On the title track/opening number of Flaming Red, recent Austin transplant Patti Griffin is introduced with a drumstick count-off, swirling rawk guitar line, and a harp riff so fast that it sounds like a Public Enemy-style siren. Collectively, it's the sound of nervous energy exploding, and Griffin certainly has a lot to be anxious about. To follow-up 1996's Living With Ghosts, a debut of sparse, but stirring, acoustic demos, Griffin has taken a somewhat risky path towards Newport. As the intro suggests, this isn't the folk masterpiece nearly everyone expected. In fact, Flaming Red's alt-rock foundation grounds a surprisingly cohesive survey of American radio, covering AAA ("One Big Love"), rock ("Tony"), and Top-40 radio ("Change"). And yet, as much as Flaming Red proves Griffin is worthy of cross-format rock stardom, all the rocking really confirms is that she's still a growing singer-songwriter - with phrasing that's more
energetic and narratives that are more direct.
3.5 Stars - Andy Langer
Live at Winterland '68 (Columbia/Legacy)
Janis Joplin had left Austin scarcely two years before this album was recorded and her transition from folkie to acid queen wouldn't be matched as dramatically in style until sweet little Charlie Sexton left for L.A. 20 years later and came back wearing a new wave frightwig. But in this yet-another-trip-to-the-vault recording, Joplin is exhumed luminously. With 13 song titles familiar to most Janis fans, there are not a lot of surprises among its 14 tracks except how incandescent Joplin is in her nascent stardom. As she rips into "Down on Me," its vicious waver is in direct contrast to the heated-up version that completes the album. Her voice is girlish and high as she introduces the Loading Zone, and notably free of the whiskey cackle that came not long after. The most beautiful thing about this album, however, is listening to a Sam Andrew tune called "Flower in the Sun," and taking solace in its throwaway lyrics: "Once in the springtime, a flower opened up with the sun/the passion lasted an hour, then she wilted for her loved one." Thirty years after the Winterland recording and 28 years after her death, Janis is still about passion. Take that, Courtney Love!
3 Stars - Margaret Moser
Sleepy Bunny Music
Remember the heavy, fuzzy, and obliteratingly loud bands that always entered school talent shows but rarely won? Glow Force (the former Wookie) channels that vibe with unmistakable accuracy. This sounds like an attempt to bring the sonic pyrotechnics of Spacemen 3 and the Flaming Lips into a more rudimentary rock context. Vocalizer Mandon Maloney presides over the den with a slightly intoxicated wail that recalls Perry Farrell in a lower register. The band has the concrete thwack, but the walls have been painted with the detritus of laser light show psychedelia. The overall mood of the album alternates between morose, embittered, and melancholy. Ironically, its most intriguing song is the hidden track that startles you after 12 minutes of silence; "Chicago" is a faraway, disconcerting bit of "found" music that must have a fascinating pedigree. None of the other songs really stand out from the overall attempt to build a wave of freaky noise. Glow Force won't take home any trophies this year, but we'll certainly take them over the girl who thinks she's LeAnn Rimes.
2.5 Stars - Greg Beets
Hi-Flavour EP (Chocolate)
If ever I expected to find a secret track, it was on this CD, but so far, my search has been to no avail. This is a band that lives to quirk, after all, as heard on their previous full-length disc, and with all this room ... ? Nope, apparently, Bongo Hate have decided to forego the trimmings here and stick with the meat of the matter; four slices of pop so pure that the opening track sounds for all the world like David Bowie writing for the Banana Splits. That's not to say this is predictable guitar-bass-drums-and-nothing-else music. The guys still remember what they learned in XTC class, and apply that knowledge well, with much electronic gee-whiz noise and vocal effects in evidence. The strangeness, however, never overwhelms the music, making this a catchy, oft-repeatable disc. Exemplary.
3 Stars - Ken Lieck
Get Dirty! (Tahoka)
The title of Doak Short's new album is no doubt a reference to his backing band, but there's very little that's dirty about it. It's not dirty in a grainy, raw-knuckled, get-out-the-Borax way, and it's certainly not dirty in a headin'-down-to-Times-Square- with-a-pocketful-of-quarters way; if anything, the songs on Get Dirty! are too clean and easy, a little too pop, a little short on grit and imagination. There are exceptions: "Abraham" is a Western ballad of evident merit, and there's a languid late-night charm to "Boozy Blues." But most of Short's songs remain curiously lightweight, suffering from unremarkable guitar leads, weak melodies, and lyrics that don't tell. "(When) Love Is a Lie" and "Mr. Moon" are doubly infected by strange CSN/Cat Stevens production values. It's not insufferable, by any means, but not particularly compelling either. Perhaps Short should take his own advice and dirty things up a bit - see if a little more scruff can't improve his stuff.
2 Stars - Jay Hardwig
One Possible Explanation (Vatos Locos)
At a number of points on One Possible Explanation, it's uncanny how much local singer-songwriter Roberto Moreno sounds like Joe Jackson. The wide-open vowels and inflective bursts that convey the sharp wit of his lyrics, and the fact that this album is a song cycle about women and the city complete the match. This works to Moreno's favor, as it relegates the instrumental work to the background. The guitar is mostly straight chords, played entirely inside the lines, and the rhythm section follows suit, but Moreno comes up with enough catchy choruses and hooks to make every song interesting. And the guest appearances often shine, too; Ana Egge's weepy vocals on the opener "What It Takes" are a great counter for Moreno's plaintive lead. Jon Dee Graham provides the album's best guitar work on this song as well, and the lap steel he lends to "Summer" and "Soldier" add a welcome lazy twist to the mostly up-tempo "Vato Pop." There's no shortage of memorable lyrics on One Possible Explanation, either, as Moreno's insightful, biting, and humorous perspectives make his voice more unique than any "He sounds like Joe Jackson"-type comment could explain.
3 Stars - Christopher Hess
Carry Me Back
Thad Beckman covers a fair amount of territory on Carry Me Back, taking his accomplished guitar and sincere voice and tackling tunes from bounce to blues, from Delightful Ditties to Deep Brooding Ballads. Witness "Well Bottom Blues" and "You're Just So Appealin'": both are quirky fingerpickin' songs that sound distinctly like the tunes that might pop into your head when you're on your way to buy gumballs. Compare "Freedom Slowly Sets on America" and "When the Sun Goes Down": Both are somber, almost sinister songs, heavily invested with a very basic despair born deep in the belly. While the disc does end with a measure of cheer, it's the darker mood that prevails on Carry Me Back, with Beckman coming off as a vaguely gloomy truthseeker and self-described lost soul. Sometimes it works ("Song for JFK" is a somnolent and spacious gem) and sometimes it doesn't ("Where Do I Belong?" is a touch overwrought), but there's scarcely a song on here that doesn't carry a mood with it. Quite a few carry a growl as well. Solid stuff from a good songwriter.
3 Stars - Jay Hardwig
Wilory Farm (Tycoon Cowgirl)
Charming doesn't quite capture the appeal of Terri Hendrix's Wilory Farm. There's something far less contrived and inescapably likable about the San Marcos resident's second album for it to be merely charming. With a voice as effortless and delicate as Alison Krauss', Hendrix runs through an array of styles: folk, country, pop, country swing. There's even a brief bluegrassy nod to Jimi Hendrix on "Sister's Apartment." Only when Hendrix (Terri, that is) offers up standard Lilith fare (the very Sarah McLachlan-like "Gravity") does Wilory Farm start to approach the pitfall of indistinguishability. When Hendrix sticks to the sticks, like on the collection of folksy aphorisms "Wallet," she manages to somehow carve out a bit of uniqueness among the wealth of Cen-Tex female singer-songwriters. Wilory Farm is not all upside, however. The album is perky to a fault. Even Hendrix's pain ("Hole in My Pocket") is perky. And like Martha Stewart, there's only so much of it anybody can take before it starts to feel like their psyche is being deprogrammed. Nevertheless, Hendrix has put together a delightful album.
3.5 Stars - Michael Bertin
Stroke the Apechild (Austin Music Mafia)
Never turn your back on a band like this. Brown Whörnet's specialty is quick change for shock value, and they carry out this transaction with spine-twisting efficiency. One side of this 10-inch EP consists of five short, shrill bursts of Alternative Tentacles-style hardcore commingled with John Zorn's car crash experimentalism. Only one of these tunes, "Bison," lasts longer than your average anti-perspirant jingle. Of course, most jingles don't slap you silly with messages like "Your Dick Is Small." The endless groove at the end of side one gives you a chance to recover from the aural ambush. "Ladies of Summer," the only song on side two, allows the band to extrapolate on a punk/dub hybrid set on a Parisian runway. Ten inches really isn't enough to capture the full-throttle intensity of the Whörnet's superlative live performances, but this brief taster ought to get a few more bodies through the gate.
3.5 Stars - Greg Beets
Gone Rockin' (Music Room)
The songs of Git Gone have come along about 40 years too late to save rock & roll, but better late then never. Gone Rockin' is a collection of tunes that filter rockabilly, swing, and jump blues into a trio format with no frills and no tricks. Jim Stringer's classic style of Gibson pickin' is sharp at every turn, and Sharon Ward on bass and Lee Potter on drums provide an easy-swinging back line that makes tunes like their cover of "These Boots Were Made for Walkin'" seem like the originals. From the friendly honky-tonk of "This Time" to the Bo Diddley stomp of "Uncle Tom Got Caught" and the clean swingin' "What Do I Know," Git Gone cover all the bases of their roots, with the exception of the brief skid of "Fiesta in Guadalupe." This is a solid, smart album that's more old-school inspiration than retro-product.
3.5 Stars - Christopher Hess
Alamo Suite is the new vehicle for longtime local swamp/surf/boogie guitarist and Tailgator, Don Leady. The name also refers to his new project's debut: All 10 originals were recorded with a "live in the studio" feel. Joined by Glenn Rios on drums and Cliff Hargrove on stand-up bass, Leady has plenty of elbow room to play. And move about he does, from the chops-fest title track to "Starshine," a country joyride in a 1960 Chrysler convertible, to the darkly entertaining "Warrior," and "Blue Northern," a flat open jam session. Sadly, this instrumental fun fest is cut short by the album's length - 30 minutes. Given the instrumental interplay and flexible tightness of the trio, one wonders why Alamo Suite didn't add some live tracks or even extend the extant songs (none of the 10 tunes clock in over four minutes) to round out the album. Even with this time limitation, however, Alamo Suite is a righteous place where boogie, jazz, swamp, blues and swing meet.
2.5 Stars - David Lynch
Oncoming Headlights (pH Base Productions)
This live studio recording of six ambient compositions by pianist/keyboardist Travis Hartlett often reminds me of the vast, soothing music they play at planetariums when the lights first go down. There are quite a few points on Hartlett's seamless curve where you half expect to hear the voice of Carl Sagan intoning some mystery of the cosmos. On the other hand, "Deuxiéme" utilizes harrowing repetition to create a score that would nicely complement an unwatchable asphyxiation scene. Or maybe not. When taken as a whole, Oncoming Headlights has an ambiguous, fly-on-the-wall character that leaves virtually any visceral reaction open for discussion; the use of numbers for composition titles only reinforces this notion. Despite the fact that Hartlett's esoteric melodies are heavily treated, the music still retains an elemental, organic quality. Unlike a lot of what passes for experimental music, there is no long list of terms and conditions for the listener. Just slide the disc in and let it go to work on you.
3 Stars - Greg Beets
Baseball Song (Chez Dre)
If Matt Sever ran the world, baseball would still be the national sport; the home team would really be the home team, and the players would autograph balls for free and with a smile. And Sam Walton would have been lynched long ago by a mob of mom and pop store owners - also with a smile. There's almost nothing on Baseball Song that isn't unflinchingly optimistic. On "I Remember," Sever even admits that "silver linings pile up on me." They'll pile up on you as well when listening to this album, set atop a dominantly acoustic, though more poppy than folky, cloud of simple tunefulness. Sever proudly and clearly tells how he likes everything from "Food" (makes him "higher than any new drug"), to "Scars" ("I like scars, I wanna remember"), with the only bad word in his vocabulary being "Goodbye." If it's obtuseness and angst you're looking for, go elsewhere. If you like your music positive and heartfelt, then you've been waiting for the electrician, or someone like him.
2 Stars - Ken Lieck
When the makers of the local indie film Deep in the Heart (of Texas) got down to slappin' a soundtrack on their homage to all things Austin, they didn't go half-enchilada: the Shanachie soundtrack reads like a Who's Who of Lone Star troubadours, featuring certifiable legends (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Long John Hunter), blues belters (Lavelle White, Marcia Ball, Lou Ann Barton), and more than a few local heroes (Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Don Walser, and Wayne Hancock, among others). It's good chops all around, although highest marks have to be given to Gilmore ("Just a Wave, Not the Water"), Nelson ("Just One Love" with Kimmie Rhodes), and Walser ("Rolling Stone From Texas"), with special notice for Rosie Flores, whose moody "Boxcars" is a slow and certain treat. The album is dedicated to Walter Hyatt, ending with two of the crooner's imaginative originals, "This Time Lucille" and "Last Call." Despite such an impressive lineup, Deep in the Heart still has the unmistakable feel of a sampler, lacking the coherence of the studio albums these songs were cribbed from. That said, it's a good collection, strong on local content and true to its Texan aim.
3 Stars - Jay Hardwig
First Day of Spring (Catfish Jazz)
The haunted, somehow yearning moan of the violin is an intimate sound. It's the very definition of "chamber music," something played in the boudoir late at night. For this sound alone, Sebastian Campesi deserves your warm applause. A 20-year veteran of the San Antonio Symphony (first fiddle), Campesi has had the string family's soprano tucked under his chin for the better part of his 77 years, and you hear it every time he makes those four strings sing. The long, lugubrious solo on "Nancy" and especially "Try a Little Tenderness," wherein Campesi etches a lifetime of playing into an inimitable standard, are rich and evocative to the point where you're quite simply floating on the wistful nature of his instrument's sound. On "Royal Garden Blues," meanwhile, Campesi and guest fiddler Johnny Gimble demonstrate other Texas-sized applications of their common interest. Campesi is no Yo-Yo Ma, falling just a half-step off the pace of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," and needing perhaps one more take on several tracks, but overall his embracing, emotive playing and the strong support of pianist Rich Harney and percussionist Herlin Riley distinguish the First Day of Spring as chamber music suitable for day or night.
2.5 Stars - Raoul Hernandez
Happy Feet (Continental Records/RCA)
A few years back 81/2 Souvenirs, the jewel in Austin's swing crown, released their debut, Happy Feet, recorded live at the Continental Club. In 1995, the band released the second edition of Happy Feet, the new edition containing more tracks and featuring their then new singer, Juliana Sheffield. Since then, both Sheffield and bassist Todd Wulfmeyer have left, respectively replaced with Chrysta Bell and former Asylum Street Spanker Kevin Smith. And the band has recently signed with RCA/BMG, giving the five-piece group serious distribution power. How is this version different? Resequenced, all the second edition's 14 songs find their way on this new version. Glover Gill demonstrates again why he's one of the most respected ivory ticklers in town, and Olivier Giraud's guitar work channels the very soul of master guitarist Django Reinhardt. Adam Berlin still cements the steady beat and Smith's bass lines lay down a firm musical structure. What's different is Chrysta Bell's vocals. Sheffield applied operatic power to her higher range interpretation of the swing style, while Bell stays within the lower end of the spectrum, yielding a slightly more subtle, sultry mood. Only rabid fans will need to possess all three versions of Happy Feet, but this third version could well be the major-label calling card the band needs.
3.5 Stars - David Lynch
Most of All (Fire Ant)
Texans perpetuate the mystique of their home state with unconcealed vigor, and a trip through Erik Moll's Most of All is like a tour of the Hill Country with history lessons of all you see by a well-educated guide. Moll exercises the freedom of stylistic hopping that Texas singer-songwriters claim as their option and their duty. On the opener, "My Haunted Heart," he blends borderland folk guitar with doo-wop harmonies. On the next song, "I Like You a Lot," he's bouncing along and whistling to an acoustic ditty, and in the song after that, "Stormy Night in Texas," he's playing a spooky country ballad to a whining gypsy fiddle. Moll yodels and croons between rich tenor tones and falsetto punctuations that establish his voice as the primary appeal of these songs (especially the infectious "Can You Handle It?") and ultimately is what holds Most of All together through such a breadth of styles.
3.5 Stars - Christopher Hess
VH1 Storytellers (American)
This is just what the citizens of the world have been screaming for: another repackaging of Johnny Cash doing "Folsom Prison Blues." And who says every orange formica counter from here to Saturn is one too many to sport another version of Willie Nelson crooning "Crazy"? Not me. When Cash's now slightly unsteady baritone takes hold of "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky," Nelson's acoustic leads dancing like leprechauns (as they do throughout the entire set), an undeniable magic occurs. Cash's "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away," and "Always on My Mind," give off their usual aura, yet the pairing of these two musical monoliths - alone and acoustic - casts a uniquely warm and luminous glow over the proceedings. And the banter is priceless, irrepressible in its ability to provoke a smile. So "Folsom Prison Blues" and "On the Road Again" are rote at best. You thought, perhaps, they'd be left off a project like this one? That would be like a truckstop without any Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson tapes.
3 Stars - Raoul Hernandez
For better or worse, this album plays like the logical result of nonstop exposure to three decades of AOR radio as heard through the trained ears of a home studio enthusiast. Booth's e-man prowess is readily apparent in that he did virtually everything here but play the drums and take out the trash. Unfortunately, not having a counter-influence to Booth's singular vision hamstrings Velvet Rut's potential for engagement. The album does have a few genuine moments, particularly the incessant, badass bass drive of "Truth Is Rare." More often than not, though, the melodies and song structures tend to get lost in a miasma of gratuitous production and vocal slurry. The clandestine sterility of the studio comes between the artist and audience like a large panel of opaque plexiglass. After upteen songs in that far-removed fashion, Booth's musical ideas become indistinguishable from one another. Velvet Rut is a long story in dire need of a good editor.
2 Stars - Greg Beets
Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb (Island)
There are few things worse in the Nineties than to have a hit. Forget lightning, I want to see a "modern rock" band strike twice. Pity Tripping Daisy for having marginal success with "I Got a Girl" from their last album I Am an Elastic Firecracker, then, because their latest, Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb, comes three years too late. From the opener "Field Day Jitters" through "India Poker Parts 2&3," a tribute to the late Tim Taylor of Brainiac, the Dallas-based band does manage to make its space pop sound a bigger, the smooth whine of Tom DeLaughter sounding more Wayne Coyne than ever, especially on the Seventies light rock throw-back "Sonic Bloom," and the off kilter "Geeareohdoubleyou," but Firecracker and Jesus are identical in one respect: there are barely a handful of keepers scattered across the entirety of the either album. Worse, jogging the memories of those who were into the band in 1995 may be all but impossible at this late point of the decade.
2 Stars - Michael Bertin
Talk To My Heart (Watermelon)
It's been a rough road for Johnny Bush. His voice disappeared in 1972 (diagnosed as spastic dysphonia) just at the point when his career was breaking wide open with "Whiskey River" hitting the Top 10. After years of distress and hard work, his voice is now about 70% of what it once was and possesses a slight warble that adds a certain amount of character to the brand of high grade honky- tonk presented on Talk To My Heart. He doesn't write as much as he used to, most of the tunes here being picked from among the current crop of first-class Texas songwriters, including folks like Clay Blaker ("This House Has No Doors"), Justin Trevino ("Neon Nightmare"), and Joe Gracey ("Deep in Love and Buried in the Blues"). That's not to say the two songs he's penned for this disc aren't up to his past efforts. "The Cheatin' Line" is a classic shuffle in the style of Mel Street, and "While It Sure Feels Good (Not to Feel So Bad)" is a bittersweet ballad with a smooth steel guitar break that fits the laid back mood perfectly. Texas can be proud of another of its legends as Johnny Bush has turned up a winner
3 Stars - Jim Caligiuri
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