ta Mère didn't use the remaining unused third of the CD to highlight a few select tracks from their near legendary live shows (hell, pick just about any tune from their weekly Thursday gigs at The Ritz). Next album. Until then, you'll be wearing out the digital grooves on this one.
4.0 Stars - David Lynch


The Assholes Say: Fuck You! (Southern Love)

This trio embodies all the succinct lewdness their moniker implies. The Assholes take cues from both the Dicks and Descendents to build a bestial sound with a certain degree of well-tarnished heart. Of course, you're gonna have to stick your arm down the toilet to reach that heart. The band expends a big, fat wad of energy on the straightforward, universal themes of hating work, getting drunk, and not getting laid. Because Say: Fuck You! was done as a controlled live recording for KVRX's "Local Live" program, it captures the anything-goes ambience of the Bates Motel and Blue Flame without the sonic limitations inherent in such bastions of sweet, sticky noise. For the most part, the Assholes' cocksure atavistic dorkitude is something to smile about. The unfortunate turd in the punchbowl is "I Don't Want to Work for Koreans," a song listed in the liner notes, but (wisely) not on the album itself. I don't think the band's fuck-all rubric negates the mean and ugly veneer of racism implied here, but you can draw your own lines.
2.0 Stars - Greg Beets


Send Him on His Way to Me (Smashtone)

Listeners of KLBJ take note: Bobby Breaux is a John Kalodner away from being all over your radio station. The notorious producer/A&R guru/studio slight-of-hand-man, whose credits always read "John Kalodner: John Kalodner" - as if only one man can do what he does - could in one fell swoop produce that majestic AOR sound that local boy Bobby Breaux is so obviously searching for, and for the most part, finds on his self-released debut, Send Him on His Way to Me. While Breaux's vocals are basically weak, the production uneven (big, fat guitars, here, cardboard snare there), the music somehow finds the groove it's searching for; Eighties AOR with a healthy dose of Jane's Addiction ("Little Brother"), and something more evocative, like Gene Loves Jezebel ("Dreamtime). Evocative or pretentious? Both. Singing like a cross between Steely Dan's Walter Becker and Tripping Daisy's Tim DeLaughter, Breaux's also not a bad songwriter despite the fact that there are only about five songs on this 10-song CD; the whole second half of the album is a mess. Thing is, Breaux sometimes gets that perfect tone, like the guitar on the title track, a weepy ode to his dog (pictured on the godawful CD artwork) that ultimately bloats into a six-minute AOR snooze. Quick, somebody call Kalodner.
2.0 Stars - Raoul Hernandez


...Greener (Schazbot)

Brains do not a rock band make. With degrees in chemical engineering and mathematics, as well as doctoral work in biochemistry to their credit, one might ask of the locals in Grass, "Why a rock band?" Beside the fact that it's about time someone used the word Schazbot, one guess might be that they're in a rock band 'cause it's fun. That must be it; the guitar-playing is ordinary at best, as are the drums and/or bass, really, the vocals go noticeably off-key in most of the songs, and the songs themselves are not exactly inspired creations. The hodge-podge of influences behind this debut stems mostly from Seventies/Eighties British and Canadian heavy metal (bet you can guess who that covers). It starts out strong as the bass lead-in of "Dubo" is met with a crash of drum and guitar, but the vocals are so consistently drawn out that they're used more as an instrument than a voice. Who said education is a waste of time and money, anyway?
1.5 Stars - Christopher Hess



Born in Lubbock and raised in Dallas, REO Speedealer lays down the chicken fried juggernaut fast and thick. Try to envision Ted Nugent-inspired cock rock taking a speed-of-sound detour through the land of punk rock retrobates. Speedealer is all that with a growling Southern drawl. The quartet's ugly and highly aggravated music thwacks against the back of your skull like a whiskey bottle smashed prolifically on the concrete in front of an ex's domicile. I'm not one to dis Fastway, but Speedealer would've been the perfect opening act at Texxas Jam in 1983. Songs like "Double Clutchin' Finger Fuckin'," "Cocaine Dave," and "Pussy" are custom-made for big crowds of shirtless drunk men who've never heard of sunblock. Further down the highway, the instrumental "Get a Rope" evokes some nightmarish recombinant DNA experiment involving Lemmy and Rev. Horton Heat. Former Ramones accomplice Daniel Rey serves the Speedealer well with a clean-cutting chainsaw production aesthetic. The album ends almost as quickly and violently as it begins, but not before leaving thrill-seekers happily sated with tell-tale nitro burns on their inner thighs.
3.0 Stars - Greg Beets

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