Reviewed by Your Side, Fri., Jan. 22, 1999
1 star -- Andy Langer
Classic (Man's Ruin)
When is less more? When it's 7, 10, and 12 inches long. Size does matter. So do petroleum products like vinyl -- singles. At least Frank Kozik still thinks so, because Austin's former poster prince (prints) keeps putting them out on his S.F.-based indie label, Man's Ruin. Two of his all-time classics, then, are a couple 10-inchers from 1997, one by Honky, the other from Daddy Longhead, two local Seventies throw-back bands fronted by ex-Butthole Surfers bassist Jeff Pinkus. Both four-song EPs, Daddy Longhead and Honky's Ten Inches, are just 'bout perfect relative to their length and scope: Honky fires up whiskey 'n' bong Southern rock, and Daddy Longhead salutes the Sabbath. Both begged for more material, which now comes as Honky and Classic, and unfortunately, less is still more -- more or less. Leading off with the four Daddy Longhead tunes, Classic is the better of the Pinkus projects and well-titled to boot; the album comes from a 1993 recording session featuring Austin's pound-for-pound best pounder, Rey Washam, on drums. None of the other seven tunes are as good as the first four, but neither do they suck, and "Brown Sabbath" is in fact classic. Vocalist Jimbo Young makes up for a studio sound that could have used a Monster Magnet-type production budget with his Ted Osbourne/Ozzy Nugent shrieks and howls. Not bad. With Honky, get rid of "not." Opening with a quick rat-a-tat-tat drum roll, vocalist Carson Vester (aka Whitie Westlake, aka whatever his real name is) and Pinkus jump right in with their "harmonies": "Standing backstage, smoking some weed," later followed by "smoking on a joint, wish he had a bong." This Cheech & Chong flick only goes downhill from there; the next tune, "Mellow Larry," goes for screeching cat vocals, demo-thin guitars, and plain rotten riffs. Even the quartet of songs from Ten Inches sound off here. Not good. Never mess with perfection.
(Classic) 2.5 stars
(Honky) 1.5 stars -- Raoul Hernandez
Drawing the Circle
Having played with Jeff Beck and Frank Zappa, there's no question Terry Bozzio is a fine drummer and his latest progeny shows two sides of this percussive talent. The first five pieces of Chamber Works are described as "Movements for drumset, string quartet, and woodwind quartet," raising questions as to whether Bozzio has joined the highfalutin classical music set. No, but it does mean that the Austinite is expanding his compositional mind. Chamber Works is dense, challenging, and multilayered enough to be played on KMFA, but if it does make it on the classical airwaves it'll be on the overnight shift; not because it isn't as interesting and versatile as anything from another 20th century composer, but rather because the pieces' bold sonics, like the Stravinsky-inspired "Opus 1 for Chamber Orchestra (Self Portrait with Scar)," "Mvmt. I Prelude Temenos," and the Zappa-esque "Mvmt. V Ibo," challenge listeners to rethink the music's center of attention, from traditional concert instruments (violin, piano, etc.), to that Bozzio's drumkit and additional synthesized timbres. The fourth movement, "Moguli (the Moguls)," evokes the same sonicscape of Duke Ellington's "Caravan." In contrast to its more composed brother, Drawing the Circle is an improvised sketch pad, similar to the drum workshops Bozzio conducts throughout the world (his "day job"). Described as "New music for solo drumset," DTC's puissant puree finds Bozzio playing drumkit lead melodies over samples of his worldly-inspired ostinatos; the rhythm of the opening cut, "Djon Don," is based on a Malian pattern Bozzio learned from Guinean master Mamadi Keita, while "Cairo" is fueled by a North African beat, and "Ufuk" features what Bozzio describes as a "Debussy-like cymbal theme." The sampled ostinatos sound a bit canned at times, but then again all 10 of the album's tunes were recorded on first takes without overdubs. Impressive on paper, but astounding given his jaw-dropping ability on the kit. Mingus would be proud: Bozzio can easily swing in 5/16 or 9/8 time. Due to their esoteric appeal, neither Drawing the Circle nor Chamber Works are destined for the hit parade, but they serve their function well -- to document a world-class musician in his performing and composing prime.
(Chamber Works) 4 stars
(Drawing the Circle) 3.5 stars -- David Lynch
The Secret Society
(Lost Worldwide/Timothy's Brain)
The sound known as "space rock" is a curiously hybrid creature, emerging originally among the Europeans as a sort of kinder, gentler offspring of heavy metal, but with a futuristic element that made it literally ahead of its time. The music of current practitioners like ST 37, therefore, has the advantage of recalling the Seventies and still sounding remarkably current. Lyrically, The Secret Society is as ever a mixed bag. Cribbing from magazine interviews, fantasy novels, and a J.J. Burnel interview (?!?), the guys have produced lyrics that at best read like H.P. Lovecraft and William S. Burroughs doing an opium jam, and at worst like an RPGer's masturbation fantasy. By definition, though, the instrumental rows of space rock that ST 37 hoe are somewhat restrictive -- heavy reverb, guitar-centric melodies, seemingly endless spacy jams, etc. The high point on this journey, however, is "Sunburst Yodel #9," a nice bit of cosmic Southern rock that the likes of Hawkwind most likely never would have thought of in a million years. Thus, in the end, it's ST 37's distinctively non-British origins that finally manage to break them free of their own gravity.
3 stars -- Ken Lieck
Throwin' Bones (Matchbox )
Podunk might sound familiar. It was called Tesla the first time you heard it. That's no joke or exaggeration, it's just that the resemblance at times is uncanny. If he had long hair and leather pants, Podunk's Jason Touchette could probably pass for that squirrely Tesla singer from the cheap seats. Podunk, however, doesn't cop to the full metal experience. They're a straight-up rock band taking more of a bang-it-out than a tear-it-up approach, and rather than flaunt the typically piggish sexuality of testosterone rock, Throwin' Bones is loaded with male sensitivity; genuine as it might be, it brings with it some terribly generic lyrics like, "I wanna get closer to you, but you keep pushing me away" ("Meet Me in the Middle") and "Let it go, if it's love it will come back to you" ("Boomerang"). The album is polished but not slick, the band is tight but not robotic, and they lay down a few good grooves, but rarely does Podunk give into abandon enough to put consistent life into the performances.
2.5 stars -- Michael Bertin
Galapagos distills so many influences into their sound -- jazz, Latin, funk, hippie, folk -- that their debut CD Mandarine comes off as all of them and none, entirely original and totally derivative. They borrow plenty of tricks and transitional devices from the Grateful Dead, apparently their strongest influence (check out the bridges in "Whiskey Dreams"), but it's what they do with them that makes this a good album. Their songs about love and dreams are everything you might expect from local jammers, but Galapagos fills each tune with an intangible dignity and an adherence to a musical vision that sets them apart from the majority of Dead-inspired jam bands. They're more song-oriented, for one thing; "Climb" and "Whiskey Dreams" are joyful in themselves and in the movement they imply. There are some long tracks on the CD, which provide some excellent (and some mediocre) instrumental meanderings, but Barbi Hatch's voice is the key. The rhythm section is solid and convincingly syncopated, the keyboards and guitar alternately drive and flourish the tunes, but the dreamy and lilting tone of the songs matches Hatch's vocal timbre so succinctly that the music flat-out changes when she stops singing. The energy wanes in the later tracks, but for the most part Galapagos has built a sound around a vision, making Mandarine the perfect starting point.
3 stars -- Christopher Hess
SHAFT: EL GRÜPO DE RÖCK
What Does It Matter? (Kokizz-y-que)
You could gag a whale on the minions of young bands who gravitate toward the touchstone of pop-punk only to produce music that's both overwrought and under-realized. Fortunately, Shaft: El Grüpo de Röck executes well enough to make you forgive their sporadic lapses into taking themselves too seriously. Despite the nobility of the DIY aesthetic, Shaft's phat hit record approach is better served by professional studio sweetening than four-track intimacy. "Pretend to Forget" incorporates lotsa hooks, a dab of melancholia, and enough gutbucket snare shots to keep the angst in check. It's a winning combination sure to resonate with the band's intended audience. There's also a smashing, set-closing rendition of Prince's "When You Were Mine" that transcends the venerable "punk rock joke cover" designation in spades. The Ritalin Kids mine the same attitudinal territory as Shaft with a more raw, more heartbroken perspective. Nothing beats the camaraderie of singing along at punk rock shows, and the whoa-oh-whoas in "Rat Race" and "Believe" deliver the brothers-in-arms hardcore gospel in a way that would make Kevin Seconds proud. The hidden track on What Does It Matter? is a what-the-hell cover of REM's "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" that works despite its inherent haphazardness. If there's any justice in the world, both of these bands will wind up on the soundtrack of the next Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicle. And I mean that in a good way.
(Both) 3 stars -- Greg Beets
Absolution (Texas Archipelago)
What do Hendrix tried-to-be Jon Butcher, ex-Blood Orange Cheri Knight, and Austin's the Laughing (formerly known as the Laughing Dogs) have in common? You're not going to get this, but all three have written songs based on the wishes-as-horses imagery. What is it with pop musicians and that metaphor? Maybe using it dooms them to obscurity. Bwa ha ha ha (No, no. Just having a little fun). At least the Laughing have a distinctive style working for them -- the insatiable penchant for putting together staccato pop rhythms. That distinction, however, is not necessarily a plus as "This Wisdom Tree," "Never Been Too Late," "Broken Lines," and "Eclipsed" are all overly punctuated and annoyingly so. The second half of Absolution trades the band's percussive pop for more fluid flowing acoustic melodies, and it's here that the local trio becomes engaging. The soft alt.country numbers "When You're an Old Lady," and the Harvest Moon-style "Hey Old Man" (noticing another theme here?) wield much more power than the plugged-in numbers. With more of those, perhaps, the Laughing can avoid the fate of Jon Butcher.
2 stars -- Michael Bertin
I Love My Life (Fedora)
A veteran of the Austin blues scene, Hosea Hargrove's been kicking around town for better than 45 years, playing gutbucket blues and serving as one-time mentor to a slick young buck named Jimmie Vaughan. Until recently, though, you couldn't hear Hargrove on album; I Love My Life is his debut. It's a damn fine one, too, with Hargrove playing a raw and unadulterated country blues that recalls Hooker (John Lee), Hopkins (Lightnin'), and Fat Possum Junior Kimbrough. Stripped down, slowed down, and disarmingly simple, this is the kind of music that must drive white-boy blues guitarists crazy; 98% of them can run circles around Hargrove on the fretboard, but few, if any, can match him in feel. And feel, of course, is what blues is all about. Hargrove's got it in spades, from the rough rumble of "Hawaii" to the spare sorrow of "Big Gun." His two solo tunes, "Things I Used to Do" and "King Bee," stack up with any blues that's come out of Austin, period, the Vaughan boys and Grey Ghost included. Now pasted in front of a standard Sixth Street blues band, Hargrove's live shows don't always do him justice, but I Love My Life does. Forty-five years in the making? It was worth the wait.
2 stars -- Jay Hardwig
Said and Done (Barb Wire/Virgin)
In the past several years, Arhoolie Records, preserver of indigenous American music everywhere -- much of it Texan -- has released a handful of classic archival recordings from the Jimenez clan; Santiago, Sr., Santiago, Jr., and Flaco -- older brother of junior, elder son of Señor Conjunto himself, Santiago Jimenez, Sr. Virgin Records, on the other hand, in association with Barb Wire (which released Ruben Ramos' El Gato Negro last year), wouldn't know the meaning of "classic" or "archival" if Alan Lomax were explaining it to Virgin CEO Richard Branson personally. "This record isn't traditional Tex-Mex or Tejano" explains Flaco in the production notes, and he's not kidding. It's a pop album, and pop is pop no matter what language it's being sung in. "De Bolon Pin Pon," featuring Flaco's discovery Nunie Rubio on vocals, is impossibly mindless, but hard to forget. So's the title track, which is aching to be played on whatever radio format they're playing the Mavericks these days -- it being written by Raul Malo and all. "La Felicidad," "Te Amare," are ultrasweet 'n' sugary Mexican candy still, yet both are still sweeter than bad Nashville-flavored pap, "I'm Not Finished Bein' a Fool." This is what a major label wants these days, and this is what Flaco Jimenez has delivered. As long as you don't mistake Said and Done for one of those Arhoolie releases, what left to say?
3 stars -- Raoul Hernandez