The Rev. Horton Heat
Brothers and sisters of the Lone Star State, on the occasion of his 24-song Sub Pop anthology, the right Rev. Horton Heat would like you to know how very proud he is of his penis. It's quite well-documented here: 1990, "Love Whip"; 1993, "Wiggle Stick"; 1996, "Big Red Rocket of Love." Born Jim Heath by the bay in Corpus, the Rev. has wrangled his whammy bar through a decade (five albums) of double entendres and psychobilly freakouts, and become an authentic Texas folk hero in the process. So what if his faithful are more likely to sport wallet chains and Prince Alberts than Stetsons and Skoal? He can still turn up the twang enough to make Ernest or Lefty proud, though it's doubtful either one of them would have sung about "interracial cowboy homo kind of love." Heath's jagged, broken-beer-bottle wit is on display throughout Holy Roller, in "Eat Steak," "Bales of Cocaine," "Big Little Baby," a belch- and fart-laced trip through Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer," and the previously unreleased live mainstay "Where in the Hell Did You Go With My Toothbrush?" Then there's the real reason the kids love the Rev. so, which is the way he handles his axe (his guitar, pervert) better than Paul Bunyan: early Link Wray homages ("Big Sky," "Marijuana," "In Your Wildest Dreams"); breakneck rockabilly drag races with trusty stand-up slap-bassist "Nature Boy" Jimbo Wallace ("Baddest of the Bad," "400 Bucks," "Now, Right Now"); lecherous back-seat anthems smothered in feedback ("Lie Detector," "One Time for Me," and the T.Rexian "Slow"); and even fleet-fingered solo gems ("Bath-Water Blues," "Folsom Prison Blues"). Even if his live shows aren't the snake-handling, speaking-in-tongues revivals they once were (come back, Taz Bentley), Holy Roller more than earns the Rev. his spurs. He still needs to do some penance for the Mazda commercial and including "It's Martini Time" over "The Devil's Chasin' Me" on this collection, but he can still preach in my tent anytime -- just as long as he keeps his wiggle stick in his pants where it belongs.
3.5 stars-- Christopher Gray
Electric Shaver (New West)
Billy Joe Shaver has a lived-in voice, rough around the edges -- a voice that matches his appearance and persona. On Electric Shaver, he coaxes every ounce of feeling out of that voice just as son Eddie does with his guitar. Not surprisingly, then, this CD is an absolute delight to listen to, the strongest outing the father-and-son team have had so far. There's more of a blues flirtation than on previous releases, as Eddie stretches his solo legs a bit and quotes everything from ZZ Top to Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" to Zeppelin and Neil Young. Billy Joe's spiritual leanings turn up a bit as well, but he wisely soft-pedals Jesus in favor of more general -- and often hilarious -- commentary on the human condition (check out "People and Their Problems"). There's the nearly-un-PC "Manual Labor," while "Try and Try Agains" features Billy Joe's fervid gospel. In fact, every song on Electric Shaver is strong enough that it's nearly impossible to pick a favorite. Hmm. Sure is nice to be able to say that about a release, isn't it?
3 stars -- Jerry Renshaw
Sinners & Saints (Staman)
On Sinners & Saints, local boy Danny Santos hits the grooves with a collection of ballads, boleros, and just a few social pot-stirrers, all laid down on top of the standard strum of acoustic git-tar. His subjects assume the form of drifters, desperadoes, and of course, the lovelorn -- searchers and seekers. They're not always aimless, but generally they fall short of their goal. It's a rich vein, and one Santos taps regularly if not always imaginatively. At their best, his songs are lyrical and smart, as on the lonely love story "Driskill Waltz," the sardine-can spite of "Suburbia Blues," and the locomotive humm-babe "Josephine." More obvious are the dull wordplay of "Taxes and Death" and empty autophilia of "Goin' Little Jessie," a throwaway car-cut that wraps up the album. Still, Santos has a solid voice -- think a less nasal Jimmie Dale Gilmore -- and uses it well, while the album is fairly littered with the choice instrumental embellishments of Ponty Bone (accordion), Eddie Collins (guitar and banjo), and Darcie Deaville (fiddle). Sinners & Saints: reflective, engaging, and easy on the ears, but not always profound.
2.5 stars -- Jay Hardwig
ROY HEINRICH & THE PICKUPS
Smokey Night in a Bar (Stockade)
The friendly, loping beat of opening cut "How Would You Feel?" is an excellent harbinger of what you'll find on Roy Heinrich's Smokey Night in a Bar. Heinrich's voice is as smooth as the steel guitar that permeates his new efforts' 10 tracks, so liquid and even it glides like mercury in a thermometer during high summer. Nine more shuffles, waltzes, and ballads showcase Austin-based Heinrich and his band the Pickups, all clearly influenced by late Fifties/early Sixties country -- when fiddles gave way to pedal steels but the world was still defined by what happened in the honky-tonk the night before. Heinrich's got the knack; songs like "I'm Gonna Write Her a Letter" and "Heads You Win" are surefire pleasers for the two-stepping crowd, while his sense of humor is well-defined in classic country jukebox numbers like "Take Me Drunk (I'm Home Again)." Neither overly slick nor a caricature of country, Smokey Night (sic) clocks in just under 33 minutes. That's a short whirl on the dance floor, but Roy knows all the right steps.
2.5 stars -- Margaret Moser
Vintage Hi-Fi (Satellite Studio, Tunneling Tunes)
Formerly called Millennium Swing, this local eight-piece swing band which includes a handful of singers put out their eponymous debut of well-crafted and mellow jazzy R&B tunes in 1997. This second release doesn't stray much from that effort, but it is a notch better. On their first effort, Sheree Smith and Laquetta Phillips stood out enough that for the group's second release, Vintage Hi-Fi, they're featured vocalists -- joined by Sabrina Cummings, Felicia Dinwiddie, Elizabeth Ferrick, and Elizabeth Victorian. Andrew Boutot's lead voice completes the chorus. On "Cool Papa Bell," Boutot comes close to the emotion of jazz wonder Mark Murphy, while the well-named opener "Ready for Radio," and "Death of a Salesman" come alive nicely. Unfortunately, "Little Sister" has too many of Ian Moore's "yeah"s for any song's good, while Hi-Fi's final cut, the Eddie Harris/Les McCann classic, "Compared to What," comes out of nowhere. The weirdness isn't in the tune's interpretation (even though a band's got to have cojones to cover the song), but rather that there's no reference to the song's creator or history. Credits aside, fans who go to hear the band in venues like Cedar Street will be pleased with Vintage Hi-Fi, but time will tell whether this group is indeed ready for radio.
2 stars -- David Lynch
JIM STRINGER & THE AUSTIN MUSIC BAND
Swang! (Music Room)
Hired gun Jim Stringer comes by way of 1997's Travis County Pickin' CD, as well as many an Austin project. Stringer's nimble fretboard work kicks off Swang! with the instrumental "Onward, Charlie Christian's Soldiers" full of dazzling riffs and country-jazz gymnastics. Interspersed among the rockabilly and country-flavored originals are covers of tunes made famous by Johnny Bond, Artie Shaw, and Louis Jordan, among others. Other Austin journeymen comprise the AM band, all of them equally able players, but somehow, the whole project never quite catches fire. Despite all the talent involved, Swang! comes off sounding a bit antiseptic and squeaky-clean. A band should sound like a whole band, not just a showcase for the chops of each player, and this doesn't quite sound whole in that respect. A ragged vocal, nasty guitar breaks, or somewhat more swampy production would go a long way in making this sound less like rockabilly under glass and more like the real thing. And yeah, these fellas could play circles around Carl Perkins or Ronnie Dawson, but that's not everything, because it's gotta rock, baby. Maybe it was the whiskey that helped those guys loosen up back then.
2 stars -- Jerry Renshaw
EARL HARVIN TRIO
At the Gypsy Tea Room (Leaning House Jazz)
Following their outstanding debut foray into the live recording arena with Wessel "Warmdaddy" Anderson Live at the Village Vanguard, Dallas indie jazz label Leaning House has taken it a step further, recording the more adventurous Earl Harvin Trio over two nights in their hometown Gypsy Tea Room. The result is a 2-CD set of brilliantly conceived and impeccably played live jazz. As anyone who's seen this band in one of its many visits to Austin can attest, this trio is absolutely fierce live, each player imbued with an otherworldly energy and capacity for experimentation. Harvin beats the skins like two drummers, the perfect counter for Fred Hamilton's thoughtful and fleet-fingered bass work. Dave Palmer eschews piano for Fender Rhodes on the majority of these tunes, and his intimacy with the instrument and its abilities are spellbinding. What really shines here are the songs themselves, all of which, with the exception of the Hamilton-penned "Morning Psalm," were written by the keyboardist. Palmer's compositions string together lovely melodies with a soft, expert touch that makes the most abrupt changes in mood, direction, or color seem silken. The trio tends toward lengthy jams, going over the 20-minute mark on two tracks of this live set, but no matter how free-form or experimental, the solos revel in the melodic range of the song, and every one will leave you wishing you'd been there.
4 stars -- Christopher Hess
Never Too Old to Swing (Mozo)
Just as the lateral move from bluesman to swing musician has proved easy and popular over the past several years, so too would it seem natural to go from adult-contemporary MOR rocker to crooning jazz diva. At least that's what Natalie Zoe would have you think. The longtime local music veteran nearly pulls it off too, her blithe, smoky voice having always been her strongest musical asset. Unfortunately, what sounds good at the Saxon Pub doesn't necessarily sound good at the Elephant Room, "adult contemporary" and "middle-of-the-road" translating into "bland" in the jazz idiom. Zoe's three original songs and four covers, including Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me" neither distinguish nor disgrace their interpreter -- achieving the former being almost more important than avoiding the latter. Accompanied by bassist Brad Taylor, while pianists Floyd Domino and George Oldziey divy up the keyboard chores, Zoe is a pleasant presence throughout the duration of her EP-length latest release, but she simply seems incapable of imbuing the songs with anything other than good enunciation. No highs, no lows, no real feeling of any sort. Which is a shame, because Natalie Zoe has in fact proved she's Never Too Old to Swing. Nevertheless, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got some sting.
2 stars -- Raoul Hernandez
GINGER LEIGH & SARAH DASHEW
Do What You Will (Whistle Foot)
It was not quite a year ago that local songstresses Ginger Leigh and Sarah Dashew first played together at a Rhythm House jam session, but that show was a big enough hit that the two decided to throw in oars together and hit the road as a two-woman band. Do What You Will, their debut recording, is first and foremost a singer's album, with the pair swapping songs in a set of acoustic originals that run from shuffles to strolls and back again. Without dismissing Leigh, who can brag a lovely voice in her own right, honors here go to Dashew, whose cool and curvaceous vocals are the heart of the scintillating "Outlaw" and "Misunderstand Me." Give credit to both for a batch of strong songs that avoid the obvious and simmer with verve. Despite such vocal and lyrical presence, however, Do What You Will would benefit from a little more spice. By album's end, Leigh & Dashew's standard arrangement -- two women, two guitars -- starts to sound awfully familiar; armchair producers may find themselves wanting to stick a little accordion or clarinet into the mix, just to keep things lively. That said, Do What You Will shows considerable talent, both in writing and delivery, and stands as a dignified debut.
3 stars -- Jay Hardwig
Burn Your Piano
The sound of the Barkers is difficult to peg: The songs on Burn Your Piano drift happily across genres, unencumbered by the obvious, sounding alternately like lost tracks from a Mellow Sixties compilation to something odd from John Aielli's peculiar fancy to short but inspired chunks of post-punk pop. All of those threads come together on the lubricated groove of "Mary," a strong opening tune built from a loping bass, a fat and lovely organ riff, and the story of a bass-playin', Bible-thumpin' gal from New Jersey. The rest of Burn Your Piano follows that lead, mixing cheerful melodies, folk harmonies, and a well-developed sense of instrumental quirk. It's a formula that could fail disastrously, but the Barkers pull it off more often than not. In the "more often" category, put the arpeggiated obituary "Chester's Last Ride," the sweet piano lullaby "October Trains," and the pop-bottle, banjo, and toy organ lament, "Farmer's Song." In the "not," put the overshrill "Traveling Song." It's a strange carnival, well-leavened with the appealing and unexpected, even if it occasionally misses stride or pulls up short of satisfying. Burn Your Piano won't change your life, but it might add a touch of sloppy intrigue to your Sunday afternoon.
3 stars --Jay Hardwig
The second release from Austin folk-pop singer-songwriter Ginger Mackenzie starts out strong, bathing the listener in the soft pick of a lone acoustic guitar and her gentle, breezy voice. "The Garden of You and I" is a pretty tune, a perfect fit for the female-folkie-friendly market of the moment, and could push the singer and her new album toward the national spotlight primed by Abra Moore and sought by Kacy Crowley, Trish Murphy, and a host of other local talent. Kismet is loaded with songs like this, smartly written pop tunes that speak to an audience demanding power and identity from their new icons. The lyrics are conversational and direct, offering scenarios of love and heartbreak familiar to almost everyone. Unfortunately, songs like "Love Is Hell" and "Conditional" weaken the strength they themselves profess. Likewise, fear of action keeps the singer of "Sitting Still" and "I Can Feel My Heart" from rising above the dilemmas laid out in her words. This is pop, though, and it's a damn sight better than that of the Fionas and Jewels of the world. If that's your thing, this is your voice.
2.5 stars -- Christopher Hess
Botheration (Black Top)
Gary Primich serves up a smoky, Texas-flavored main course of blues harp, with Hammond B3 organ and juicy guitar for sides. His harmonica tone ranges from warm and soulful to sharp and icy as he takes on styles that range from down-and-dirty slow blues to uptown Chicago-style R & B to roadhouse grinds. Primich's lyrics go down the familiar roads of baby-done-left-me, drinkin-all-night, and gonna-leave-my-baby, the occasional twist of phrase keeping things from being too everyday. The only problematic song lyrically is "Queen of Complication," which crams a few too many words into each line for an awkward mouthful of verbiage. The production is fairly stripped-down and minimal as befits this type of blues. Sidemen Mark Korpi on guitar and James Polk on organ tag along tastefully and provide solos that never upstage Primich's outstanding harp work. The songs on Botheration often call to mind Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson without ever mimicking those greats, as Primich knows how to put together a song that can be derivative and original at the same time. Greasy, homestyle blues done up with simple but tasty side dishes; that's the way it's done Texas-style.
3 stars --Jerry Renshaw
THE LOVE SUPREME
On My Side (Handsome Pete)
Apparently taking their name from one of John Coltrane's most influential works, Austin's Love Supreme don't allude directly to Coltrane's ode to ecstatic spiritual love. Rather, the local quintet (drums, two guitars, bass, and keys) delve into the loss, frustration, ennui, and shit of romantic love that exemplify rock & roll, making their intentions well known on the title track ("You're my muse of abuse, I'm your slave") and on "Slow Shake" ("just because I'm smiling does not mean I'm having a good time") among others. The lyrics are couched in well-composed blue rock-pop, "Butterfly Kiss," with an accomplished cameo by the Grooveline Horns, featuring an arrangement and falsetto echoing Urge Overkill's later work. For the most part, though, the Beatles appear to be the biggest influence here. Not the happy Fab Four of "I Want to Hold Your Hand," but the White Album's "Why Don't We Do It in the Road." Professionally recorded and well performed, On My Side may be a signal of important things to come.
2.5 stars --David Lynch
Trespassing (Carpe Diem)
Is Plum a real pop band? To paraphrase John Travolta in Urban Cowboy, that all depends on what you think a real pop band is. Those who take their hooks edgy and horny will likely find Plum a bit too subdued, but this Austin trio might be just the ticket if you're looking for warm harmonies and finely tailored melodies that buzz with a radio-ready sheen. Although the Beatles are at the molten core of this approach, Plum's more immediate reference points fall in the vicinity of XTC, Crowded House, and Jellyfish. The band isn't afraid to bust out implements of psychedelia if they work in service to the song at hand, "Not My Life" reveling in fuzzy distortion, though not enough to obscure Plum's effervescent good nature. Trespassing pits an organic, at-home approach to recording against music that's full of easily misplaced nuances. This is especially true on "Circus Bound," a languid swing through a formerly staid cocktail lounge. No one song on Trespassing runs forward to scream "hit," but Plum's seemingly inane ability to walk the line between intimacy and intricacy is something to bank on.
3 stars -- Greg Beets
Rose of Jericho (Blue Rose)
My first introduction to Andy Van Dyke was when the Man Who Discovered the Clash, Police, and Dire Straits dragged me to the once-beloved Austin Outhouse to view his latest great find. At that time, almost 10 years ago, Van Dyke was a young, awkward, but promising singer-songwriter, in the process of being pushed in the direction of arena rocker via uncomfortable, forced splayed-legged stances. The Andy Van Dyke of 1999 has definitely matured, though the opening lines of every song on Rose of Jericho could make the Book of Rock Clichés ("Daddy loves his whiskey," "The very last time that I saw you," "I've got a photograph of you," to name three). The actual songs are well-written, but nothing to make waves in the town of Townes, so it's a shame that he rarely exploits his rock side here. When he does, as with "Put Your Hand on the Radio," the results are still mixed. There's no mistaking the Stone-Face solid sound that the keyboard work of Ian McLagan brings to the album, but with a band full of ringers (McLagan, Gurf Morlix, Iain Matthews, etc.), there's no excuse for just being good. And I'm really starting to doubt whether Van Dyke will ever manage to become great.
2 stars -- Ken Lieck
Overheard at SXSW 99: "A monkey could get Kitty Gordon signed." Kitty Gordon, the Borrowers' Nina Singh and Mark Addison's side-project-turned -primary-gig, already has representation, but the point is valid enough: Self-released EP's don't come more promising than Seven. Whereas it used to be that Seven's memorable songs and crisp production might have been tagged as can't-miss on their own merits, Kitty Gordon is anchored by three sets of additional hyphenated buzzwords: female-driven, radio-ready, power-pop. If it sounds like a formula non-threatening enough to make skeptics nauseous and A&R men giddy, it is. If it also sounds like Kitty Gordon is one of the few everything-to-everyone pop hopefuls focused enough to hit their mark, it's because they might just be. Then again, projections on radio accessibility and major label pipe dreams don't mean much after you've slid $10 across Waterloo's counter: Either the album is solid repeat-listen fare or it's not. To that end, Seven is as immediately rewarding as it is promising. Not only are the songs instantly catchy, but the complete package is undeniably confident, cohesive, compelling, and more than anything else, charming. How often do local records that monkeys, industry weasels, and regular ol' record buyers can all agree on come around? Not very, and this is one of 'em.
4 stars -- Andy Langer
SOLID GOLD 40
A doff of the cap to the punks who didn't throw away all their big dumb rock records. Though the genre choked to death on its own obscene fatuousness, at least big dumb rock bands knew how to put on an exciting show. Solid Gold 40 taps this brand of showmanship in a mostly-live recording that belies its low-budget pedigree. Rock Show recalls an era when every rock band with more than three albums was obligated to put out a double live set. The only real difference is the smattering of whoops and applause after every song instead of an arena mob's roar. Solid Gold 40 is crotch-deep in cowbell clicks, drum solos, and up-the-neck guitar pyrotechnics that beg for Ted Templeman treatment. Soul-steeped vocalist David Craig jumps from blasé cool to screeching falsetto like it ain't no big thing. "Left Her Runnin'" showcases Craig in full effect along with more gearhead sexual double entendres than any song this side of "Wango Tango." Another highlight is "Cold Flame," a Seventies-style power ballad that ought to be playing over a movie montage of some guy passing out drunk in an alley after getting dumped by a supermodel. Spinal Tap taught us about the fine line between clever and stupid. Solid Gold 40 dances all over that line with well-oiled aplomb.
3.5 stars --Greg Beets
BANDS THAT BEGIN WITH S (+ PEGLEGASUS)
S'alright, see. Not sensational -- sort of inspired. Pesky Peglegasus practically pave under this whole proposition's premise on the pfirst song, "Superdiver" saving their skins solely by capturing the rock 'em, sock 'em Sus boys' stageside spark. Subset subsequently start things off seriously with "Strained," the subtle strummer a sure, smart song. Solid Gold 40 stands out especially, "Cold Flame"sounding something like Varnaline. Silly, snotty, slinky -- super-duper --sounds from the skirts, Sexy Finger Champs, School Trauma Flashback, Shimmy Smash Up, and the surely surly sensational Shindigs, are soundly sequenced on the CD. Stretford's shot of speed, "Lookingback Today," skids will skill, while Sangre de Toro snorts a hot stream of Scratch Acid snot. Squat Thrust squeals and slays on "Cowboys vs. Vampires," a scary squall of solo standing over most sounds on this should've-been-17-songer (sports 19). Sisterunaked's "Scent Freakin" salutes Austin old school splendidly. Slidell Truck swerve twice into Dumptruck cement, and after Squat Thrust "Kick It" shut, extra songs surprise silence seekers with a short, inspired banjo strut, and a super stand-up bass/percussion duet that's simply smashing. Bands That Begin With S (+ Peglegasus). Sort of inspired. Sorry for the silly stunt.
3 stars -- Raoul Hernandez
RIVER CITY RAPISTS
Love Hurts (Junk)
Eight songs, six originals. Two classic punk and/or rock covers. All very loud and fast. What more do you want? Well, that depends on whether it's fair to raise the bar of expectations for a band like the Rapists, who through the violent antics of their live shows raise eyebrows (sometimes due to swelling) and whose very name incites feminists to picket the clubs they play. This disc has balls, but so -- to various extents -- do a zillion other albums by a zillion other faceless punk acts around the world. Songs like "Go Down on Me," "Asshole," and "Fucked Again" could have been written and performed by any of these. AC/DC's "Let There Be Rock" could've been chosen as cover fodder by any of them as well; the Miscreants' "Fix" is a bit more creative choice. Does Love Hurts rock? Unquestionably, but it never cuts loose like a Raw Power to stand out above the rest and make you want to mutilate yourself. Does it shock? No, not really -- and that's what really hurts. Oh, wait, there's a hard-core sex photo included in the packaging. I stand corrected!
2 stars -- Ken Lieck
Old Enough to Know Better -- Too Young to Care (Junk)
Much like an ill-tempered motorist baking in the sun at rush hour on Interstate 35, the Bulemics are low on civility and high on aggression. Their extra-snotty take on well-worn punk abandon will send you home smelling like cheap beer and cheaper cigarettes, but it sure beats being shot in the face. Angry boy singer Gerry Atric spits out a potent mix of aural sneers and no-future desperation that draws on the spirit of L.A. circa 1981. Meanwhile, the twin guitar overload of Gabe Bulemic and Ray Ject create a Raw Power-style canvas that's the perfect backdrop for Atric's many ways of saying fuck you. Tunes such as "Horny for Evil" and "Snuff Queen" reveal a familiar predilection toward stock-item shock value, but the Bulemics write and play with enough swagger to keep it vibrant. Producer Mike Mariconda (The Sons of Hercules, Dropouts) does an admirable job of bolstering the quintet's sonic appeal without sacrificing an iota of dive bar ambience. This album, two cases of Milwaukee's Beast, and 25 fellow travelers could transform any living room into a replica of the Blue Flamingo in under an hour.
3 stars -- Greg Beets